Several weeks ago my amazing wife arranged for us to attend an awesome independent movie premiere called Revolution:Food about farming and food, at a real life organic sustainable farm. She runs a great blog on food, health, and exercise called GainsBeforeGrains. Hop on there and check out pictures of the event, me holding baby chickens, and some llamas. She goes into much more depth about the independent natural farm movement that is downright fascinating and worth looking into.
I was born in a big city and grew up and lived only in big urban areas (Bucharest, Long Beach, Chicago, and San Diego). To me the farm we visited, Primal Pastures, was amazing. Pigs, Cows, Llamas, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, all living in a interconnected environment. For the first time in my life I started to think about food, where it comes from, what I chose to eat, who raises it, grows it, and what it all means. I often pride myself in drinking the best beer from my favorite breweries to the point where I have even visited most of the ones around where I live. Yet I can’t think of one time in my life where I stopped and thought about where my food comes from. Where does the meat I eat come from, where and how were my fruits and vegetables raised. There is a complete disconnect in my mind and in my life between me and my food.
Another thing that struck me as obvious was the lifestyle of the farmers. During the initial tour of the chicken houses the farmer, a guy my age, introduced his wife, brother, sister in law, and their children. The farm was a family affair and he drove that point home when he explained that he believes in teaching his four year old son how to do certain tasks giving him responsibilities. I found the whole thing fascinating and downright eye opening.
What does this have to do with Fantasy? Everything! For the first time in my life, walking through this idyllic scene, I actually understood why Samwise wanted to go back to the Shire. I understood what the big deal was. I finally got the attraction and the magic Tolkien shared and I fully agree with him. I will take the Shire over Gondor or even Rivendell anyday.
My visit also made me think about the way food and farming is portrayed in pre industrial fantasy settings. The often maligned and currently out of vogue farmboy trope used to be present but I can’t think of an example that actually portrayed farming, raising animals, growing food in a realistic way. Farming and food is always something in the background, always something that the hero leaves behind for cities, castles, and bigger things. Yet the medieval world was centered around the Mannor farming system. 80% of people worked the land on communal plots owned by a lord, grazed their pigs and cows on the mannor commons, and shared resources and expertise in the mannor granaries, mills, grindhouses, blacksmiths, and bakeries.
Fantasy, even our post modern fantasy tends to treat food and the production of food in the same way I used to think about it. Out of site out of mind. Its like all our wizards, barbarians, thief’s, bards and other assorted hero’s hop on to “ye old grocery shoppe” and pick up a few meat pies, some smoked ham, and a trips worth of bread. Yet historically speaking most people knew where their food came from because they either grew it themselves, owned the land, or traded and shared with other tenant farmers in their respective mannors. There was a true connection between people and food that in our day of supermarkets, refrigeration, and mass transport no longer exists.
For all its errors at least Fantasy tends to mention food and farming. Scifi, with very few exceptions, tends to hand wave food and eating all together. Wormholes, jump gates, Artificial Intelligence, yet eating food, one of the essential needs of mankind gets short shifted into some protein gruel or replicated synthasomething nonsense. One interesting exception that had a good amount of focus on food was The Martian with its focus on scarcity, the importance of food production, and mention of botany. I found it intriguing that on a few message boards people were grossed out by the way he fertilized the soil with human feces, a common practice throughout the history of farming, illustrating the disconnect between modern consumers and our food production.
The more I think about food and farming, both in the future, past, and present the more I find it fascinating. I want to incorporate the idea of farming and community into my own writing. I want something that consumed 95% of peoples life before industrialization to be treated with the proper importance. Finally I want to keep learning about the food that I eat in the real world. I want to try to build a connection with the producers and to truly understand where the food I put into my body for nourishment comes from and how it was raised. Hopefully giving me greater understanding and respect for our world.