Sunday, December 2, 2018

Great Books: The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved

The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved (2006), by Sandor Ellix Katz, is a book from a time before "food sustainability" was a mainstream conversation in the United States.

This book fundamentally changed my outlook, not just on food, but on life.

First, about the title. It is a riff on The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, a 1970 musical spoken-word piece by Gil Scott-Heron. This was a time when many people—especially women, people of color, and progressives—were horrified by what they saw in the mainstream culture around them and on television. The United States felt like two separate and very different countries, with an increasingly impassable rift dividing them.

Scott-Heron explains to us that revolutions are not things that we can expect to experience passively, and they do not take place comfortably and tidily within the existing structure. He paints it colorfully:
You will not be able to stay home, brother

The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruption

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
Brothers in the instant replay

There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock News
and no pictures of hairy armed women Liberationists and
Jackie Onassis blowing her nose

The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver's seat
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will be live.

I came of age in the 1980s. I knew that something was wrong. These were the Reagan and Bush years: the years of Iran-Contra, geopolitical brinkmanship, the feds ignoring the AIDS crisis, the rise of yuppies and materialism, the increasing gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and so on.

We had changed the channel a few times since Scott-Heron's picture, but we were still basically watching the same show.

(And, dare I say, we still are today. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose !)

During my teenage years, I went from radical to cynical to nihilistic. I was without hope; I didn't see a way through it. I had this feeling that nothing I could do would matter. I was mystified at the people around me who thought they could make a difference. Didn't they see what I saw?

At some point I stopped thinking so hard, and just went about my business.

Fast forward a couple of decades. By the time I encountered Katz's book, I had found things to care about. But I had not yet been able to vanquish the fundamental impotence I felt growing up in the 1980s—I had merely put it away in a drawer.

What if there were people not just thinking, writing, theorizing, and complaining, but actually doing things?

What if we could make daily choices that would make a difference?

What if there were a subculture of good people already doing this? (And I say subculture advisedly rather than community, because there is great disagreement among food thinkers and doers about how to solve particular problems, or even what is a problem. This ideological diversity is a huge asset; it ensures that ideas are constantly being debated, tested, and refined.)

What if it were as simple and fundamental as changing the way we engaged around food?

This book set me on the path I'm on now, trying to see how to "make a difference" and "save the world" through the lens of food and everything it touches, which is to say pretty much everything—health, economics, the environment, politics, imperialism, racism and sexism and homo- and trans-phobia, and so on.

I saw models of people who felt that something was wrong, and were doing very important and meaningful things in response. I started to break free from the ghost of my youth.

Thank you, Sandor Ellix Katz.


Re-reading this, I realize that I failed to say anything about the singular author and his voice.

His voice is one of calm, heart, strength, vulnerability, and justice.

His writing has inspired me.

I hope it inspires you.


Pamina said...

I second your recommendation. Great book!

Alex Lewin said...

Hear hear!