Monday, 10/13/14

  1. Organic Goodness
  2. Hacking the Rule
  3. Ipse dixit du jour
  4. Interrogating myself
  5. Shorter Catechism update


My Fair City now sports a Fresh Thyme Farmers Market. The manager, interviewed, extolled the health benefits of organic foods, which of course prompted someone from Purdue (as enmeshed in non-organic ways as the Fresh Thyme manager is in organic) to cite a Stanford study that showed no benefit from eating organic food.

So now a few thoughts that make my ritual disclaimer, below, more apt than usual.

First, I grew up with parents who both had smoked (and, unbeknownst to me, my father hadn’t yet kicked the habit, but merely confined it to his office), and who confidently warned us that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer. Research funded openly or surreptitiously by the tobacco industry conveniently found no link – leading to official stalemate for a very long time.

Second, in my profession of law, it’s kind of a joke that you can always find an expert who, for a price, will share your client’s theory of things. (There’s enough truth in that claim that I’ve renamed prostitution “forensic dating.”) The scandal is great enough that Federal Courts have adopted Daubert Standards to try to exclude junk science from courtrooms.

So I’m forever jaded about claims of researchers and experts. Their claims are interesting, but rarely conclusive. And yes, I totally believe that Big Agribiz is capable of suborning favorable studies. If their food additives made people glow in the dark, there’d be adoring studies of Photoluminescence and Nocturnal Pedestrian Safety.

Second (and this tacitly interrogates both the manager and the Purdue guy), just what do you mean by “organic”?

If organic means standard grocery store fare but produced without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers and processed without irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives, then I would expect the measurable health benefits for individual consumers to be few and hard to detect reliably. In fact, “organic” wouldn’t be a very big deal at all.

And that does appear to be the standard, pretty trivial meaning.

But if “organic” is used more wholistically, subsuming such things as

  • beasts being pastured and eating grass and whatever other flora and fauna they fancy, rather than confined and fed a “scientific” and “efficient” brew of grains, offal from other animals and  and subclinical doses of antibiotics for growth promotion; and
  • produce being selected for flavor and variety rather than for its ability to travel 3000 miles without looking much wearied by the ordeal,

then I’m much more receptive to claims of health benefits, not only for individuals but for the environment.

Many of the environmental, sustainability objections to meat-eating apply mostly to CAFO meat. But there’s a lot on non-tillable land around that can be grazed by tasty critters. If you doubt the viability of this, go read your Joel Salatin and see how he rotates his livestock in a careful sequence. There’s also reason to think that grass-fed beef, in particular, is markedly healthier than CAFO Grain-fed beef.

I haven’t sampled Fresh Thyme produce for superior flavor yet. Their website says it’s “often locally grown and much of it organic.” That’s not an especially promising claim. And at a glance, it looked suspiciously perfect. And, sorry, it’s just not time for locally grown tomato, unless greenhouse grown, though they had some.

So I expect to rack up some frequent flyer miles, but without kidding myself that doing so makes me a candidate for secular sainthood.


I keep running into St. Benedict wherever I turn.

Rod Dreher coined the term “The Benedict Option” as a plausible response to the rapid devolution of the U.S. Now, he has just returned from travels in Dante territory as he prepares to write a book on The Divine Comedy (which just about undid him). There, he encountered a Monastery of Benedictines at Nursia, Italy, and blogged about the twice, here and here:

Those monks. We in the world may not think of what it means to the rest of us that they are there in that mountain town, praying for us all. But when you go there, and you see with your own eyes what a lighthouse this monastery is, it re-orients the way you think. We need monasteries — healthy, prayerful ones (and not all are!) — to stabilize and strengthen us.

Then, to my surprise, Nathan Schneider, a Millennial Dorothy Day-like Catholic convert, says that some of the Millennial “Nones” are hacking the Rule of St. Benedict:

I was just at a place in Southern Italy where activists, hackers, mainly, from around Europe, you know, kind of technology activists, have,  uh, been gathering and actually adopting and playing with hacking, so to speak, the rule of St. Benedict … The rule that’s the basis of Western Christian Monasticism, looking at it as a kind of protocol, as a kind of basis for building sustainable sustaining communities. You know, they look at the way in which monasteries, uh, carried civilization through the Dark Ages. You know, preserving the art of writing. That they’re looking to this kind of religious legacy as a means for starting from scratch. And thinking about their — about what kinds of reorientations they could make in their relationships with the technology that they’re using and how they could build livelihoods for themselves in a way kind of analogous to monks. And again, these are not people who affiliate themselves with any religious communities  … Uh, in particular. Yet they’re drawn to something that is in these traditions. They recognize something is there, and they don’t feel that they can go to the existing institutions to explore these. And so they’re kind of, um, playing around on their own.

I think it’s an omen.


A letter to the editor of our local newspaper, in its entirety:

If your religious denomination preaches against same-sex marriage, then your denomination is wrong.

At first, I bethought me to repent in sackcloth and ashes, compelled by the irrefutable logic. But now I’m not even sure what the heck this means.

Does the author mean that preaching should be positive, or does he mean, as I first thought, that opposition to same-sex marriage is per se wrong?


Having now interrogated Big Agribiz, self-consciously organic grocers, and enigmatic letters to the editor, I interrogate myself:

Q: 17 years down the road now, what has been you biggest surprise about Orthodox Christianity?

A: How little of it is about right doctrine and how much is right worship, right prayer, and a right state of mind.


Judging by a young Presbyterian of my acquaintance, they must have changed the Westminster Catechism.

Old version:


A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.

New version:


A. To make buttloads of money and retire, young, to someplace warm.

Busy, busy week ahead. Blogging is likely to be light.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.