Prophets of Bloom: An Evening with Joan Gussow, Michele Owens, and James Howard Kunstler

On Tuesday, authors Joan Gussow, Michele Owens, and James Howard Kunstler joined Kerry Trueman of Eating Liberally in a conversation about the state of our environment, our national politics, and our natural landscape. “Prophets of Bloom” contextualized these topics within our present political climate and debated the possibility for a return to a more sane and happy existence.

“Prophets of Bloom”—instead of doom—suggests that the greater systemic problems with our environment and our food system can be confronted and opposed by more sustainable efforts to keep our lifestyles reliant on local economies and land use. That’s the suggestion at least, but for the panelists of this evening’s conversation, the current reality was undeniable: We’re facing a progressively “disabled culture,” to use the words of Kunstler. Each author shared an opinion on how to navigate within our larger societal framework.

For Gussow, navigation is about balancing the reality of our societal choices with a personal curiosity for combating them. Through gardening and the education that comes with it, the spirited 81-year old explained her life mantra: “Accept the state of things and act as if you believe that.” Her question to the room, then, “What will it be like to convince people to abandon the supermarket,” was memorable for its genuine concern. As Gussow herself puts it, we grapple with our “existential grief” when we consider how large of predicament we find ourselves in these days. But by accepting grief, Gussow seems to challenge it with personal motivation—a trait that helped her to become the true pioneer of the organic movement that she is.

But, says Kunstler, “life is tragic.” Airing on the side of doom, Kunstler challenged the younger generation to demonstrate competence in combating “the failure in leadership” currently plaguing us. “Delusional thinking will rise in proportion to economic distress,” Kunstler predicted. To navigate the current climate, he spoke about the necessity of a coming peak oil and resource shock–a tipping point that will awaken our nation’s understanding of just how severely disabled our society really is. In this future time, successful leaders would be characterized by their ability to steer systemic change toward a more sane landscape. Towns, urban neighborhoods, and small communities would operate on local trade and transportation. In Kunstler’s opinion, when we next define hope, it should be the product of responsible action and “purposeful activity.”

While Gussow and Kunstler narrowed their focus to personal curiosity and larger political change, Owens revisited the actual location for such a revolution: the garden bed. “Perhaps I’m too much of an optimist for this group,” Owen said, but her appreciation of the “redemptive power of a home cooked meal” is a strong navigational tool. The landscape around us may be gloomy, but in Owen’s opinion, “the root to happiness is through a vegetable garden.” I think Gussow and Kunstler would agree.

 

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Photo: James Howard Kunstler (painting)

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Stacey Slate is the former deputy managing editor of Civil Eats and community manager for the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, CA. She is currently helping to build edibleschoolyard.org, an online network to connect teachers, parents, and advocates of the edible education movement and to encourage them to share best practices and curriculum. Read more >

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