Food for Thinkers: The Grand Finale Food for Thinkers: The Grand Finale

Food for Thinkers: The Grand Finale

by Nicola Twilley

January 27, 2011

On the principle of going out with a bang, rather than fading away, I present, with a drumroll, the Food for Thinkers Grand Finale.

Meanwhile, on his blog, Quiet Babylon, Tim Maly ponders the will of animals to live and the will of plants to live, and arrives at this terrible ethical question: if we become capable of not eating, could we be required to stop? His post, which is entitled "The Cyborg Ethics of Eating" and is far too interesting not to read in full, considers proposals for driving predators to extinction (to eliminate all cases of animals eating other animals, not just human carnivorism), demolishes arguments for according lesser status to plants ("If the goal is an avoidance of suffering, how to account for the knowledge that plants use chemicals to scream?"), and finally frames the question of eating in moral terms:

A growing pool of technology and knowledge brings with it a growing sediment of moral duties. Once we are able to do things, we must decide whether to do them.

It's not all that difficult to envision a research program driven by moral goals. How does a Jain with a multi-billion dollar R&D budget approach the terrible problem of eating? Why not cut out the clumsy middleman of mastication and develop new systems for converting energy and nutrients directly into sustenance? Imagine a research program devoted to enabling cyborg Jainism.

Finally—and if your mind is not completely blown at this point, I give up—we move to a completely different kind of future, in which Robin Sloan saves the publishing industry through food. In an immensely enjoyable post on Snarkmarket, Sloan makes a powerful pitch for food as an "irresistible, universal hook"—"one of the most powerful tools" for selling ideas—and for fiction's dependence on food as an engine to move plot:

Today, in 2011, food isn’t just part of the background; it’s right up front, in sharp focus. We think, every day, about our food’s composition and its origin. We look at labels. We ask for options. We feel waves of angst and dread. We are uncertain.

This is the perfect environment for fiction.

Building on this union of food and fiction, Sloan then notes the twin facts that "one of the big problems with books is that there are fewer and fewer credible places to sell them" and that "there are more farmer's markets than Whole Foods stores in the United States." The next step is now obvious:

So what if you set up a stand next to the radish-monger and sold books at the farmer’s market? What if wasn’t the same pulpy selection you get at Wal-Mart—the latest Lee Child and James Patterson—but instead an inventory specifically concocted to tickle the brains and tug the heart-strings of farmer’s market true believers?

The next boy wizard will enroll in a magical cooking school.

The next Jason Bourne will be pursued by a sinister agribusiness giant and/or the Tuna Yakuza.

The next Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be a girl with a street food cart.

I have to admit, I have heard more unlikely stories. Especially over this past week. But don't take my word for it: visit Snarkmarket to read "Harry Potter and the Farmers' Market" in full.

And on that note, I think it's time to say goodnight.

Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than 40 food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?

Follow the conversation all week here at GOOD, join in the comments, and use the Twitter hashtag #foodforthinkers to keep up to date.

Images: (1) Teaching Transgenic Food by Zackery Denfield; (2) Betel Nut Beauties by Magda Biernat, courtesy of Clic Gallery; (3) Christmas Eve Feast by shadarington.

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Food for Thinkers: The Grand Finale