Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why I Love and Hate Chick-Fil-A ...

And why I'm not talking about what you think I'm talking about ...

"When I am called ... a devotee of 'simplicity' (since I live supposedly as a 'simple farmer'), I am obliged to reply that I gave up the simple life when I left New York City in 1964 and came here.  In New York, I lived as a passive consumer, supplying nearly all my needs by purchase, whereas here I supply many of my needs from this place by my work (and pleasure) and am responsible besides for the care of the place." - Wendell Berry, Imagination in Place 

I am, by no means, a Wendell Berry.  But, I understand him enough now to know what he meant when discussing the delusion of country simplicity and ease.  The so-called "simple life" of living in the country is anything but simple, a lesson I have been learning these past three and half years.  But, unlike Berry, my first home was not the farm.  My native soil was suburbia; my native experience that "passive consumer" that Wendell Berry could never become.  So, the lessons are harder for me to learn and they come with more resistance.  But, I am learning.

It still amazes me how much work home-steading requires, fearfully much.  Although our efforts are meager compared to many, we have our share.  We have animals that require our daily attention.  We work a small garden to give us some food we can bring to our table.  We mostly make our meals from scratch.  We cut and collect lumber to heat our home throughout the winter.  And, beginning this past week, we home-school our two children.  Either by choice or by necessity, a good portion of our day goes to some form of production. 

Is it worth it?  Yes, there's no doubt in my mind there is.  But, is it simple or easy?  Oh, hell no. 
About a year ago, I made a trip all the way up to Avon, Indiana.  Although it seems as though it should be just a mere skip over to Avon, it's a full forty-five minute drive.  Anything resembling mass suburbia, for that matter, is forty-five minutes from our home.  The Targets and Lowe's and Olive Gardens of the world seem as exotic to us as Parisian cuisine.  So, it is only natural, that in the rare occasion I do find my way to such cultural-hubs, I cannot help but happily consume some (relatively) exotic treat. 

My convenience of choice on this trip:  Chick-fil-a.  It was still morning commute time, as indicated by the caravan of cars and SUV's wrapped around the building.  I decided to go in and found at least three young-looking attendants ready to serve me.  I stepped forward, placed my order (a chicken-biscuit and orange juice), and within three minutes the nice young lady was passing a crisp-white bag and a plastic cup across the counter.
"That will be $2.37, sir," she said.  I did a double-take.
"Are you sure?" I said, figuring she had forgotten to tally my sandwich. 
"Nope.  That's right.  We are offering free breakfast sandwiches this morning," and she handed me my orange juice and bag with a big smile of happiness.  She knew she had made my morning, a fact that was confirmed when not more than five minutes later I was driving on towards my next chore - consuming my breakfast.  The sandwich was hot, but not too-hot.  It was seasoned well, and the taste was pleasing - a wonderful mixture of soft and crispy.  The orange juice was fresh.  And, all told, it was unbelievably cheap.  To make the same meal at home would have required my whole morning and at least $10.  And, in all likelihood, it wouldn't have been nearly as consistent or enjoyable. 
In other words that $2.37 included much more than just a six-ounce chicken-breast seasoned and fried, a mass-produced buttermilk biscuit, and a industrially-produced and shipped cup of orange juice.  It also included freedom and unrestrained enjoyment, all pleasure and no work. 

From one point of view, who can honestly argue with such freedom and enjoyment?  Who, in their right mind, wouldn't want the Chick-fil-a world of convenience, consistency, and affordability?  No one willingly, and I say that from experience.  Trust me.  That old child of suburban consumerism lives strong in me.  He wants such convenience; he expects such convenience. 

But, of course, the Chick-fil-a economy is not just an economy of convenience, consistency, and affordability.  Seen from another point of view, it is actually an economy of tremendous inconvenience, inconsistency, and heavy costs.  For one thing, while my $2.37 breakfast hardly cost me anything, it cost a great deal to provide it to me - including those important "hidden" costs.  No doubt it is industrial food, which meant that it wasn't just that nice young lady who gave me that meal.  It came via a whole army of workers, some of them working in unfair or unhealthy environments, and that is to say nothing about the potential destructive farming habits used to produce the meal.  Then think about the ridiculous notion that my $2.37 breakfast required at least a thousand miles of transportation and fuel (including my own forty plus miles) to consume a single meal that would last me half the day. 

Seen this way, this way of life is clearly unsustainable.  It simply is not feasible to keep living in this type of economy.  But, the kicker is that it seems feasible.  Nothing seems wrong with someone handing you a bag full of fresh, hot food for next-to-nothing.  In fact, everything about it seems right. 

Towards the end of his essay titled Imagination in Place, Wendell Berry adds:   "Hovering over nearly everything I have written is the question of how a human economy might be conducted with reverence, and therefore with due respect and kindness toward everything involved.  This, if it ever happens, will be the maturation of American culture." 

If I have received no other gift of living on our small farm for three and a half years, it is this:  at least Wendell Berry's question is now planted firmly in my conscience.  What does it look like for me to live and work in a way that is reverent, that is respectful, that is kind, and that honors God's creation? 

Actually, to borrow that old image of the "good" and "bad" conscience, I now live with two little guys trying to whisper in my ear.  The one we'll call "reverent, respectful steward" tries to remind me of the value of the work I'm doing in and with God's creation and in the pleasure derived there from.  And, the other?  Well, let's just say he has no problem getting his message across.  Chick-fil-a is only forty-five minutes drive after all.



Saturday, August 18, 2012

New Harmony

When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the the last star

Or hails the first morning
Of a giant world
Where peace begins
And rages end:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms
Ten circles upon the pond.