EARTHLINGS — JEFF VANDERMEER
“Immersion is important for understanding,” states Jeff VanderMeer. “Immersion in a point of view that may be different, to create understanding and empathy while taking away none of the essential differences between persons who are human beings and persons who are not human beings.”
Connectedness’ Earthlings section, a work of fiction, uses VanderMeer’s cited immersion to create a series of loosely connected stanzas exploring how the natural world views and interacts with humans. VanderMeer, a bestselling author and literary critic whose 2014 Nebula Award winning novel Annihilation was adapted into a movie by Alex Garland, uses a blend of poetry, prose, and photography to create this tale of vulnerability, anxiety, and empathy.
“Each generation misremembers the past of the nature that’s around because each time there’s less of it and it’s more frightened of us,” says VanerMeer. “Many animals active during the day have become nocturnal to avoid humans.”
As humans, it’s natural to think about our connection with nature, but Earthlings explore nature’s connection with us; breaking down an animal’s thought process from the viewpoint of a red-shouldered hawk, a hummingbird, or a raccoon.
“Diurnal animals like raccoons are now mostly nocturnal for the same reason,” he explains. “To the point that a sad number of raccoons are killed or relocated if seen during the day because we now consider that to mean something is wrong with the animal, even though it doesn’t.”
VanderMeer’s contribution advocates for a shift in perspective—not how we see it, but how it sees us—and certainly a necessary shift if we are to remain connected in ways that foster rather than extinguish.
FOOD — ALICE WATERS
Food explores our connection with what we eat and how we choose to nourish our bodies. Alice Waters, one of the pioneering chefs behind the farm-to-table movement and owner of the revolutionary, Berkeley-based Chez Panisse, believes society has been indoctrinated by fast food culture, which is causing a negative impact on not only the environment, but the way we interact with the world.
“If you eat fast food,” says Waters, “you are not only making yourself unhealthy, but you are eating the values that come along with the food. Values, like how everything should be fast and easy, time is money, that it’s okay to eat in your car… that it’s okay to lie.”
She believes the onslaught of the fast food industry has changed the way we eat and is leaving the future leaders of tomorrow “sensorily deprived.” And this stranglehold on American families continues because of a myth.
“Kids don’t like this food,” she demonstrates of the fast food lies instilled into families, “kids don’t want to eat seasonally, kids don’t want to sit down, they want to play with their friends. But in 25 years at The Edible Schoolyard I have discovered that they love to learn every subject in the kitchen or garden classroom, they love to learn by doing.”
The Edible Schoolyard is a garden and kitchen culinary program started by Waters at a public school in Berkeley. By using ‘edible education,’ she incorporates a hands-on learning method for her students as they plant, harvest, and prepare their own meals. This style of learning not only provides the students with a healthy meal for lunchtime, immerses them in the joys of cooking and eating fresh food and vegetables—a passion which can last a lifetime.
“There is magic in cooking and it’s not just in the technique,” says Waters, “but it comes in the aromas, it comes in the beauty, it comes through these senses that have been desensitized. Once you fall in love with nature, you want to take care of her, and you think about everything differently. You don’t want to throw anything out, you want to make a compost.”
ANTHROPOCENE — GAIA VINCE
“So far it’s been really positive,” says Gaia Vince, speaking about the effects of the Anthropocene. “People are living longer than before, malnutrition levels have fallen in terms of healthcare… and we are much less likely to die from being eaten by a wild animal.”
With the 2014 publication of Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made, Vince emerged as one of the leading minds in all things Anthropocene related. She points out that the Anthropocene has enhanced human life all over, from the most powerful countries to the impoverished ones. People across the board have benefitted from this age. But at what cost?
“The benefits are to the detriment of the planet,” Gaia explains. “We need to decouple our own improved life expectancy and lifestyle—we have to decouple that from the destructive elements we are doing to the planet… it’s a big structural shift we have to make.”
This shift is already taking place. Whether one chooses to believe it or not, the phrase ‘climate change’ has entered the nation’s vernacular. In 2015, 197 countries united to sign the Paris Agreement, an accord which acknowledges the damages caused by climate change and global warming and addresses how we can not only combat, but also restructure the harm we are inflicting upon the planet. The main offense? Energy.
“Everything comes down to energy,” says Gaia. “Instead of getting our electricity from fossil fuels—which makes it a lot worse—increasingly we are now getting it from renewables…This has happened much faster and much more cheaply than any of us could have imagined. I couldn’t believe it myself.”
Gaia also stresses the importance of reverting back to living in a circular way. Recently, we’ve adopted this linear way of life; creating and then disregarding. And although we have made great strides in combating our previous embellishments, Gaia believes the work is far from over.
“We need to go faster and further.”