Hunger is the force that compels life. Hunger is the most primitive of compulsions, it is the deepest and strongest indication we have as mammals of our own health and vigor. In the moments after birth, it is the instinct that initiates our conversion from the passive recipient of nourishment, to the active participant, engaged in the pursuit of it.
Years ago, my dear dog Jeaphors developed parvovirus after she lapped up some water from a bowl at a state park in California. Her decline was signaled by her lack of hunger, and her recovery was marked by its return.
A few months ago I observed the tenuous early hours of the life of my goat kids. The nervous insecurity that accompanied that time was encouraged by their inaccurate and fumbling attempts to secure their mothers teat. The simple activity exhausting them, and resulting in their giving up the attempt and returning to their rest. Their mother seemed unconcerned, and as the hours wore on a transformation took place. There descended upon these creatures an irresistible and inexhaustible compulsion: hunger. Once they had been fully possessed by it, their was nothing that could dissuade their attempts to secure their mother's milk.
It seems that deep within us resides a biological imperative, and it is hunger. So much of our culture is developed around the practice that accompanies satisfying this biological imperative. Once satisfied by simple scavenging, our success eventually enabled a more careful selection. Eventually, all of the cultivated plants and animals we enjoy the fruits of today, sprung from the unique expression of this primitive impulse.
Generations of development later, most of us have been called away from the land. Our ancestors, some by choice and some by force, were again extracted from the ecology that gestated and nurtured them. Once with the move to agriculture, and again with the move away from it. Hunger is now satisfied by an intricate and far reaching network of producers and manufacturers. Food is produced and processed and shipped on a massive scale, from every corner of the world.
For those of us fortunate enough to touch the earth that offers up the food we eat, and stroke the coat of the animal who offers us milk and who's meat we take, there inevitably develops a kind of urgent concern about the consequences of the modern world. It is never a question of whether the labors are justified, or the hours are too long. It is not a concern that the produce could be had for less at the market, packaged and regulated and ready to eat. There is no fear that the raw and unregulated food that I eat may be a threat to my health. Instead there is a fear that too few of us are dedicating ourselves to these tasks, and there are too few opportunities for those who might choose to do so.
As the age of cheap fuel comes to a close, there is likely to be some startling revelations for many. The emphasis on scale in agriculture will have to be replaced by notions of greater sustainability, and localized production. Where for decades great machines rumbled through thousands of acres to feed millions, rugged fingers will instead be handling enough food for a few families. The technologies that evolved in an age of abundance, substituted with neighborhood innovations, that allow what is needed to be produced with what is available.
The new agrarian nation will not resemble the old so much as it is something new, inhabiting the cracks and crevices left by the crumbling old world. It has occurred to me that we straddle the edge of the old and new world today. One foot in a world of giraffes and whales and polar bears, and another in a world where these beasts are only memories, or genes in a tube, or pictures on the wall of a child's nursery. It is time for us to remember what it was like to live among beasts and bugs and worms, while they are still here to comfort us.