Food Fight

R. R. Reno’s response to my “pushback” shows that he is not convinced of the gravity of the harms of conventional farming and agribusiness, nor the substantial benefits of small-scale, sustainable farming (“Inequality and Agency,” March). In other words, for Reno, what is primarily at issue here is not health (of land, animals, eaters, farmers, community), but merely taste. He enjoys tasty, local, sustainable, artisanal cheese, beer, and bread, but does not voice concerns about the exploitation of the land, animals, farmers, eaters, and communities involved in much of conventional farming and agribusiness. Therefore, it makes sense that he says “but, please, let’s not confuse all this with virtue.”

I love tasty food—as Reno points out, who doesn’t? However, let this be very clear: I did not become a small-scale, sustainable farmer because I have an exceptional palate. Rather, I believe that what is at issue here is good stewardship and its resultant health; therefore, virtue is exactly what we are talking about. It is vicious to (knowingly or unknowingly) damage the gifts God has given us—gifts of land, animals, our ­bodies, and those of our families and neighbors. Therefore, in very particular ways, I believe my work is ­virtuous work—the work of caring for the gifts God has given me and loving my neighbors (present and future) with healthy land and food.

Now this brings us to the crux of the matter. Am I right? Are conventional farming and agribusiness, as they relate to stewardship and health, so bad? And is small-scale, sustainable farming so good? If Reno wants to dismiss the ethical dimension of this issue, he will have to convince me that what happens in a confined poultry house from start to finish—and its complete impact on land, chicken, farmer, eater, community—is ­ethically defensible, especially in the face of the viable and sensible alternatives offered by operations like my own. (Some naysayers argue that you cannot “feed the world” with my kind of farming. This is not true, but I will not take up that extended argument here.)

Virtuous Christians respect and care for God’s gifts and provide themselves, their families, and others with one of the most fundamental human goods—health. Therefore, if Christians are convinced by arguments explaining the general poor stewardship and harm of conventional ­farming and agribusiness and the general good stewardship and health of small-scale, sustainable farming, then they must take this issue ­seriously.

Please do not let the liberal elite shoddily and incoherently “own” this issue. This is our virtue to claim, and live, and fully articulate! We could start with a prayer from the Mundelein Psalter: “God our creator, you gave us the earth to cultivate and the sun to serve our needs. Help us to spend this day for your glory and our neighbor’s good.”

Jesse Straight
warrenton, virginia

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