Sunday, February 5, 2012

Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-cookin' Mamas"

"Turn stones into bread, and mankind will run after thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient." The Grand Inquisitor

I picked up Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-cookin' Mamas at the library because I am on a gardening kick (well, so far it is a reading about gardening kick...). Imagine my surprise at finding the above excerpt from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov in it!

This post was written as part of Weekend Cooking, a weekly meme hosted by Beth at Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to head over to Beth Fish Reads, grab the button, and link up anytime over the weekend. (The button is on your right...)

The author, Mark Winne, is using the parable called "The Grand Inquisitor" from The Brothers Karamazov to make a point about food. In the parable, the Grand Inquisitor (from the Spanish Inquisition) arrests Jesus(!) He says that Jesus should have taken care of people more by giving them bread (See the above quote.) and taking away their free will. People should have been made to trade freedom for bread.

The author interestingly uses this parable, touching on it throughout the book to talk about the struggle between as he calls it "Big Food" and local, sustainable food. Big Food is comparable to the Grand Inquisitor who would take care of people and at the same time make a lot of their decisions for them. Big Food is the giant food producing and food selling companies.

The book tells us that Big Food employs agricultural practices that are bad for the land, water, and air, and involve the inhumane treatment of workers. Furthermore, Big Food sells foods that are not healthy and pushes for trade agreements with foreign countries that are detrimental to the health of their citizens. This part of the book reminded me of the book Fast Food Nation, which I read a couple years ago. That book described these abuses more graphically (and appallingly) than this book.

The book contrasts this with anecotes about programs that promote local gardening, such as Maurice Small's efforts to bring small pocket gardens to Cleveland's vacant lots. There are anecedotes about Austin Texas' Sustainable Food Center This is a picture from their website. They teach nutrition and healthy cooking at a grassroots level.

Basically, the book is about food democracy versus food totalitarianism. As the production and distribution of food falls into the hands of bigger and bigger farms and companies, there are fewer and fewer people at the very top - in charge of our food supply. But, if you produce and/or cook your own food, or if you buy from a farmer's market and know your producer then you are still close to the source; and many small producers increases food choices and food sources.

I like the idea of knowing what has gone into my food and having some direct control over its supply since food is, of course, vital to life.

And, as for the Parable of the Grand Inquisitor, at the end, Jesus walks over to the Inquisitor and kisses him, and the Inquistor lets him go free. Scholars have debated the meaning of this. Our author thinks that it means that Jesus and the Inquisitor both know that Christ and his gift of freedom of choice will win over the Inquisitor and certain bread at the high cost of giving away one's freedom. Mankind will chose freedom and will take his chances finding his own bread.


  1. I am neither a foodie nor a gardner, but I am disturbed at the conglomeration of the producers/sellers of all of our consumer goods. There is something disturbing about so few people makng decisions about what products we can buy. I also like the idea of trying to maintain local control, by patronizing local gardners and farmers or local booksellers. Thank you for these thoughts.

  2. I absolutely believe in eating close to the source. It too disturbs me that so few people at the top are making decisions for the masses -- not just with food but with many industries that have consolidated into just a few companies that are more interested in making money than they are in producing good products.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Dave and Beth. If anyone reads this book and the politics of Big Food versus sustainable food doesn't get them, the descriptions of how farm animals are treated will. I did not delve into that too much because I did not want to "gross out" the Weekend Cooking followers who go from blog to blog reading about food and recipes. But, even though it is unpleasant, we need to know about this and act upon it.