Food Ink 13

Grief, Disillusionment, and Why I've Been MIA

Hello friends and farmers,

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here. Almost 10 months since the last newsletter. Something's been holding me back, and it's taken me many collective hours of reflection to realize what it was, why I fell silent all this time.

But before I get to that, there's a lot of new folks who recently joined this list. Hundreds in fact, despite the radio silence. I'd love to know how you all got here, so would really appreciate if the new folks could answer two quick questions:

  1. How did you find your way here?
  2. What made you want to sign up?

Now, back to the silence. There are two parts to it, why I couldn't bring myself to write and share my journey; why I couldn't "think in public" like I set out to do here.

First, I didn’t really know how to share what I was learning, what I was seeing. I couldn’t believe it myself. I didn’t want to believe it. I had turned my life upside down for all the promise of regenerative agriculture, farmers picking up the burden of climate change that corporate giants continue to pass off. Then one seed of doubt, sewn through firsthand experience, eventually bloomed into a trellis of distrust shrouding every nook and cranny of the better agriculture movement I had put my hope in. But not first without a long period of disbelief. For months, I refused to let the dream die. Refused to believe what was revealing itself to me.

Denial, according to the Kübler-Ross model, is the first of the five stages of grief, and it's part of why I fell silent. I was grieving, it turns out; not the loss of a loved one, but the death of an ideal.

Second, I had moved off the farm and out of Georgia. I had moved back to NY - at first to the lower Hudson Valley area, which is still a bit farmy I suppose, and then back to the city, in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. All of a sudden, I was back to an urban existence. Disconnected, once again, from nature. Disconnected from my dream.

In that time, I began and ended a search for land upstate, ultimately putting it on hold due to low inventory and high prices. I started doing some e-commerce work for my dad's wine shop in the Upper East Side, trying to help propel him toward retirement. And I started working with a new farm upstate, whose mission to improve grass-fed genetics and values around collectivism resonate with me. (And, if I'm being honest, my relationship with whom preserves for me some semblance of alignment with my agricultural aspirations).

In that time, I've effectively gone from tech worker to farm apprentice and back again. And after all the hoopla I raised about the magical promise of regenerative agriculture, going back to working at a desk and behind a screen, I felt like I'd come up short. I felt like I had retreated from my mission and my vision. I felt, as I have before, like an impostor.

And so, I've been unable to bring myself to write here.

All this cognitive and emotional dissonance is something I've been working through in my head, in my journal, with my girlfriend, with friends from the farm, even with a therapist. I know I need to articulate these things fully and completely to stop cycling through the stages of grief, lay the foundation for deeper acceptance, and move forward with optimism and hope. Part of that process, for me, is writing.

And yet, the potential repercussions of sharing what I've learned has paralyzed me with fear, guilt, and a gravity of responsibility I feel unequipped to handle. I've found myself wrestling with the perspectivism of morality, unable to decide what is right.

As I write this, I realize it all sounds a bit dramatic. Grief, disillusionment, moral perspectivism: they're all weighty terms with seemingly little to do with agriculture. But they're apt.

In the two years since I left tech to dive directly into the world of better food and agriculture, I've collected a mental graveyard of fallen food heroes: Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms, Belcampo Farms, and most recently Fleishers Butchery. In retrospect, the common thread among them makes it almost comical that I didn't see it before. If you haven't guessed it yet, here are a few other popular heroes who are similarly problematic: Bill Gates, Joe Rogan, Jeff Bezos.

Yet, it may be too easy and overly simplistic to blame everything on the White male problem. Part of the blame also lies with our retelling and reshaping of history through the great man theory. Underlying all of that, however, is the prevailing settler-colonizer breed of capitalism that is the matrix of our current reality. We are steeped in it, indoctrinated in its ways, without even knowing it, like a fish that doesn't recognize water.

Further, the corruption and exploitation I've come to find in food and agriculture, it turns out, is immutable in this context. It pervades all industries. And I want to believe that it's a poison not of individuals but of systems. Of economic structures. And most fundamentally, incentives.

If you haven't realized it yet, food isn't just about food. It's about agriculture, climate change, and industry, yes. But it's also about racism, systemic oppression, geopolitical conflict, exploitive capitalism, corruption, inequality, profiteering, imperialism, and so much more.

So, among other things, I'm coming back to writing. Some of it in private, at least for now. It needs to be in order to serve its catharsis. I might share it with you all in the future, but I haven't decided that yet. Wrestling with that decision is part of what has paralyzed my writing for this long. Once I'm finished, I hope to find a way to share it that I'm comfortable with, but for now I need to write as if it won't be shared, or else it won't come out at all.

Until then, back to our long-delayed, irregularly scheduled programming...

I'll be reviving this fledgling newsletter with a broader scope. I have a lot of reading queued up, some half-baked thoughts and essays, and more processing to do around many of the topics broached above.

And in case you forgot (I almost did) I am including something that has brought me delight at the end of each email. I started incorporating this idea because the reality of food and farming, and all that is related, can get pretty grim. As I'm still learning to hold a state of acceptance with these harsh realities, I'm making a point to regularly remember and appreciate something that delights me. At the same time, it will make sure this newsletter always ends on a positive note.


😊 Delight No. 2: Yesterday, I turned 33 and a third. Exactly one third of a century. I left myself a reminder for it on my phone when I realized it. I'm not sure why I thought of it when I created that calendar reminder, but I'm glad I did. I got a kick out of it, thinking of my nerdy past self coming up with that idea.

Proof of nerd-dom:

Thirty three and a third



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Betting the farm,