Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feed & Fuel

It's reasonable to suppose that, beyond the wars and the financial crisis, the abiding contribution of the Bush years will be the total coupling of food and energy prices.  In the abstract, this makes sense, as proteins, grains and fat are just fuel for animals and the production and delivery of foodstuffs necessarily includes the expenditure of other forms of energy, so the volatility of one will have to track that of the other.  But the logic of the equation doesn't make it any less painful to economically weaker parties, whether as consumers or producers.   Here in Europe, for example, the butter price has moved in similar motion with the oil price,  with consumers hurt both at the peak prices of last summer and the reduced pocketbook of the moment while small farmers who geared up for the high export demand for China and India are now faced with surpluses and trying to stem increasing loss margins.  If you add in the connection between the nature of our food supply and the resultant medical costs directly associated with food content and quality, it starts to become clear that getting energy policy right means getting food and health policy right as well.  It's a not a matter of fixing something, but fixing everything.

An activity like new music (or dance or poetry)  isn't significant to the markets described above, although the people who make this music are irretrievably stuck inside them, so we tend to do what the system orders rather than actively resist.  But wouldn't it be more useful, to ourselves, our work, and possibly the larger system itself, to find better ways of working in the margins, the statistical insignificant underground?  Often times, the smallest irritation (like a grain of sand in the wrong place in your left shoe) can become an agent of real change.  Yes, this is the case for a vanguard or an elite, if you will, but when the whole is not functioning well, it's high time for experimentation in the parts, even the smallest parts.  

The slow, seasonal & local food movement may well be the best model for us.  In my recent trip to California, I was struck simultaneously by the huge number of fast-food restaurants, the ever-larger size of American bodies and the still-large auto sizes (people are stuck with big cars cause they can't sell them or get financing on new, smaller, ones) on one hand and the near-absence of home fruit and vegetable gardens and reduced produce sections in groceries (not to mention home solar heating or energy generation;  even worse is the news that the series of food contamination scares have driven people towards more consumption of processed foods rather than frech) on the other.  The phenomena are directly related to one another.  More garden production is not going to feed the masses more healthily and economically, but it is an irritant, a positive one, that can lead to mass producers improving both the quality and variety of their foods.  

I believe that the same goes for music.  If more new, local, and live music were introduced into life at the local level, starting from homes, schools, churches, and in community and civic functions, this would lead to a net increase in variety and quality as well as break the hold that large institutional publishers (and institutional censors, like UIL described in a recent post) and their house composers exercise over repertoire.  Moreover, the creation of bonds between creative artists and their communities can be part of a community's identity, an a more interesting part of the identity than, say, the architectural variety of local strip malls. 

See also this old post about composers and localities.


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