I am currently reading:
The Cow by Ariana Reines
Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry
and this is what I think about them both:
Wendell Berry is not writing about women in the same way Ariana Reines is. He is however, writing about cows (to some extent) and about everyday things like food that we do not think about. Reines does this too. She writes about the things in life we take for granted, or even abuse, like women, like cows…. In a way both of them (Berry and Reines) are calling us all to take a closer look at the world around us. People come from mothers, women house living breathing things, hamburgers come from a cow with eyes and a face that feels and thinks. As consumers and people with mothers, we all need to recognize the orient of everyday commodities and food or care. We do not often stop to see what we are doing…
Wendell Berry does write about women sometimes.
“In his gaze she feels herself to be not just physically but historically a woman, one among generations, bearing into mystery the dark seed. She feels herself completed by that as she could not be completed by the desire of a younger man( Berry, 231)”. This woman is a woman who serves. She is needed to help with walking, her arm linked through the man’s arm, as if to assume he was helping her along, but really to assist in his mobility. She is useful. This makes her feel like a woman far more than a man who desires her might make her feel. It is not explicit in telling the reader how she would feel if she were the object of desire, as Reines’s writing might do, but here she is a woman, feeling useful in her helping.
Reines writes about women in a much different fashion, but she addresses this feeling of “usefulness” as a thing which we have been trained to identify with and become. Because mothers have a “use” and women can be of “use”, we see ourselves as products rather than real people…”To be a blank upon which the hells project their sorrow and to forgive them, that means to be a mother (Reines, 38)”. Mothers have a function in our lives, and most of the time what they do is expected, yet not appreciated. Mothers sacrifice for us in the way they birth us into exitance and the way they raise us up from little babies into adults of some kind. And this is just something that occurs in life. Women are expected to do these things. Like on farms, women are expected to cook the food.
In today’s world, cooking is a feminist’s least favorite pastime. The kitchen is no longer the place for a female member of the household. It is not ‘politically correct” and you are probably a “sexist” if you think that your woman needs to make you a sandwich. But cooking was not always such a bad thing. Food preparation was appreciated and admired and helped women take pride in their talents… “The effort of justice to women, in addition to the substantial good it has done and is doing, has attached a sense of belittlement to “women’s work.”(they)…are not the “little women” of the liberationist stereotype, and are related distantly if at all to the housewives of the modern suburbs. They are not consumers. They are not openers of cans or heaters of frozen dinners of stirrers of “mixes”…they are managers of domestic economies that are complex, practically and culturally…Justice to these women requires recognition of the entirely admirable knowledge, intelligence, and skill that they applied to their “women’s work” (Berry 185-6)”.
So what are we saying here? That women need to keep cooking organic foods and keep doing their duty and providing for males? Not necessarily. The idea of cooking has not always been so simple. It was an elaborate process back “in the day” before we became obsessed with instantaneous versions of microwavable foods and packaged goods. Both Reines and Berry both write about this obliviousness and disconnect from what we are filling our mouths with. We do not even know all of what we are digesting. “…food is a very abstract idea–something they do not know or imagine–until it appears on the grocery shelf of on the table (Berry, 228).”
Reines is particularly concerned with the mindless consumption of beef. She explicitly depicts how cows are killed and turned into packaged meat because she knows that most people are unaware of where what they are eating comes from. Even if they know logically what it is, they do not think about how it got to be in the form that they are chewing on.
“She has shit caked on her…she is hung up by her hind legs and her throat is sliced open. She is bled on a moving conveyor belt. Everything happens very quickly. An animal is costly. Industry has an aesthetic. They cut the head off and slice the carcass in half. If there is shit outside of the animal, this is shit’s chance to make with the inside of the animal. Therefore, disease (pg. 33)”.
This does not make you want to eat a burger, does it? Wendell Berry seems to agree “…the hamburger she is eating came from a steer who spent much of his life standing deep in his own excrement in a feedlot, helping to pollute the local streams, or that the calf that yielded the veal cutlet on her plate spent its life in a box in which it did not have room to turn around (Berry 230)”. And goes even further to say, “I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable in order to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade (Berry, 230)”.
This idea of usefulness keeps coming up in my head as I read these two authors. Cows seem to have been deemed useful to us as food-providers, and so we have made a business out of killing them. But how has motherhood been viewed the same? Reines is particularly interested in this topic. I am not exactly sure how it connects, but I do know that the mindlessness that people have made their eating habits disturbs me. And the thought of what else we might become ignorant towards frightens me. Perhaps, like alienating the slaughter of an animal from the act of eating a meal, we will soon make our relationships and utilization of the people in our lives, like mothers or daughters or girlfriends or lovers or babies, simply mindless and selfish in our existence.
From now on, I shall view eating as an intentional effort to respect my mother and also to save the world.