Down the Rabbit Hole

Eating local—like, eating-within-your-wingspan local—gets the cover treatment at New York magazine this week. In an act of gonzo agricultural journalism, Manny Howard turned his 800-square-foot Brooklyn backyard into a farm that would, theoretically, feed him for a month. The story reads a little like what might happen if you gave Mr. Bean a few sharp tools and baby chickens.

It isn’t really about eating local, or the myriad complexities of growing your own food, or learning to live within limits. It’s about effing up, starting with the very first step: His seedlings all collapse. Then his rabbits die of maggot infestations and his chickens cannibalize their young. Even his last-ditch subsistence crop—potatoes, for God’s sake—fails. Oh, and he cuts off part of his pinkie, and the whole project alienates his wife so much she almost leaves him.

A lot of this is awfully funny. If you like that sort of thing, that is: The Seasonal Cook thinks the enterprise distorts the whole locavore movement: “Okay, I’m going to make this really simple so that everyone can understand: Locavores don’t think people should eat only what’s grown within a few miles of their home.”

And the blog Not Eating Out in New York—words I cannot type without experiencing physical pain, actual physical pain, mind you—has an inspired rant about the article: “How many wrongs does it take to supercede any possible right you might be doing for the world? Howard could hold a world record for surpassing that number, whatever it may be.” And after quoting Howard’s somewhat tacked-on conclusion that, well, farming is really, really hard:

This is from a guy who takes the Flemish Giant rabbits he purchased from Connecticut to a specialist to have them professionally knocked up, only to bring them back to his Brooklyn home and one of them dies of heatstroke within two weeks. Essentially, someone who knowingly went for the spectacular rather than the livable, and screwed up shamefully at making a farm as well as an entertaining read.

Meanwhile, Slate calls it “hilarious, fascinating.” You reads your demographically self-selected information source, you takes your choice.