Newsletter – October 18, 2012

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The Alleged Farm News
Issue Number 18 | October 18, 2012

This Week’s Share
Chard, Daikon, Garlic
Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Hot peppers
Potatoes, Rutabaga, Tatsoi
Thyme, Butternut winter squash


As you might have guessed–had you for some bizarre reason been compelled to speculate about my evening activities–I did not watch the presidential debate on Tuesday. When Liz turned it on (she has a more forgiving sense of civic duty) I retreated as far as possible without actually leaving the house. A set of stairs and a couple of firmly closed doors worked nicely to insulate me from the political theater. 

As easy as it was to avoid the actual debate (not that it is actually a debate), it is much harder to skip the reviews. The world has never been more replete with political critics eager to share their opinions just about any way possible. Thanks to all this post-debate analysis we can find out, whether or not we want to, what really went on. 

You might think that since tens of millions of Americans actually watched the debate they could work that out for themselves. After all, that is the putative point of the debates. It is our alleged opportunity to see the candidates (well, the two major party candidates) unmediated. We hear a lot about the candidates and a lot from the candidates in the course of a modern presidential campaign. But even when they address us

Vegetable notes

 As predicted (the forecasters do get it right some of the time), the temperature dropped to 23 degrees last Friday night. That is more than cold enough to do in tender crops–even tender crops under row covers. Even some tender crops under row covers in a greenhouse. In fact, it was cold enough to damage some hardy crops. On the other hand, the frost killed quite a few weeds too, such as galinsoga and pig weed. And it makes some of the fall crops, such as the tatsoi (the head of dark green, spoon-shaped leaves), daikon and rutabagas, taste better. They produce a sort of natural antifreeze that adds a little sweetness to their flavor. 

You could further enhance the flavor of the tatsoi by stir frying it with some garlic and soy sauce or putting it in a salad; of the daikon by shredding it and dressing it with chili oil and vinegar; and of the rutabaga by cutting it into chunks, tossing it with olive oil and salt and a little thyme, and roasting it at 400 degrees (perhaps along with potatoes and onions and other root vegetables).

directly the candidates are speaking from a script, often to a carefully selected audience, their every utterance and gesture and button tailored by consultants and polls to appeal to whatever conception of us they happen to hold on that occasion. Even their direct quotes in news coverage, it turns out, are increasingly subject to their approval, so that what appear to be their actual words turn out to be another crafty piece of p.r. Presidential campaigns apparently have lost all faith not just in the electorate, but in the candidates too. The less we really get to know them the better. 

It is to the electorate’s credit that it does not fully accept this. Voters want to at least get a sense of the real man behind the hype. That’s why, in part, the gaffes and unwanted revelations are welcomed so avidly. They are little cracks in the veneer. It is a bit disturbing that we think that we only reveal our true selves (assuming we have true selves, which is in serious doubt) in our worst moments. But the fault lies as much with the campaigns, which, having turned the candidates into consumer products, give us no real reason to trust the rest of what we see, as with our television-fueled shallow cynicism. 

Despite the debates’ obvious flaws–the hokey formats, the absence of minor party candidates, the increasingly obsessive preparation and posturing, the failure of moderators to press for an actual answer to anything, the inane focus on snappy one liners–they are at this point the one possible opportunity for the electorate to see the candidates stand before them side by side uttering unamended answers to unprepapproved questions. Leaving aside the question of what this has to do with how they would actually run the executive branch, it at least has the potential to force the candidates to be for a moment candid in public, thus affording the public a chance to contemplate what they are really getting when they opt for one or the other brand of president.

First place in this years Pie Contest goes to Anne Savage and Mike Myers for their chard spanakopita. Thanks to all the contestants and to everyone who came out to the farm on Sunday. And while it is too late to enter a pie in this year’s contest, you should feel free to drop off a pie for the farm crew any time you want.


Except that moment of contemplation is instantly overwhelmed by the noise of people desperate–for all sorts of reasons good and bad–to insert themselves once again between us and what we witnessed. Given the clamor that goes along with the debates, it would probably make more sense to air them like an NFL game, with long pauses between the brief moments of violence to view the preceding action from every angle and set the stage for the next play, the whole event accompanied by nonstop chatter. This would also allow for commercial breaks, which the candidates’ main corporate sponsors would surely appreciate. 

The responsible immediate post-debate commentary in a functioning democracy would be respectful silence while people thought for themselves. But we figured out long ago that waiting is losing and that allowing people to think for themselves makes the business of America a lot harder than it needs to be. Not that voters have to surrender to the din. But it is hard to evade, and tough to withstand. Humans are susceptible to self-confident assertions of knowledge, appeals to self-interest and the pressure of group opinion. Hence the advertising industry. And hence all the carefully crafted layers of image and message between us and most actual things, be they sneakers or snow tires or candidates for President. 

One of the things I like about growing vegetables and selling them straight to their eaters is the simple directness of the undertaking. You could probably weave stories around a rutabaga, but for the most part it is just a rutabaga, and all you need to know about it is pretty much right there: where it came from, how it grew, what it looks and tastes like. And what you do with it–whether you roast or puree it or fire it from a slingshot at your television during the next debate–is up to you. If only it were as easy to see the candidates as clearly and respond to them as freely. Maybe in 2016 I will put up a vegetable for President. Now there’s a debate I might watch: Ryan versus Rutabaga.