Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Of Food and Memetics

I helped at an event hosted by EdCC. It was called "A Taste of Sustainability" and focused on raising awareness of green living in general and sustainable food in particular. The work I did consisted of helping with decorations (balloons) and standing at a booth to answer questions about a local organic grocer (PCC), which, for the record, I had never heard of before that day. If this seems strange to you, rest assured you are not alone: it was uncomfortable.

As soon as I was informed of what I was doing, I set to reading all of the literature at my disposal as quickly and thoroughly as possible. This helped; I could now tell people what bulgur was. "Think if rice and couscous got together and had a baby," I prepared to say to anyone who asked (no-one did. Alas.).

I make it a point to know at least a little bit about a lot of things, so I came to this event already aware of the problems with our nation's current, overly centralized and profit-oriented industrial food scheme. I've read Fast Food Nation. I've got a friend who's an organic farmer in Tacoma; long conversations over the internet and dark beer had given me what I thought was a pretty basic level of knowledge in this area. As it turns out, that means I knew more than any of the people walking around the booths (which makes sense, because ostensibly they are there specifically because they don't know about sustainable foods), and any of the other people running the other booths. I was not entirely prepared for that; typically I am not the person to ask about anything that doesn't involve comics or video games or voice actors.

So, it came as a slight shock to me when people didn't know that the recent contamination of a large quantity of our country's eggs with salmonella was the direct and inevitable result of a deregulated and unethical industry; that our prior adaptations to life in a sprawling nation whose primary ideal is that of Capital is essentially to blame for the fact that our food is slowly killing us; that organic food is mainly expensive because it isn't heavily subsidized like industrial food is and therefore represents the actual costs of production. Unfortunately, I also would not have discovered these things just by working the event; take from this what you will.

I spoke to a few people at some length about these issues. They were receptive, and always surprised to find out that there are better options for food out there. This was the cusp of my experience: observing, and taking part in, the spread of a meme (a cultural idea that acts like a gene in many ways - an idea that self-propagates). I daresay that in any sapient society, the ideas which are selected for, which float to the surface and spread, are probably more important than the physical traits, especially since our medical technology allows us to mitigate the effects of natural selection. This was my individual contribution to our evolution, then; I am, perhaps, a link in the chain of a successful idea, possibly an idea which may, someday, have a measurable effect on the way humanity conducts itself in the natural world.

That's all for now.

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