In the course of orals readings today, I came upon an article that proves, proves, my BA thesis was way off. French Jews at the time of the Dreyfus Affair were not, in fact... I promise if you're not one of three people working on this, you don't care, and even if you are, you've got better things to do, so I'll stop while I'm ahead.
That failure makes me all the more delighted that another theory I'd been tossing around for some time has, if not been proven right, turned up in infinitely-better-expressed-than-I-could-do-it form in the New Yorker.
For a while now, I've been suggesting that there's some connection between the new, artisanal-food, back-to-the-farm movement and the sort of nativism that got Maurice Barrès-types all worked up, back in the good old days of shamelessly racist European nationalism. Let me be clear: it's not that Waters/Pollan/etc. are racists or nativists, but that rejecting the foreign - which is what any pro-local movement does - lends itself to, well, rejecting the foreign, rejecting modernity, etc., etc. Sarah Palin's Real America might dig in at Denny's, but suspicion of cities and of the way things are done in far-off lands brings the ickier aspects of the right together with aspects of the left that, if silly-sounding, have the potential (if not taken over-the-top) to save both lives and the environment.
Anyhow. In the latest New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh explains how the artisanal-food and "very small business" movements have the potential to get a bit... iffy, in the way that rejections of modernity often do. Women, for instance, don't come out so great, nor does, in a larger sense, the feminine:
For [PhD turned motorcycle repairman] Crawford, offices are profoundly feminized places. Reading a study about the sneaky ways in which managers assert their authority, he compares office life to "being part of a clique of girls," with a brutal hierarchy hidden beneath "the forms and manners of sisterhood."And then of course there's the question of ferners:
An antipathy, however mild, to foreignness is indispensable to the creed of localism, which seeks to make our economic worlds more intelligible by shrinking them. When Pollan visited some of the industrial-scale organic farms that Gene Kahn works with, the first surprise was the workers: he confessed that he hadn’t expected to see “migrant labor crews” on an organic farm.Hmm. Why might someone who's studied (perhaps more than one should - at least I now know what really went on during the Dreyfus Affair) late 19th and early 20th century European rejections of modernity find anything off-putting about where this might lead?
Part of the appeal of the localist-artisanal creed, for certain liberals and conservatives alike, is precisely that it’s anti-cosmopolitan, anti-corporate, anti-progress—an alternative to the creative destruction of capitalism. It tugs against the shared assumptions of most Democrats and Republicans: that America’s future is bright; that change is good.But let me back up a moment in his story. Without entering into the European tradition of land-worship (aside from mentioning Slow Food's Italian roots) Sanneh brings up the question that should be on all of our minds - why are mass-produced cheeseburgers assumed to the food of conservatism, and garden-fresh arugula for liberals alone?
Agrarianism, like environmentalism, hasn’t always been considered a progressive cause, and there’s nothing inherently liberal about artisanal cheese, or artisanal bikes—and, just as important, nothing inherently conservative about multinational corporations. Rod Dreher, a National Review contributor and the author of “Crunchy Cons,” is ardently pro-organic and ardently anti-gay marriage. Victor Davis Hanson, the author of “Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea,” is also the author of “Mexifornia,” about the dangers posed by immigration.As I see it, what holds back the food movement from going down xenophobia road is that it is primarily a product of the left - that there's a PC insistence upon caring about local/seasonal but also about what's consumed in the inner city, that cosmopolitan types (i.e. city-dwellers, PhDs, Francophiles, Jews) loom large in the movement's ranks, these things really do owe something to the cause starting, at least, as a liberal one. It's not that conservatism is always racist and liberalism never that way. It's just that the scary bits tend to come from the most progressive types on the left, and the most anti-progress ones on the right, so it's probably for the best that the pro-farmer sorts making the news are also the ones the least likely to hold forth on what they really think about Mexicans. Of course local/seasonal could be conservatism, we - even most conservatives among us - should just be glad that it's not.