Sunday, July 13, 2008

Exile in Gaiaville

According to this breathless New York Times Sunday Magazine article, there are "nearly" 20,000 farms in "the Northeast alone" run by women. Overall, there are "80 percent more women who are farmers than there were 20 years ago." What do these numbers mean? How many women farmers were there 20 years ago? And what does it mean to be a woman farmer? Does it mean you're the sole proprietor of a field that produces things that people eat or does it mean that you have seven cows and make butter by hand that's sold to three of the most exclusive restaurants in the country?

Because that's what the flame-haired, wind swept Diane St. Clair does. She makes butter and you can only get it restaurants in New York City (Per Se) and California (French Laundry), and Boston (No.9 Park -- is that one $250/head, too?). So, the thing I don't get is how does butter that's made in Vermont and shipped to New York City, Boston and California forge "bonds between field and table" that don't include Fed Ex? Don't we all know about the Fed Ex bond?

It's not that I'm against the women featured here -- the winemaker, the forager, the two women and their fancy chickens in Connecticut. I'm against the smug suggestion that their artisanal work has anything to do with growing food in a way that's meaningful outside of its preciousness and exclusivity.

Save for one woman who farms with her husband and has a daughter and sells her stuff at the Farmer's Market, the women featured here make food for the rich and the upper middle class at birthday dinners. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I love a good birthday dinner. I just don't want my birthday dinner salad confused with anything more than what it is. A special treat. And even then, I don't care all that much about the gender of the farmer or the cook.

I could get even more worked up about all of this. I could look up some statistics on the number of women running "farms" in the developing world and what they can teach us about sustainability and cultivating the things we love to eat. The only problem is I read Frank Rich before I started writing this, and now I'm just worried that a few bad (and bald) men are going to get us all blown to bits, no matter how many women work to feed their families, our egos, or the diners at Per Se.

No comments: