Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A few morsels from the Kentucky farmer, essayist, poet, philosopher

WITHERSPOON SOCIETY INSIGHTS. I’ve found considerable insight and down-home wisdom in the writings and reflections of Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry over the past ten years, more so in the past five. Berry spoke to the Witherspoon Society in March 2003. The following pithy snippets from his talk were posted on their website (

ON SHOPPING AT SUPERMARKET CHAINS: "We live in an age of divorce, and not just of husbands and wives. We're divorced from our groceries. If you buy your food from Kroger, you don't know where it came from and at what human cost. We're willing to go into this intimate situation in which we eat creatures we don't know."

ON DEVELOPING LOCAL FOOD SUPPLY SYSTEMS: "We've got to reassume economic responsibility. Quit living by proxy. Ask a neighbor, 'What can I do for you?' Ask a farmer, 'Can I get food from you?' Begin to replace abstract services with actual people. Replace unknown substances that we eat with known substances."

ON THE DIVORCE OF UTILITY AND BEAUTY: "We are a society that thinks if a thing is useful, it has a right to be ugly. In this hotel we have picture windows so we can look out on a scene of rather startling ugliness."

ON TECHNOLOGY THAT DOMINATES CONTEMPORARY LIFE: "It's inescapable. It's like original sin; we're in it. The best we can do is hope for grace and forgiveness." Berry, who lives on a farm in eastern Kentucky, admitted that he and his wife each have a vehicle, "because everything we want is far away. We have to drive 20 to 30 miles to get a haircut. ... You're always going to be involved in compromises."

ON TELEVISION: "If you would welcome a seducer, a known swindler, a liar, and a person convicted of violent crimes into your living room, then you'll be completely comfortable having a television" (Berry doesn't).

ON THE NEED FOR FORGIVENESS: "I'm a man who enjoys animosity. I like the high you get from feeling wronged and above somebody else. But it's a hole you get into and when you get to the bottom, there's nobody there."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY: "You can't have community among people who don't need each other for anything. If you believe it's better not to be known, for people not to know your business, you will suffer the consequences. Nobody will know if you're sick or hungry."

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

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Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.