Dining Out on Empty Virtue
. . . and picks the scab off of an ugly aspect of human nature.
Much more below the fold!
"We all love farm-to-table food, don’t we? The freshness, the warm sense of environmental sustainability, the delights of spending your money in the local economy. Of course we all love it.
Or … maybe we just think we love it. An exhaustive investigation by a Tampa Bay Times food critic reveals just how little of the food advertised as organic, locally sourced, non-GMO fare actually fits that description. The article is a slightly painful read, as restaurant after restaurant sheepishly tries to cover for their, um, “menu anomalies” by explaining that they totally used to buy some stuff from a local producer, then they forgot to change the chalkboard when they switched suppliers, and besides, the bus was late and the dog ate their homework. Some of these claims may even be true, but given the ubiquity of these "anomalies," it’s hard to believe that there isn’t considerable calculation behind these unidirectional mistakes.
And it’s not hard to figure out why: Consumers don’t really want to buy farm-to-table food. What they want to buy is the moral satisfaction of farm-to-table food."
One of the most powerful forces inside the human head is the drive to be morally superior. It is the entire raison d'être for aristocracy, peerage, and similar intellectual muck. While here in little old America we do not have such class baubles, we still want to bathe in the primitive smugness of moral superiority.
Whether it be farm-to-table food, an SJW curbing another's privilege, or the smug belief that your political cause is blessed, this is a form of empty virtue difficult to turn away from.
"The nice thing for the consumer is that this moral satisfaction can be bought cheap, because actual farm-to-table food has significant drawbacks. For one thing, eating locally sharply limits the variety of foods you can consume at one time. Things pop up in their growing season, then they are gone from our tables, if not our hearts and memories. This is how my mother grew up eating in the farm country of western New York, where summer was a glorious succession of excesses: three weeks of strawberry shortcake every evening, then farewell to strawberries for the rest of the year; that loss was, of course, somewhat consoled by the onset of purple raspberry pie. But eventually winter came, and it was back to root vegetables, home-canned beans and frozen peas, occasionally varied by the tasteless yet indestructible iceberg lettuce that could be shipped from the ever-fertile fields of inland California."
We here at Stately Maddog Manor are with you Megan, we too remember back to the good ol' days when we would spend hours picking strawberries, blueberries, Marrion berries, and finally the wild Himalayan blackberries. We spent time helping our parents in the garden, a 1/2 acre behemoth and weekends either camping or canning. Odd, but none of that came with smug, sanctimonious, empty virtue, but it did come with fresh strawberry shortcake, made with fresh shortcake biscuits every other evening. Off days, the strawberries met with harvested rhubarb for a tangy pie!, Strawberry season was followed by blueberry season, cobblers, crisps, pies, always a delight. And the summer rounded up with blackberries.
The work drains the smugness out of the eating. The sore back, and thorn pierced hands seem to deflate the virtue seeking, and every shortcake, every cobbler, every pie becomes something we offer others, a fete of summer, and her flavors.
"I mean, yes, those restaurateurs are cheating their customers out of something, but it’s hard to say exactly what. People walked out of those meals happier than they would have been if they’d been told they were eating regular food. Forcing restaurants to be more honest about their provenance might help some small farmers at the margin, but since Americans don’t really seem to be willing to pay a lot extra for local sourcing, it’s hard to say how many. Meanwhile, more honest menu labeling would deprive diners of an artificial, but nonetheless pleasant-tasting, feeling of virtue.
In the end, I am the descendant of my rural ancestors and their simple, homespun virtues, so I stubbornly believe that we should be honest about these things -- and that restaurants should be punished if they are not. On the other hand, I also believe in their simple, homespun proverbs, most notably that “you can’t cheat an honest man.” I can't help but wonder: Are we really being taken in? Or like many a con man's victim, are we desperately trying to get in on the fraud?"
This virtue seeking derives from the fact that technology has accelerated change. Three hundred years ago our lives were not that much different from the lives lived by people walking with Jesus, or Pontius Pilate. But the industrial age changed all of that, and now our lives are significantly more luxurious than our parents. This jars our sensibilities.
We remember as a child living a frugal life, harvesting fruits and vegetables from our own garden. Today, we are shockingly wealthy by our childhood standards. We are now, and were then, a member of the upper middle class. Yet what that means today is far removed from what that meant 50 years ago.
It is impossible to believe that we somehow earned everything we achieved. We stand on the shoulders of giants, no, not the likes of Obama and his coterie of sycophants slanderously babbling, "you didn't make that, you didn't do that . . . " You did make that, you did do that, but the reality is that whatever it is you did was made possible by millions of giants who came before, preparing the ground for you. The Obama misunderstanding of government, history, and progress is legendary. His incompetence is mature.
This nostalgia of the past, combined with rapid economic change has made it difficult, if not incapable for us to accurately understand our world. Maddog has a local Starbucks which is a micro cosmos of the local community. The old ladies, and old men had morning tables for years, separate, of course, middle age groups abounded in the early mornings, and soccer moms come in clutches during the mid-day, afternoons were met with college and school aged youth, and the entire day one can find the working class dropping in for a cuppa. All offer interesting perspectives on life, the universe, and everything, to coin, er, lift a phrase.
One thing which Maddog has learned, is that a large portion of the population believes the community is as it was in the past. This rigidifying of the world happens about the time they leave their parents home. The world as it is then is the world forever. The world is trapped, but they become wealthier, and live a life of ever more leisure. This weighs on the soul. While this perception is false, it is unavoidably true to the mind. This breeds a dislike and distrust of the self, and if allowed, a hatred of the self.
From this springs the need for virtue, redemption for excess, and salvation. From this springs the pursuit of virtue, but the pursuit of real virtue, of real redemption, of real salvation is difficult, while the pursuit of empty virtue, redemption, and salvation is easy.
So, at our table, in our politics, in our personal lives, and in our public lives we pursue easy empty virtue. We want to eat local, but if it costs too much, just tell us it is local, that is good enough.
This manifests itself in myriad ways. We seek out restaurants which profess their bona fides through farm-to-table economics, we recycle slavishly washing, cleaning, and schlepping. We seek out beliefs which demand minor discomforts in exchange for pious, empty virtue; global warming springs to mind as an example.
This is unfulfilling secular religion, triggered in part by the mass exodus from religion which has occurred since the end of WWI. Like all secular religions, it is unreformed, dangerous, and ultimately will be deadly if allowed to continue. Communism, Naziism, Fascism, and Socialism are all secular religions which at one time or another were allowed to have their head. The results were well more than 100 million people lost their lives.
Megan's analysis of the food-to-table culture is spot on, but only a small aspect of the larger damaging virtue seeking so many now engage in. While each aspect seems harmless, they add up to a whole which is not. Whether it is the SJW culture, environmentalism, recycling or even the farm-to-table religion, each of these will if unchecked accrete towards totalitarian socialism, and once mature, mass murder.
There is nothing wrong with farm-to-table, or recycling, it is the religious component which seeks to force all others to comply with those beliefs which is deadly. It may start as a local government regulation, but it always metastasizes becoming a fine, and, finally, men with badges and guns come to ensure compliance, and failure is met with force, deadly if necessary.
In America, the religious and the secular are separated by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution. This must apply to both theistic, and secular religions.
Megan in her final paragraph captures the religiofication of farm-to-table.
"In the end, I am the descendant of my rural ancestors and their simple, homespun virtues, so I stubbornly believe that we should be honest about these things -- and that restaurants should be punished if they are not. On the other hand, I also believe in their simple, homespun proverbs, most notably that “you can’t cheat an honest man.” I can't help but wonder: Are we really being taken in? Or like many a con man's victim, are we desperately trying to get in on the fraud?"
We leave the reader with a link to a short posting by Eric Vieth summarizing Eric Hoffer's writings in the True Believer.
This short synopsis is quite good. Please click through and read the link on Viet's site, it is short, and he deserves the click. Then buy, read, and re-read the True Believer, it is must reading to understand the world we live in today.