Causing no end of difficulties in our national discourse is the steadfast belief held by both the right and the left that everything is either right or left: bad or good, strong or weak, despotic or patriotic. You're either with us or you're against us. President Obama addressed this very effectively before both House Republicans and Senate Democrats in recent days. It is media driven to a large extent because the media need controversy to sell papers, or bytes or views or whatever it is they're selling these days.
The most common form this takes is the old build'em-up-then-tear'em-down routine. Perhaps the only thing many Americans enjoy more than the uplifting emotion of a success story is the schadenfreude of watching that success come tumbling down. So when an idea comes to the fore, the critics ooze from the woodwork and their primary tactic is divide and conquer. Label it, frame the debate, and the fight is won or lost before the story is even told.
For a long time in the circles I travel in this was not a problem because the ideas embodied in what some have come to call SOLE food (Sustainable, Organic, Local, & Ethical) were not perceived as a threat to the established paradigm. Recent successes such as Michael Pollan's work have, however, shined a very bright spotlight on advocates of real food. As a result, people who have been toiling at these ideas for decades are becoming targets of powerful interests in the Big Food lobby. Such is the case this week at WeeklyStandard.com, where Missouri Farm Bureau vice president Blake Hurst has found his most recent audience.
Mr. Hurst was among the earliest vocal detractors of Mr. Pollan's work, as well as that of anyone who might find flaw in agroindustrial model. His essay last summer, titled The Omnivore's Delusion, did an excellent job of exploiting Pollan's success to rally the big corporate agriculture interests against the perceived threat of critics both in the media and in the field. It's natural: he felt attacked and he responded, and has now done so again. Unfortunately Mr. Hurst's vitriol, then as now, only serves to fan the flames of a fire that needn't be burning. Individuals on neither side of the debate are inherently evil, in fact both want the same thing: healthy food for all. Since our ideas for how to accomplish this differ, we are immediately cast into the right and left corners and told to come out fighting when the bell rings.
Of course this is not a new phenomenon. City and country folk have mistrusted each other since the beginnings of civilization (which, it bears pointing out, came into being because of agriculture). Nonetheless our society has changed enormously in the last 100 years. Where once nearly everyone lived on a farm or had an immediate relative who did, today only 2% of the population lives in rural America. It's not a surprise that when the 2% senses criticism emanating from within the other 98% they're going to feel a bit nervous. Some of the critiques in fact even come from within the 2% (witness cattleman Will Harris in Georgia). In his most recent essay though Mr. Hurst's fears are misplaced, and he remains little more than a tool for moneyed interests.