FlyOver: September 2009 Archives
Using a box of Froot Loops and some Go-Gurt as props, Michael Pollan--looking natty in a sportcoat and tennis shoes--spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of about 7,000 people last week at the University of Wisconsin's Kohl Center. Not too shabby for a weeknight author event.
Yet I wasn't surprised in the least by the turnout: here in
As one of the speakers introducing Pollan noted, about 10% of Wisconsinites work in agriculture-related jobs. While no one in my family farms anymore, my grandparents (now both deceased) raised hogs and Angus beef cattle. My aunt and uncle ran a family dairy farm and still live on that land. As for me, I don't even garden and hay makes me sneeze like you can't believe--but I'm truly proud of the farming my family members have done. Farming is physically demanding and financially risky. If you like to eat, you should appreciate what farmers do.
But back to Pollan:
part of what I appreciate about both his book and his talk at the UW is
the way in which culture has not been left out of the equation. In fact, one of the big drivers behind Pollan's
Just as food is a big part of
Local visual artists have also engaged in food-related
issues. I still remember an excellent
show the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and
Letters did on the theme of farming in 2007, "Wisconsin's People on the Land" (my review is archived here). And, timed to coincide with Pollan's
multi-day stint in
While I've never been completely disconnected from my food, Pollan has inspired me to make the extra effort to buy local food more frequently and do "real" cooking more often. (Yet I'll never, ever, give up the occasional donut; life would no longer be worth living.) It's not just about me and my health or quality of life--it's about being invested in this place where I live, in many senses of that word.
If you live in the Midwest--and especially if you live in
Madison, Wis., as I do--one of the most curious things about following coverage
of author Lorrie Moore is what that coverage reveals about attitudes towards this
I covered A Gate at the Stairs, the new novel, for this
week's issue of Isthmus, Madison's alternative weekly, and this aspect of her
critical reception is one topic I tried to address (with regard to her previous
books). In a nutshell, too many
reviewers have cast her in the role of pithy, coastal intellectual trapped in a
land of corn and slow-witted people.
(Just one example: Ploughshares
commented that "the predicaments of East Coast sophisticates landlocked in
the Midwest" is a theme in her work, and implied it about
It's that same sort of attitude that led my co-bloggers and
I to somewhat sarcastically call this blog "Flyover"--so you can imagine my
amusement when Michiko Kakutani wrote unironically in the New York Times that "[
Jonathan Lethem's piece for the NYT also touches upon
similar territory. Rather puzzlingly, he
wrote that "
Lorrie Moore certainly has her laser-like descriptive gifts,
but being able to distinguish in a work of fiction between a Madison-like
college town and a rural community is not an extravagant feat. The differences are obvious, as are the ones
between a boutique farmer of gourmet potatoes and a big commercial
operation. Would Lethem be impressed if
someone could tell the difference between a yuppie-ish college town in
For my part, I found A Gate at the Stairs problematic and
not entirely satisfying, even though there are plenty of things to like about
it. Not only are the differences between
the fictional towns of
It's great when a Wisconsin writer--and after 25 years here, I think Moore qualifies as such--is also a writer of national and international stature. There are a number of outstanding people here: Jane Hamilton, Michael Perry, kids' author Kevin Henkes. Just don't look so surprised, OK?