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I was attending a conference on local food production this week, and one of the speakers talked about how children have become disconnected from food.  She described children in downtown Philadelphia who had no idea that peanuts came from a plant that grew in the ground or that milk actually came from cows. 

It made me think about the many ways that people have become disconnected or distanced from reality.  Just as processed foods keep us removed from the reality of farmers tilling the soil, credit cards keep us distanced from the reality of money flowing out the door; automatic payroll deposit does the same thing for money coming in.

Text messaging and email keep us distanced from friends.  Why bother to walk down the hall and talk to someone if you can text them your question?  Hair dyes and plastic surgery keep some folks distanced from the reality of aging.  Junk food ads and jingles—especially the ones that stress the kind of “you deserve a break today”thinking—have brought about a disconnection between our mouths and our brains.  Obesity is at the highest level it has ever been in this country, but it’s hard to make us realize our own role in making ourselves fat.  It’s much easier to hope there is a new type of pill or surgery that will make the fat go away quickly.   

News shows, with unending pictures of people fighting in Afghanistan or children starving in Somalia keep us distanced from the realities of war and human suffering.  If everything fits into a YouTube video, which we can choose to watch or not to watch, it makes it easier  for us also to choose not to think too hard about those things.  I remember on September 11 having the disturbing realization that I was grateful to be able to turn off the TV picture of the towers falling—even while knowing that the people who lived or worked near the World Trade Center would never be able to turn off the picture in their heads.

If I think too much about these things, I can get pretty discouraged.  I don’t want my children to grow up unaware or numb.  (There does need to be a caveat here:  I also, of course, don’t want them to have too much reality in their lives—especially if that reality is a harsh one.) But I have reasons for hope.  First of all, the whole local food/farm-to-table movement is restoring the connection for people (and not all of them children) between, for instance, a farmer’s hard work and a delicious tomato on your BLT.  Check out the work of incredible organizations like The Food Trust or your state’s Farm to Table group.

Secondly, credit education in the schools is working to restore the connection between a swiped credit card and a lack of savings at the end of the month.  And the Internet, for all of its flaws, at least offers the possibility of people connecting with other people around the world—and therefore starting to give human suffering in other parts of the globe an individualized human face.  And, here in my little corner of the world, I’m starting to get the connection between being too lazy to exercise and gaining pounds!

I can’t remember who said “only connect”–but I think it was E. M. Forster, the British novelist, who, from the look of him, maybe had his own troubles connecting with others.

E. M. Forster

But I think it’s probably one of the smartest things anyone has ever said.  Maybe that’s what it’s really all about–and our job is to keep working at it our whole lives.  We might slip backwards every now and then, but we still need to keep trying.  I’m thinking that we have the tools– music, art, conversation, good, local food–so we need to make ourselves take advantage of them as much as possible. 

“Only connect” is a simple phrase, so why is it so hard to do?  

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