BURNABY DISPATCHES

On Sacred Soil and Potatoes

“The soil is sacred,” he said, “but I wish it grew more potatoes”

Gino to Tenante Henry, A Farewell to Arms


Ernest Hemingway may have been a bit of a bore about his “one true sentence” business but he did write sentences that hit the nail on the head. And he wrote them by the ton. “The soil is sacred, but I wish it grew more potatoes” was put into the mouth of Gino – a man whose county is at war over politics he didn’t completely understand. It’s an inconvenient, but undeniable observation of an idealist faced with the grim, meat-hook realities of life. Gino isn’t talking about dirt, or even the terrior in the French sense of the word, but of a nation and tribe and identity. For Gino it was Italy, but we’ve all got one.


For too many of us it’s that viral meme that shows the red counties that voted Republican and the blue ones that go Democrat. You know the one - depending on who sent it, one color represents “America” and the other “Dumbfuckistan.” Burnaby has received both and suggests that “Dumbfuckistan” is the people emailing either version.


Both sides need to understand that all of us think that the soil is sacred, but, and this is the hard part, we still need to grow enough potatoes to feed everyone. Ideology, if it’s not going to slide into fanaticism, has to be tied to reality. The blue counties need to realize that America is too big and diverse to be a tech-driven mini-state like Singapore. The people they write off in the “fly-over” states need potatoes as well. The red counties need to know that America can’t really go back to some golden-age of manufacturing that was never a golden as it’s being remembered.


American soil, that ideal, should be sacred – but the defining of that ideal varies. In the case of the United States that variant is a crucial facet of the ideal. There are, however, practical considerations if we’re going to survive together on this soil, sacred or not: how to give everyone a place in a rowdy, multi-faceted democracy so that we all have a shot. In short, how to grow more potatoes.

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