Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Luddites


I'm kneeling in the muddy, weedy, thriving veg field. We're several hours into green bean row clean up, tiny purple flowers and pinky tip size beans at eye level.  The soil is so wet from drenching rain that I occasionally have to stop and scrape thick mud off of my gloves to allow them to be still useful. As usual, I've got a podcast playing to keep my mind busy and my hands moving. This time, it's a great one called "Stuff You Missed in History Class" and the topic is "The Luddites".

I've often jokingly referred to myself as a 'luddite'- in the colloquial way we all use that word, with an image of someone who shuns the latest gadgetry. I love canning, roller skates, and horse drawn implements. Though it's not exactly true even in that colloquial sense, as I'm rarely separated from my smart phone and have "minor" obsession with 3-d printing. (google that shit- it's incredible and i can't wait until everyone has one, now is not the time to digress). 

But, as it turns out, I've got a lot more in common with the true Luddite movement then the derivative version we use today. I highly recommend that you take thirty minutes and check out the podcast, but in case you don't- the Luddites were standing up against the change in the textile industry to become more mechanized for two major reasons. 
1. They were unhappy with the change in quality that the machines created. Textiles were a craft, and the machines created versions that the craftspeople deemed to be sub-par.
2. They didn't believe that worker's rights, wages, and training levels would be upheld during this industrial shift (they were correct). 

So they created this bad ass, undercover, (however unsuccessfu)l movement to physically smash the machinery in a very targeted way, not because they feared the technology, but rather they saw it as a shift away from ensuring that the tradition of their vast skill and knowledge continued- and more towards throw away goods.

Readers, I can so get down with this and think it's high time for a Luddite food movement. I'm not against using good science to help us grow good food. And I'm not anti-tractor for those farms who use them. But I am against this idea that machines are always the answer, or that chemicals will always solve our pest problems. I really would love if folks banned together and said- STOP. Let's value farm workers (regardless of their country of origin), let's pay living wages, and let's use technology in the best way for the health of humans and the rest of the living world. I'm not against hybrid seeds- sometimes crossing genes results in good quality produce. But in a natural, cross-pollinating way- not in an let's take the genes from something that's not a plant and splice it with corn kind of experiment. The food we are growing on a mass scale in the western world now is certainly of a lower quality, at the very least in taste. And it's also certainly not upholding agricultural traditions, or workers rights. 

I love the idea of returning to artisans- no matter the trade. I admire anyone with a skill that's considered a lost art. Some of the most dedicated Luddite protesters were professional knitters. Grab your needles friends, and let's bring it back. I'm not calling for the destruction of anyone else's personal property. I don't like violence, but I believe in the power of using our collective buying power to support the return of wise craftspeople, and the true cost of goods. 

So- what say you? Call yourself a luddite. Shun the idea that bigger, mechanical, and newer is always better. Or, at the very least, listen to this podcast and learn a little history. 

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