Monday, March 15, 2010

Freedom Ain't Cheap - and Cheap Ain't Free

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway.
Nobody living can make me turn back;
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land,
From California to the New York Island,
From the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.
- Woody Guthrie
Americans love freedom. We celebrate it in all our songs, wear it proudly as a badge as we parade in defiance of the world. But too few of us know what it really means.

Freedom is a potency. It is necessarily bound up with the power to act. It contains in it the possibility of action, of moral choice. Freedom implies a properly ordered pursuit of a good end - that is, a choice among goods which are duly directed to be goods for the individual choosing and which at least do not interference with goods destined for man in general (i.e., moderated by the objective of the common good as well as the universal destination of goods). When one's pursuit of a legitimate good, the attainment of which would do no one else harm, is arbitrarily restrained - and, consequently, the choices left to him are for lesser goods or even no good things - then, his freedom has been compromised.

This occurred to me the other night as I viewed the documentary Fresh at a local community gathering. Food, one of the basic natural goods of man, is one for which Americans have a scant amount of freedom left to choose.

The decision to buy local, healthy, organic produce is extremely difficult for some people. Often, it can be cost prohibitive. It always requires a degree of perspicacity that can be straining for someone working a full week, trying to service debts and raise children and take care of the sundry duties that go along with owning (or, more often, mortgaging) a home. Instead, most of us fall uneasily back into convenience. We shop at BigBox Mart for high-fructose corn-syrup laden goods produced by large agribusinesses heavily subsidized by the government. Rich in additives and impoverished in nourishment, the food stuffs offered us by our manufacturers of culture are a motley assemblage of promiscuous produce, packaged and shipped from all ends of the earth with copious toxic chemicals intended to kill the lethal bacteria that nevertheless increasingly turn up like bad pennies.

We take our lack of choice on the chin, blind to the threat to our freedom, namely that the seeds which grow our veggies and the grain which feeds our livestock are monopolized commodities that keep squeezing the market into thinner and thinner corridors - as we grow fatter and fatter. The names of our consumables and their shiny packaging belie the fact that there's little more variety to our diet than the often parodied slop-meals offered to inmates of the most austere prisons. We free men accept our three squares and return to our cots with indigestion at best, allergies aplenty, and even the occasional bout of salmonella poisoning. The hidden costs of our cheap convenience are chains upon our freedom, and they are a bitter price.

But there is another way. Agrarian reform is underway in America beginning - fittingly - at the grass-roots level. Farmers and communities of concerned consumers are finally beginning to break the chains of our surreptitious enslavers. And we can all become a part of it.

If you have some spare time and spare change, spring for a copy of the movie "Fresh". Get a few neighbors together to watch the movie, and then discuss what you can do to regain some freedom for food.

Start small. Pool some money between you and your neighbors, and support a local CSA. Get together once a week or every two weeks and have a dinner with your shared produce, and taste the difference freedom makes. Plant a garden with some cooperative labor amongst your friends and dole out the harvest. Put in a compost bin and take turns in managing the layers, and collect your refuse to replenish the soil.

It might not save you any money. It might even cost a little more than the convenience to which we've become accustomed. Anyway, some things are beyond the worth of money to buy. Freedom isn't cheap. But bought dearly, it is a value to be savored, and will surely make you hungry for more.

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