Locking Up the Food

In progress
In progress

The storm was lesser than forecast. We got maybe three inches of snow, though by this morning the wind had deposited it into sharp-ridged drifts. I pushed through two of them on my way to the barn this morning, both knee-deep, the snow soft and yielding. It was zero, but the early light – thin, uncertain, sunless -made the air feel even colder, and by the time I returned to the house, my fingers stung. I shucked my gloves and held my hands over the hot iron of the cookstove, flipping them every dozen seconds or so until the cold was all burned out.

•    •    •

A few steps of the dance, performed just three or four days a month, enriched their lives greatly and took almost no effort. As here on earth, the people of this planet were not a single people but many peoples, and as time went on, each people developed its own approach to the dance. Some continued to dance just a few steps three or four days a month. Others found it made sense for them to have even more of their favorite foods, so they danced a few steps every second or third day. Still others saw no reason why they shouldn’t live mostly on their favorite foods, so they danced a few steps every single day. Things went on this way for tens of thousands of years among the people of this planet, who thought of themselves as living in the hands of the gods and leaving everything to them. For this reason, they called themselves Leavers. 

But one group of Leavers eventually said to themselves “Why should we just live partially on the foods we favor? All we have to do is devote a lot more time to dancing.” So this one particular group took to dancing several hours a day. Because they thought of themselves as taking their welfare into their own hands, we’ll call them the Takers. The results were spectacular. The Takers were inundated with their favorite foods. A manager class soon emerged to look after the accumulation and stores of surpluses -something that hand never been necessary when everyone was just dancing a few hours a week. The members of this manager class were far too busy to do any dancing themselves, and since their work was so critical, they soon came to be regarded as social and political leaders. But after a few years these leaders of the Takers began to notice that food production was dropping, and they went out to see what was going wrong. What they found was that the dancers were slacking off. They weren’t dancing several hours a day, they were dancing only an hour or two and sometimes not even that much. The leaders asked why. 

“What’s the point of all this dancing?” the dancers asked. “It isn’t necessary to dance seven or eight hours a day to get the food we need. There’s plenty of food even if we just dance an hour a day. We’re never hungry. So why shouldn’t we relax and take life easy, the way we used to?” 

The leaders saw things very differently, of course. If the dancers went back to living the way they used to, then the leaders would soon have to do the same, and that didn’t appeal to them at all. They considered and tried many different schemes to encourage or cajole or tempt or shame or force the dancers into dancing longer hours, but nothing worked until one of them came up with the idea of locking up the food.

From My Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. I highly recommend it.







13 thoughts on “Locking Up the Food”

  1. Perfect quote, I had same exact thoughts on my way to work this morning. 🙂 Thank you for posting.
    Yes, Ishmael is sitting on my kitchen table. But I suppose I need to read Nourishing Homestead first. 🙂
    Snow dunes sound beautiful.

  2. Magnificent writing! (Just received my copy of “The Nourishing Homestead” and eagerly anticipate the fun of savoring more magnificent writing.)

  3. That guy (Daniel Quinn) has the best imagination! He’s taken reality and made it into a parable. He’s a modern day myth maker! And now, like Paul Harvey, I want to know the rest of the story.

    I believe we are living the rest of the story right now and I wonder how it will turn out!

    1. I’m afraid of how it will turn out. Sometimes I feel warm with love and compassion and hope. But more often, I feel dread and cold for my children and their children…

      1. Yes, started reading last nigh, really good stuff, hard to put down, and funny. This book traveled once from library to my house and back, now again, after your recommend, ended on the bookshelf, then progressed to kitchen table, and that is the last spot before it gets read. 🙂 Few books warrant staying up all night and reading.
        And we just messed around with gorillas at the zoo recently. 🙂

      2. I’ve always been uneasy at zoos though I realize their potential benefits. After completing the book, you may look at the gorillas in a whole new light. Which of us really belongs behind bars or enclosures?

  4. Not much rivets my attention before I’m through my second cuppa coffee, but I’m off to find a library copy of Ishmael right after I hit *post comment*.

  5. I’ve been reading Home Grown the past few days (I actually tried reading Ishmael years ago, and just couldn’t get into it for some reason…). I’m really enjoying reading your words, though. Very inspiring and beautiful, and there are many more details about your life on the land than I pick up from reading here. I have to ask – are the laws for homeschooling very relaxed in Vermont?

    We also homeschool our two older children, but in my state you have to each year prove your homeschooled child is keeping up to grade level. There are several options 1) Standardized testing (we don’t do this of course – that’s why we homeschool in the first place. Well, part of the reason). 2) Bringing notebooks, reading lists, and otherwise proof of bookwork to the school board. 3) Getting an evaluation from a certified teacher.

    We have usually gotten an evaluation from a local Waldorf-school teacher. I thought she would understand what we were doing (similar to how it sounds you guys approach education), But when my son went in for the 2nd grade evaluation I got chewed out because his reading was not up to snuff. Also he didn’t do so well with the math questions he was asked, although I know he was good at the same math at home – I guess he felt on the spot. So I have had to be a lot more organized, and it has been very stressful in some ways because I’m always worrying we aren’t doing enough and he’ll be forced to go to school. I know another unschooling family that has also switched to more traditional homeschooling because their evaluation did not go so well.

    Reading about how your sons have been learning makes me wish we didn’t have so much pressure to educate in a standardized way. I have gotten around it to some extent by creating very type-A lists for every day of the school year of what we “should” be doing. We generally spend 2 hours a day on homeschool five days a week, but often we take breaks, or don’t even get so much done. However, the lists are “documented proof” that we accomplished stuff, and the school board loves it. That way we have something to turn in, we do some of the basics, and my children still have lots of time to play and create and be…doing the best we can with the system we’ve got.

    1. It sounds like you are in what is considered a “red” state. MA? NY? PA? Not every state is like that for homeschooling. Some are the exact opposite, for example in CT and TX there is no interaction with the school dept ever. They never have to be told that your kids even exist. In OR you only send in a letter once and then they have testing every 3 years (the results of which are only given to the school dept if the child scores below 18%). My point is that every state is very different. There are some great websites about how you can “appease” a school dept if you are an unschooler, but it sounds like you’ve already learned how to do that!

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