NYT’s Mark Bittman on Wendell Berry, Land and Food

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman came to Kentucky last month for what he describes as a sort of reporting trip/pilgrimage to poet-farmer Wendell Berry's Port Royal home. Berry has been in the national news this week after delivering the 41st Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities Monday in Washington, D.C.

In the article, Bittman describes spending time with Berry from the mundane (remembering to turn on the oven, as his wife asked him) to the intellectual and thought-provoking (quoting Pope, Spenser, Milton and Stegner effortlessly).

Tanya [Berry's wife] returns around noon, and their daughter, Mary, arrives shortly thereafter. (Mary lives nearby, runs a winery, and is engaged in enough food and farm justice issues to impress Wendell Berry.) We eat. It’s all local, food they or their neighbors or friends or family have grown or raised, food that Tanya has cooked. There’s little fuss about any of that, only enjoyment and good eating. I note that I can’t stop devouring the corn bread, and that the potatoes have the kind of taste of the earth that floors you.

Berry has written extensively about his connection with the land, and that's a theme he carried into his lecture earlier this week.

“We spoke, as I said, for hours, and my two big questions for him were, essentially, “How are we going to change this?” and “What can city people do?”

He makes it clear that he doesn’t think anything is going to happen quickly, except perhaps the possible catastrophe that lurks in the minds of everyone who believes the earth to be overstressed. “You can describe the predicament that we’re in as an emergency,” he says, “and your trial is to learn to be patient in an emergency.”

Change, he says, is going to come from “people at the bottom” doing things differently. “[N]o great feat is going to happen to change all this; you’re going to have to humble yourself to be willing to do it one little bit at a time. You can’t make people do this. What you have to do is notice that they’re already doing it.”

The full article is here.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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