Here is the first sentence of the “Preface” to a reprint of Masanobu Fukuoka’s 1978 book The One Straw Revolution by Wendell Berry
Readers who expect this to be a book only about farming will be surprised to find that it is also a book about diet, about health, about cultural values, about the limits of human knowledge.
As you will understand having spent the good part of a week reading Berry’s essays, the surprise, as Berry notes, is really a product of modern habitual expectations of writers as specialists and books about a singular subject. Berry notes that many of the practical farming strategies are not directly applicable to most North American farms. However, he recommends the book for a different reason:
Like many in this country, and sooner than most, Mr. Fukuoka has understood that we cannot isolate one aspect of life from another. When we change the way we grow our food, we change our food, we change society, we change our values. And so this book is about relationships, to causes and effects, and it is about being responsible for what one knows.
This description of Fukuoka’s thinking animates the essays we are reading in The Unsettling of America.
Here are a few selected passages from The One Straw Revolution that may be useful for you as you continue thinking and writing this week:
“When you think about it, everybody is familiar with the words “natural food.” but it is not clearly understood what natural food actually is. There many who feel that eating food which contains no artificial chemicals or additives is a natural diet, and there are others who think vaguely that a natural diet is eating foods just as they are found in nature.
If you ask whether use of fire and salt in cooking is natural or unnatural, one could answer either way. If the diet of the people of primitive times, eating only plants and animals living in their wild state, is “natural,” then a diet which uses salt and fire cannot be called natural. But if it is argued that the knowldege aquired in ancient times of using fire and salt was humanity’s natural destiny, then food prepared accordingly is perfectly natural.
Is food to which human techniques of preparation have been applied good, or should wild foods just as they are in nature be considered good? Can cultivated crops be said to be natural? Where do you draw the line between natural and unnatural?” (123)
“Another problem is that spiritual and emotional values are entirely forgotten, even though foods are directly connected with human spirit and emotions. If the human being is viewed merely as a physiological object, it is impossible to produce a coherent understanding of diet. When bits and pieces of information are collected and brought together in confusion, the result is an imperfect diet which draws away from nature” (141).
“The prime consideration is for a person to develop the sensitivity to allow the body to choose food by itself. Thinking only about the foods themselves and leaving the spirit aside, is like making visits to the temple, reading the sutras, and leaving Buddha on the outside. Rather than studying philosophical theory to reach an understanding of food, it is better to arrive at a theory from within one’s daily diet” (146).