A Rot Revolution

May 25, 2010


In The Town That Food Saved, Ben Hewitt talked about the founder of Highfields Center for Composting, Tom Gilbert. Apparently Gilbert considers composting an “agent of social change”. I laughed out loud when I read that a couple of weeks ago and have since repeated it several times. Then I got to thinking. Is it really all that funny? Or was it really more an ironic type of laugh? Could it be that a heaping, steaming pile of waste is all we need to change the world?

After a lot of milling over I’ve come to complete agreement with Gilbert. Fundamentally, what we need is a full circle system, or as the folks at Highfields say, we need to close the loop.

Many people have worked to reveal the interconnectedness of all things. Wendell Berry speaks about the connection between respect for one another and respect for animals, the connection between the health of the soil and the health of all of earth’s creatures.  A favorite book of mine by Marilou Awiakta teaches readers how these connections were instilled in the earth at the time of Creation. In Selu: Teaching the Corn-Mother’s Wisdom she shows us the Universal Law of the Cherokee (and really of all): “Take and give back with respect.”

In the modern paradigm, the concept of balance between give and take is obsolete. I believe this is because people are so separated from the workings of the earth that it is hard to imagine what they use even comes from it. This has destructive consequences. We continue to demand more and more natural resources all the while dumping our waste back in to nature. Authors like Michael Pollan have helped reveal the devastating effects of this ignorant path.  He speaks about the animal welfare that is sacrificed in factory farming, about the terrible pollution running off of the Midwest’s famous cities of corn. In In Defense of Food he recalls the cultural importance of food that used to keep our nation healthy.

Unfortunately, our current system depends on disguising the truths that Berry, Awiakta and Pollan know so well. Our system depends on this ignorance. It depends on a linear system of using, consuming and discarding. At the base of composting is recycling, regenerating, replenishing. It is a tool for social change because it is radical.  It lies at the base of all that is wrong with our system. We must give back.

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