28 May 2009

i am a cliché: an essay in two parts

Part 1: WWOOFing. "Man, we are such clichés!" proclaimed an e-mail I received from my friend Stella, who was a member of TeamParis and ¡TeamSevilla! She was referencing this New York Times article about "a new wave of liberal arts students who are heading to farms as interns this summer." She and I are both contemplating spending a few extra weeks in Europe after we leave Cambridge under a program called WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), which enables volunteers to work on organic farms in exchange for free room and board. I currently have WWOOFing plans in the works for Scotland and France in July. I'm motivated less by disdain for industrial agriculture than by the opportunity to stay in Europe longer on a small budget, to practice my language skills and experience these countries outside of tourist hubs, and to live out my longstanding Tolstoy-influenced farmer fantasy. "If WWOOFing in America has 'as much bohemian cachet as backpacking through Europe,'" Stella observed, quoting the article, "then we must be getting cachet up the wazoo for doing it in Europe!"

That article alone would have been enough to make me feel like a cliché, but it came right on the heels of further evidence that farming is all the rage among the bohemian liberal arts crowd. Last week I had a phone date with my former executive director from Alaska. She had recently visited her alma mater, a liberal arts college in the Midwest, to deliver a talk to students in her capacity as a distinguished alum. I don't remember if she told me this in response to my plans or if she volunteered this information, but apparently tons of the students she met are planning on putting down their books and taking up their hoes this summer too. And this is at a college where, I am told, odors from a nearby turkey farm waft through campus with some regularity--not the ideal environment to inspire would-be farmers, I'd think.

Interestingly, both my former boss and the Times article point to a common culprit for this surge of agricultural enthusiasm among the youngsters: Michael Pollan. He wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma, which certainly ranks among my favorite books in recent memory. Pollan's philosophy on food includes eating more plants; avoiding processed stuff (or as he calls it, "edible foodlike substances") to the maximum extent possible; eating locally and seasonally as possible; and eating animals that lived in something approximating a natural environment, as opposed to a factory where they live in cages while being force-fed government-subsized corn. (It's not just what you eat that matters, Pollan says, but what "what you eat" ate.) Pollan's gift for storytelling and ability to weave together politics, ecology, and personal morality make him the kind of author who inspires disciples and not just readers. So maybe I am a cliché, but hopefully I am also part of a groundswell in a generation that will demand that we develop a more environmentally sane system with which to feed ourselves.

Part 2: Stuff White People Like. It has probably not escaped your notice that I am white, in the demographic sense of the term. But apparently I am really, really white in the cultural sense of the term, as described by that great arbiter of what constitutes urban, upper-middle-class white culture: stuffwhitepeoplelike.com.

You already know I am thinking of joining those corporate ag-hating liberal arts students on their unpaid stints on organic farms, but consider also that I am studying abroad for my graduate school education in a country with free health care and lots of opportunities for traveling. Prior to coming here, I worked as an advocate for low-income people at a non-profit organization in Alaska. In my free time I hung out with my gay friends, ordered movies from Netflix, watched the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, hosted dinner parties, tried learning Spanish, and spent time outdoors with my gear from REI and LL Bean. Also while in Alaska, I dated a half-Asian woman with a gifted, multilingual child; we watched Juno and attended an ugly sweater party together, and had a difficult breakup. Oh, and did I mention my love for coffee, local beers, wine, hummus and sushi?

If this has offended you, I apologize--but that would suggest that maybe you're a "white person" too.

1 comment:

lucinda said...

dude you're like the whitest guy i know! be proud.