Early in the 1971 film “Silent Running”, Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) walks into the kitchen of the spaceship Valley Forge. His is carrying some plants that he has harvested from one of the domes that Valley Forge is carrying, protecting the last terrestrial forests from the pollution that has blanketed Earth by the end of the 20th Century. The following dialog ensues between Lowell (FL) and his crewmates (CMn) after one of them objects to the smell of the plants:
CM1: Lowell, do you have to eat that stuff? It stinks!
FL: You never let up, do you?
CM2: Well–Oh, now you hurt his feelings.
FL: I’d like to know what any one of you knows about real food.
CM1: What do you mean “real food”? What, out of the dirt? That’s real food?
FL: That’s right. This happens to be nature’s greatest gift.
CM3: – To a celibate, maybe.
CM2: Come on, you guys. Maybe he knows something we don’t. Hmm?
CM3: Lowell, give me a slice of that cantaloupe.
CM1: Don’t ask Lowell.
FL: I’d be delighted to give you a slice of that cantaloupe. Just sit down and shut up. Sit down, sit down, sit down! Shut up and leave me alone, all of you! Let me eat!
CM1: What’s the big deal? I can’t see the difference between that and this.
FL: You don’t see the difference? The difference is I grew it! That’s what the difference is. That I picked it and I fixed it. It has a taste, and it has some color! And it has a smell! It calls back a time when there
were flowers all over the Earth! And there were valleys! And there were plains of tall, green grass that
you could lie down in, that you could go to sleep in! And there were blue skies, and there was fresh air!
And there were things growing all over the place, not just in domed enclosures blasted some millions
of miles out into space!
FL: Look at that stuff. How can you guys sit there and really say anything to me about this. Look at this crap! Look at that! Dried, synthetic crap! And you’ve become so dependent on it that I bet you can’t live without it.
Freeman Lowell is right. And in a very real sense, 43 years after “Silent Running” was made, we are eating the dried synthetic crap he warned us against. Only we think it’s just fine. So much of what we eat comes out of plastic packages that it’s sick. Even our salads come pre-made—tear open a bag and there it is.
I’m not naïve. I realize that when I was a little kid, we were already well into the age of industrial petroleum-driven agriculture and corn-fed beef. And I know there are still places you can pick your own apples and corn. We recycle more now, and you see less trash on the roads.
But for all that, we continue to move away from nature. We ride down ever-increasing strips of asphalt in our sealed metal and glass cubicles, cut off from smells that once told us what the planet is like, how things are doing. The weather gets stranger, and we shrug it off. Just use a more efficient furnace.
I’m rambling, as I often do.
The point is that we haven’t changed from the future that Freeman Lowell told us about. The planet may not be a uniform 75 degrees year-round, but we accept that food comes in packages. We have come to expect everything to be processed. We have forgotten to taste.
Stop and smell the flowers. Stop and taste the food. Take a look, and listen, and smell of the world around you. It’s trying to tell you something.