October 2, 2010

Consumerism, what art thou?

I was reading an article about Brian Brett. Farmer. Salt Spring Island. Very small. Outspoken defender of terroir. I felt like taking an airplane right then from Montreal and meet him, roast some of his lamb and eat. In the end it seemed ridiculous to do such a thing. "You're such a fucking consumerist', my old punk rock roots were yelling at me. Yeah. Fuck. What is it? Can I help it that I want to know quality? 'Buy, buy, buy, fucking bourgeois scum!' It is true, I consume vast amounts of food, cheese, wine, beer, charcuterie, music, art etc....but, consumerism, what art thou?

I was suddenly very defensive. By myself in the car suddenly in the vast hinterland of inquiry. I mean I chase some odd shit at times, find myself with bizarre cravings and seek out with much means and energy in satisfying these whims, but I never saw these in terms of consumerism. Was the problem when it is something empty? Even the greatest products, the greatest masses may be attended, the greatest books read without any profound effect. But even so, this seems less a problem of 'consumerism' than being human, that slow, sometimes painful, act of getting it, of understanding even if a little after the fact?

I was on highway 251, which disappeared, as did the asphalt, and I slowed the car down to watch 20 odd wild turkeys doing who knows what on the dirt road. I turned the engine off. The smell of wood smoke was in the air. No signs, no billboards. The only sound were the turkeys and the leaves agitated by a small wind blowing through the area of Sainte-Edwidge-de-Clifton. Or is consumerism simply defined as everything we consume, or take, or have that is beyond our needs. The thing which remains is sorting out what we need. I watched the wild turkeys and wished I had a gun. What a meal I thought. They begun to slip into the woods. I was impressed by how incredibly camouflaged the suddenly became. Standing on the dirt road I looked around at the vast spaces, wild and cultivated which felt like the edge of humanity, the edge of civilization. Part wish I guess. I remember reading in Fast Food Nation how one soft drink firm 'needed' to sell 25% more drinks in order to meet sales projections. Projections! This feels like only part of it. In order to sell those drinks was more aggressive marketing so people drank more.

I continue down the road, and find myself at Fromagerie La Germaine. Well...less fromagerie and more farm. Réjean Theroux makes cheese yes, but there is not much of a boutique to speak of, there are none of the kitchy trapping of agrotourism here. A lot of bric a brac, paper with a futon in the entrance. No music, no young girl at the counter. No counter. No perfectly placed angled coloured something to influence my buying choices. No major highway, he tells me, so next to no one visits. Lots of land, his own hay, 30 odd cows and a desire which led to commercializing his first cheese in 2000. How did you get into the cheese I ask him? Do you have a formation? These questions are always slightly unfair because we can often find a disguised formulaic answer which fulfills our demands. Réjean loves cheese. He also knows as every other cheese maker that you make perhaps 4 times the money than your sale of milk. Like selling grapes and selling wine. He has a little formation, and made up the rest with conseillers which have helped him in producing his three cheeses (I purposely avoid saying perfecting because we all are in that state...) . When I asked about the choice to go with Raw milk cheese his answer summed everything up 'It just seems obvious.' That is the great thing about......there is little of the marketing, next to no bullshit. He is not 'selling' something. Humble? Honest? Simple? Innocent? He brings up some cheese and we do a tasting off a kind night stand. We start with the Caprice des saisons, his first cheese which is Camembert style. Rich, creamy, butter and butty notes, slightly woody, mushroom scents. All I could think of was that this was cheese. Straight, simple delicious cheese. The second was his Caprice des Cantons, a washed rind. A nice orange reddish rind with smell of hazelnuts and a complexity of sub herbal notes. He suggests trying a similar cheese but in his opinion a little dryer, in a sense a defect, but to compare. These are always the privileged moments, to share in the understanding of why one product is the way it is. The 'defectuous' one was less aromatic although the rind looked redder, more developed. He explains that humidity got to it too quickly, the time of aging was disturbed. Next, Réjean's Brie. It tasted just like that, a really good Brie. In large part this is because of the raw milk. When I think consumerism out here, on this farm, I thought of all the shit cheeses out there, all those overly manipulated, processed and reprocessed oblong shapes we find everywhere. A packaged yellow and orange kind of lie. I knew I was not going to define what consumerism meant but this was a beginning; to cherish something, like artisanal cheese, and then to protect it.

We do not do this alone. I thought of Brian Brett on the other side of the country, fighting to protect small farms versus factory farming. "It's a labour of love. I'm not even going to talk about making a living; I'm just talking about making real food. Let's start with that premise, and then worry about making a living!" Brett said in an interview by Joanne Will. Réjean takes me to see his cows, and especially the hay that they just finished harvesting and are storing for the winter. He talks about his father's farm which was near here, he talks about his mother who the Fromagerie is named after, he talks about his land, all of it excited, intense, which seemed to say, see if we all had the chance to do what we loved, imagine what we could do? We shook hands and I left remembering that all those years of punk rock were greater but we never ate very well, and now I do. I still express a certain anger towards the big corporations, but only this time I have the means to support the other side.

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