Last week I finally started reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the quintessential book on tracing where the food we eat comes from. I’ve only barely gotten past the book’s introduction, but already it is blowing me away and satiating my “I haven’t taken in anything heady in a while” appetite. I bring it up here because, as my headline suggests, so far the principles of the book’s content seem to apply not only to food but to everything we buy. My paperback is a hearty 411 pages (plus index!) that can be read as relating to conscientious consumption in general — and I’ll stretch to say that wearables (read: fashion) are the next-most relevant category to the book’s focus on edibles. Pollan describes “the three principal food chains that sustain us today: the industrial, the organic and the hunter-gatherer.” To describe these I’ll paraphrase him, changing “food chain” to “supply chain,” applying his truths and comparisons to both food and fashion:
The industrial supply chain involves and concerns us the most, because it is by far the biggest and longest. Anything produced at a mass level fits into this category. In food, to generalize, this is most items in the dry goods aisles at your typical grocery store. In fashion, it is most anything from your typical chain stores (including department stores) or discount stores. The organic supply chain (or “pastoral”) is our alternative to the industrial and has two faces: either a) produced locally or b) produced conscientiously and delivered from elsewhere. In food, this is a) the local farmer’s market or b) Whole Foods — both are good options, especially when the other isn’t as readily available. In fashion, this is a) a local designer/seamstress/weaver or b) a known conscientious brand available at some boutiques, some chain stores or online. (This category happens to be what the bulk of this blog is devoted to.) The hunter-gatherer supply chain is anything you create completely on your own, from its cultivation to its end life (and in this model, its form in its end life often goes back into the cultivation of the next round).
In food, this is anything you grow (or hunt) and prepare yourself. That can be very difficult in food, but even more so in fashion. Even when you sew or knit your own clothes, the fabric and yarn was most likely manufactured overseas (and could even be a petroleum-based synthetic). And who is tanning their own leather these days? In any of these three scenarios, I make such a direct connection between wearables and food because, as Pollan points out, the food we eat comes either from plants or animals — grains and meats. In fashion, this translates to cottons and leathers. “The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world.” We’ll see if my perception of this connection changes as I get further into the book. I’ll keep you posted. Lastly, here’s a statement that is exclusive to food, and really makes you think about what you’ll be eating later today. It also reminds me of the before-meal prayer, “bless this food to our bodies.” “Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.”