LOOKING OVER THE EVER-EVOLVING lexicon of popular buzzwords, if there’s one word that fits the truism, “The more it changes the more it stays the same,” it would have to be the current darling of copy writers everywhere: “sustainable” (in all its adverbial and adjectival forms). Back in the lyrical ’60s, when many of us were proud not to drive/build/wear anything new, sustainability didn’t seem to be a viable marketing concept because the way we phrased sustainability then was perhaps a bit too poetic: “Fix it up, wear it out, use it up, do without,” or some variation along those lines. Things were “green” back then, too, (to use the most popular and easiest-to-spell current synonym for sustainable), though I don’t remember the word being applied to business or technology (nor even uttered in the same breath with those words, for that matter).
Sometimes it seems that the whole idea of sustainability took a leave of absence during the ’80s-while environmentalists and responsible consumers seemed to hang on by the skin of their teeth, “global consumerism” was a buzzword much more frequently uttered from pundits’ lips than “conservation” or “ecology” (an interesting word that seems to be falling from favor, even though it implies a holistic interaction with the world at large, with a much broader implication than “environmentalism”). Yet, amid the synthetic fabric and synthesized music then there were threads of natural light and clear vision. “Adaptive re-use”—one of my favorite terms and also a current “sustainable” synonym—was in high fashion in certain circles throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In Vermont, of all places, we watched Burlington rebirth itself, making the old better than new, bringing Bernie Sanders’ socialism successfully into the mainstream, and making sustainability politically correct.
We’re proud that from our very first issue, we’ve championed the idea of sustainable local economies centered around local food production. Since then—12 years and 49 issues ago—it’s safe to say that the vocabulary of sustainability has enlarged with silly, even dizzying speed. Now, almost everything is vying to be green, trying to give the impression that it is sensible, based on renewable resources, non-polluting, non-destructive, harmonious with the universe and, of course, biodegradable—an impossible set of criteria for anything man-made, even though everything from cars to bathroom sinks now sports a “green” tagline. (Not even my own, mostly organic body fits those criteria: I’ve got two titanium-and-ceramic knees that may well be lying around until this earth gets sucked into some time-ending black hole.)
In this issue we explore the meaning of sustainability in the same terms we always have, trying to raise the collective consciousness about what we eat, how we eat it and where it comes from—and the socioeconomic importance of it all. Because food is, ultimately, the primary (meaning both first and most important) factor in determining the nature and quality of a culture. If our food is not sustainable and sustained, neither are we. Early on, a good friend of ours, musician Jay Ungar, said we were “deliciously subversive.” I think that means that, at least sometimes, we do it right.