Today I’d like to introduce you to Rohan Anderson, if you don’t already know him.
Rohan Anderson is the blogger, photographer, writer, cook, forager, grower and hunter from Whole Larder Love. If you don’t know of him, you should check out his website which details his journey from eating processed food, obesity, anxiety, depression and allergic reactions to ditching his career, growing, hunting, preserving, curing and foraging his food.
Despite his inspiring, creative and very real life, recently I’ve read some criticisms of Rohan which have got me thinking. People don’t like him ‘constantly bashing supermarkets’ and complain that not everyone can live like him and his family. Whole Larder Love frequently covers issues with our current food system, media and materialistic consumption in society. It’s true that his posts are full of passion and even frustration which I think some people perceive as judgement but I suspect that people get defensive when they think their way of life is being criticised, instead of seeing it as a systemic problem. Of course, another option is that people just love being negative on the internet and forget there are real people behind it all, full of contradictions and uncertainties, just like all of us humans.
I believe Rohan is doing amazing things, has made brave decisions and is walking a path many are too afraid to step on to. I identify with his journey from the corporate world to giving up financial security and living life in accordance with his values. We are also aiming for the good life, a life of meaning and purpose, one that contributes to health, kindness, stability and safety. Jean and I hope to one day have our own project, very similar to the one that Rohan and his partner, Kate, have just launched as a crowd funding campaign, The Nursery Project. Theirs will be a Not For Profit initiative consisting of a place where “they can teach, where experts in food and farming can pass on their knowledge, and where people can go to learn practical skills – touch, feel, smell and taste the good life!” They’ll have a demonstration vegetable garden to show what’s possible in a backyard, farm animals, fruit orchards and a large mess hall where they’ll run classes and talks around good food.
I want them to succeed at this! They truly deserve it, everyone who will visit deserves it, the planet deserves it. We need more of these initiatives. We need to support action, today.
Recently I started reading Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs the Climate. While Rohan isn’t talking about climate change in his blog posts I can’t help but link Naomi’s writing to his thoughts and the criticism he receives. Some of the very people following Rohan are farmers themselves or are at least open to organic food, buying from farmers markets and ‘natural living’ but they can’t grasp that life could be sustained without supermarkets as we have them today. They say supermarkets are a necessity to sustain our overpopulated planet, that all the bad quality “food, starvation, unsustainable land management, degradation of farm lands, inequality, etc. are all symptoms of overpopulation and supermarket bashing is too easy and overly simplistic, dealing with symptoms not causes”. I can’t disagree that this world is overpopulated, however, I do feel that supermarkets provide an important link to the real problem… stick with me here…
Naomi writes in her new book that a great many of us engage in climate change denial and I can’t help but feel it’s not just climate change we are in denial about. “We look for a split second and then we look away. Or we look but then turn it into a joke. Which is another way of looking away. Or we look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle… Or we look but tell ourselves we are too busy to care about something so distant and abstract… Or we look but tell ourselves that all we can do is focus on ourselves. Meditate and shop at farmers’ markets and stop driving – but forget trying to actually change the systems that are making the crisis inevitable because that’s too much “bad energy” and it will never work… And we don’t have to do anything to bring about this future. All we have to do is nothing. Just continue to do what we are doing now…”
Rohan often talks about this ‘looking away’ approach that many have in regards to their food too. Rohan and Kate’s 4 daughters, aged 10, 8, 6 and 5 see and experience all parts of the food process. They want to provide the truth for their kids rather than hide it from them. When they kill their hens or roosters the girls help out so that they gain respect and understanding that an animal’s life is taken for that meat. When we choose cheap food at the supermarket, aren’t we looking away again? Aren’t we choosing to ignore the quality of the ingredients? Aren’t we accepting bad land management practices? Aren’t we supporting big agricultural companies like Monsanto? Aren’t we accepting unfair worker conditions? Aren’t we allowing deforestation, for eg, and the ultimate effect it has on climate change? Aren’t we normalising the distance food travels so that we can have variety all year round?
Naomi asks the simple question “What is wrong with us?” What is ultimately stopping us from changing? But all of the answers offered to date are ultimately inadequate – “governments can’t agree to anything, there’s an absence of real technological solutions, there’s something deep in our human nature that keeps us from acting in the face of seemingly remote threats, to – more recently – the claim that we have blown it anyway and there is no point in even trying to do much more than enjoy the scenery on the way down”.
Nope, something else keeps us from changing…
Our culture tells us that “contemporary humans are too self-centered, too addicted to gratification to live without the full freedom to satisfy our every whim… And yet the truth is that we continue to make collective sacrifices in the name of an abstract greater good all the time. We sacrifice our pensions, our our hard-won labor rights, our arts and after-school programs. We send our kids to learn in ever more crowded classrooms, led by ever more harried teachers. We accept that we have to pay dramatically more for the destructive energy sources that power our transportation and our lives. We accept that bus and subway fares go up and up while service fails to improve or degenerates. We accept that a public university education would result in a debt that will take half a lifetime to pay off when such a things was unheard of a generation ago…”
So, “if humans are capable of sacrificing this much collective benefit in the name of stabilising an economic system that makes daily life so much more expensive and precarious, then surely humans should be capable of making some important lifestyle changes in the interest of stabilising the physical systems upon which all of life depends. Especially because many of the changes that need to be made to dramatically cut emissions would also materially improve the quality of life for the majority of people on the planet…”
So, what is wrong with us?
Naomi says “I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”
Bullseye! We need to challenge capitalism (as it exists today) and the systems it binds us all in, which includes supermarkets and their relationships with farmers and big agricultural companies. Naomi talks about the need for policy changes and “for us high consumers, it involves changing how we live, how our economies function, even the stories we tell about our place on earth. The good news is that many of these changes are distinctly un-catastrophic. Many are downright exciting… But before any changes can happen we first have to stop looking away.”
Isn’t this partly what Rohan is offering?! Sure, we need big changes in governments and policies but we also need to use our power as consumers.
So, lets just accept that this system isn’t working for us. Lets stop criticising people like Rohan and start supporting them! Lets move things in a new direction. I know this huge machine seems unbeatable but Naomi says “it’s not too late to avert the worst, and there is still time to change ourselves so that we are far less brutal to one another when those disasters strike. And that, it seems to me, is worth a great deal.”
I can’t wait to read the rest of her book and tell you about her ideas…