Just a few years ago the prevailing style statement in Williamsburg featured metrosexually groomed urbanites wearing trucker hats and pristine Carhartt jackets and quaffing Pabst beer. Now some are choosing the real life behind the pose. […] The Billyburg scene has changed, said Annaliese Griffin, who contributes to a blog called Grocery Guy. “Having a cool cheese in your fridge has taken the place of knowing what the cool band is, or even of playing in that band,” she said. “Our rock stars are ricotta makers.” — NYT
Yes, Wendell Berry’s name appears in this article, though strangely only as an inspiration to young agricool kids from the 1970s. Whole books can and have been written trying to determine exactly what is going on here, and whether it’s good, and I for one enjoy both PBR and clean country air, and, uh, cool cheeses as well. So I’ll try to restrict myself to point that maybe hasn’t been made before: that this back-to-the-farm thing is natural in two ways.
One, it’s a market niche that makes perfect sense given how recently there were basically no alternatives to mass-produced artificial foods; it’s something that reasonable people would and did think up given the homogeneity and undesirability of much of the food that’s available today. In that fashion it’s also a luxury. But luxuries, contrary to some opinions, are also natural, and it’s natural then to think about what kind of luxuries one wants and pursues and enjoys. If you want to be less afraid of Nietzsche you can think about ‘revaluing values’ in this seemingly soft, quasi-economic sense. What’s your will to luxury look like? You may be less deserving of respect if it looks like a ‘pristine’ Carhartt jacket than if it looks like cheese produced by a finely honed craft attuned to the productive quality of the natural world.
But organic cool is natural in another way, too: the luxury of religion — as in, a long, deep tradition of religion closely enjoyed among family and friends across generations — is foreclosed to many of the same people who willed the luxury of returning their orientation to the goods of natural life. This is to say nothing of the way that ‘Billyburg’ residents feel about Christianity in general. The return of organic is natural because when people are casting about for lives of ‘integral’ meaning they typically turn either to the soul or the soil. Wendell Berry himself was fairly clear I think that the Land, not the Lord, shall provide. Of course there’s no inherent contradiction between living an organic Christian farm life. But the narrowing of horizons imposed by casting your gaze down to dirt and hearth does stand in a certain tension with the broadening of horizons imposed by casting your gaze up to God or out toward your fellow man. And returning to the recognition of this tension — that abandoning one or the other isn’t easy or right — seems to me also both natural and a luxury.
Crossposted at Postmodern Conservative.