The Middle Ground

My wife, Rachel, and I talked over dinner the other night about local food and artisan wine.  Ten years ago, I would have been full of rhetoric about why big corporations and big business are so bad (and why local is better).  My early years back on the farm were fueled by this conviction.  But, like the few bottles of our 2006 Pinot that still remain, I’ve mellowed a bit.

I’ve come to see more acutely the benefits of local food and artisan wine.   The foods are fresher and more diverse.  The wine is more unique and of higher quality.  The economy is composed of many smaller businesses versus just a few big ones.  My thoughts on this front haven’t changed much.

What has changed is the sense of what I really know in the world.  I ate a peach from California the other day and it looked like most things that get shipped in – faceless and nameless.  That is, without an origin story.  When drinking wine it is a little better.  The label shows the winery name, the appellation, and the variety.  But even with wine, there is much to be desired.  Was there any other type of wine blended with the listed varietal? Who is behind the label?  Is it a stand alone business, or is it like so many wines these days: owned by one of the few global wine corporations?

The point is I don’t have these answers.  And they can be hard to get.  So, I’ve come to assume a stance of “don’t know” about things produced beyond this valley.  Things on this farm and winery, I know.  Things in this valley, I know a little.  Beyond that, I don’t know.

Now some of you are scratching your heads wondering why all of this pondering about a simple peach or bottle of wine.  Just enjoy them already!  And you activists in the crowd, those who are compelled to go out and find the answers, to expose injustice and poor practices, are on the other side of the fence.   Take a stand!  Yes we can!  Buy Fair Trade!  (or Organic, or biodynamic or sustainable…)

I am arguing for the middle.  Some place where conscientious folks can dwell without turning into neurotic consumers.  Some place where we enjoy the healthy food from our CSA box and also an occasional bag of M&M’s.  The Lake Chelan wine on the weekends and a few Costco wines mid-week (as one recent customer described her cost-conscious strategy). 

And I am open about not knowing a lot of things.   It is a place of ambiguity and uncertainty, but also of spaciousness and a certain peace.  I know I sleep well after a long day’s work.  I know I need a good night’s sleep to enjoy tomorrow.  I know our economy is stronger and more resilient when it has more farmers and vintners rather than fewer. 

Beyond that, it’s a mystery. 


on 2011-07-07 22:39 by Michelle Fanton

Here’s a poem by the Lebanese poet , Kahlil Gibran that speaks to this sense of knowing and not knowing, of ambiguity and certainty.


Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.

For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?

Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.

You are good when you are one with yourself.

Yet when you are not one with yourself you are not evil.

For a divided house is not a den of thieves; it is only a divided house.

And a ship without rudder may wander aimlessly among perilous isles yet sink not to the bottom.

You are good when you strive to give of yourself.

Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.

For when you strive for gain you are but a root that clings to the earth and sucks at her breast.

Surely the fruit cannot say to the root, "Be like me, ripe and full and ever giving of your abundance."

For to the fruit giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.

You are good when you are fully awake in your speech,

Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without purpose.

And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue.

You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps.

Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping.

Even those who limp go not backward. But you who are strong and swift, see that you do not limp before the lame, deeming it kindness.

You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good,

You are only loitering and sluggard.

Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.

But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest.

And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends and lingers before it reaches the shore.

But let not him who longs much say to him who longs little, "Wherefore are you slow and halting?"

For the truly good ask not the naked, "Where is your garment?" nor the houseless, "What has befallen your house?"

Michelle Fanton