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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

July 7, 2010 - 9:55pm

So yesterday, I get back home. The last thing I'd done before leaving campus had been to post some thoughts about how people (Greenback students, particularly) were disconnected from the origins of their food, and how that's a hurdle to ecological awareness. Then the first thing that happens after I walk in the door is Mrs. R. slapping a piece of junk mail in my hand and saying "you've got to look at this!" She had a chuckle in her eye, so I knew that I wasn't in any serious trouble.

Anyway, "this" turns out to be a marketing pitch for a hardcopy magazine called MaryJanesFarm. My first impression was "Martha Steward Living goes country casual." The faux personal letter spoke of how women need "a place where you and I can sit around in a circle with our trusted girlfriends and share apple pie recipes that have been handed down for generations [and] swap the quilt patterns our mothers used." The four-color glossy brochure (no mention of recycled paper in sight) went on about how this magazine was all "for the decorator in you, for the nurturing friend in you, for the organic gardener in you, for the chef in you, for the artist in you, for the farmgirl in you." The letter was ostensibly signed by MaryJane Butters (as genuine a person, I suspect, as Betty Crocker). The brochure included a picture of a woman who was presumably MaryJane, ostensibly about to milk a cow. Except . . .

. . . except that "MaryJane" looked somewhere between a fifty-ish Vanessa Redgrave and a mid-forties Judy Blue Eyes, her hair was all curled and streaming down over her shoulder to her waist, her denim jacket had a florette on the lapel, her apron was trimmed in lace and she was carrying a pristine white enamelware milking pail such as no one has used for at least fifty years. The hair and the florette would be way to attractive to any milk-cow -- they'd get mouthed in a heartbeat. I found myself visualizing the apron slimed with masticated grass hay (or, worse, alfalfa). Oh, and the "cow" featured in the picture looked suspiciously like a steer (castrated male), and was definitely a Hereford-Angus cross a (beefer, not a milker)!

Once I got done laughing, I read the material again. The words, at face value, make a lot of sense. We need to "celebrate the things that really matter in life. Preparing good healthy food for our families. Building warm relationships based on trust. And finding fun ways to express our creativity through our hands and our hearts." No disagreement from me.

What I disagree with is the idea that any of that can go on in the pages of a magazine. The illusion of it can go on, but not the actuality. Reading recipes for good healthy food is not the same as cooking it, much less buying or growing it. Trust develops much better face-to-face. And hands-on projects require execution in three (sometimes four) dimensions -- not two. Encouraging people to fantasize about an idyllic rural existence is not helpful. Not individually, not locally, and not globally. Indeed, the globe would be better off if all American couples 'of a certain age' moved into cities, not out of them.

We can't afford for the 2010's to be about commodifying the discontent of the 2000's, the way the 1970's were about commodifying the dissent and individualism of the 1960's. We need to get people out of their passive reading-about-it and into doing-something-about-it. A magazine about consuming non-toxic milk-based paints and decorating with antiques (refurbished or not) is still a magazine encouraging consumption. Consumption isn't the answer. Neither is a magazine. Even if they had used recycled paper.


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