Yesterday afternoon, I picked a giant bowl of strawberries from my strawberry patch in my back yard. This is what I, in my mundane lower middle class suburban existence, see as getting back in contact with my peasant origins!
Yet, as my mother might say (and does, most times I visit her), I have not the slightest idea of what it means to be a peasant. As she points out, I do not know what it is like to suffer all the hardships of peasant life, like warming your bare feet in cow manure in the winter because you don’t have shoes!
The above photo, by the way, is of my mother and her father and elder siblings, circa 1939 or 1940, living their simple peasant lives. My mother looks both adorable and happy – she is the youngest in the photo.
But whilst Nietzsche might despise the mundane nature of my suburban existence, I still think that it is important to remain connected to the soil in some way, both for health and for sanity.
My parents both were born on subsistence farms in Italy, although obviously limited land and the advent of complex 20th century economics meant that ‘peasant’ was no longer a viable career choice for them. But think of this – until they, and millions like them, made the leap thousand of miles across the world, there would have been a hundred or more generations before them of peasant farmers. Myself, an office worker in what I think the American sociologist Alvin Toeffler described as the ‘cognitariat’, is in the first generation of my family to not be born as a peasant in a rural setting.
Instead, I live in what was a city of 2 million at the time of my birth, and is now 5 million in size. The skyline of high rise apartment blocks is creeping closer and closer – only two kilometres east of my home are two tall apartment towers. More and more people, including children, are living or growing up in boxes, rather than surrounded by some modest semblance of nature.
Is it any wonder that food allergies in children are becoming more common, and that kids are more prone to minor illnesses? They are living in totally artificial environments, only recently removed from what was the reality for the bulk of humanity – rural agricultural life.
True, we have it much better in terms of medicine, nutrition, clothing, shelter, control of our environment. But is it truly a good thing for us to be able to control our environment so fully? And what will we (highly evolved monkeys which I hope we are not) leave for the rest of nature? Possums annoy me but I am glad that they are out there, and they are welcome to most of my figs.