Efficiency at times trumps common sense

Efficiency is a word that if Americans didn’t invent, they certainly own.

If words won awards, “efficient” would be on the Wall of Fame that included “maximization,” “multi-task” and “profit.”

These are business words. And they have seeped into our consciousness like dust settling from the World Trade Centers.

We, both business-class and non-business class alike, have co-opted the vernacular of business-speak with our everyday-speak.

And consequently, we’ve absorbed the spirit of the language, too.

In the spirit of efficiency, babies are born less and less in the middle of the night and more and more at the convenience of the doctor. We schedule deliveries.

A mother is the good mother who multi-tasks: car-pooling, texting and synching calendars while, hopefully, listening to her children, too.

Children maximize their youth by enrolling in sport, music lessons, and college-prep, sometimes all at the same time.

They might lose sleep, with the average student getting fewer than 7 hours of it a night, but look at their productivity.

There are other words and concepts we venerate in capitalist society. Ask any preacher: An effective sermon is one that ends promptly at noon, being, essentially, time-efficient.

Go longer, and that man will be accused of wandering.

What else wanders? Dogs, cats, wild things and children.

But what is not allowed to wander? The animals of our current vertically integrated system of food production.

Because of economies of scale, these creatures are packed into CFOs (confined feeding operations). This way of referring to things by their initials and not by the thing itself is also a nod to efficiency.

And in our topsy-turvy world, the business class has co-opted the words of nature; the sluggish bear and mighty bull define our stock markets.

I recently heard a very effective speaker from Elanco.

He was talking to the agricultural community about the need for efficiency and innovation, the need to generate better technologies to feed the world.

That’s a top-tier goal, to be sure.

To this speaker, feeding the world meant giving the world the same Standard American Diet (SAD) that ranks us at or near the top of the charts regarding obesity, heart disease and cancer.

His presentation mostly boiled down to making sure every one in the world has the right to eat meat and drink milk.

I say “right” because surely if there is a constitutional protection to produce meat, it must mean there is an equivalent right to consume it.

Yet, I see no mention of the right to eat bandied about in our state legislature.

I suppose because there is no profit in this right.

Did the Bible use business terms? Luke 12:42 reads, “And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?’” And in the tradition of parables, the household represents the world.

In an irony that was not lost on me, the speaker at the agriculture meeting co-opted the word, “sustainable,” from the environmental connotation it usually implies.

He used it to mean we, the supply side, must use our resources to supply the world (rather, the market).

We do have a responsibility to sustain those less fortunate than ourselves, but at what cost?

I am reminded of a snake eating its tail. What happens when there is nothing left to devour?

Probably aught, a favorite word of William Shakespeare’s.

It means anything; and together with a negative word, nothing.

The Bard used the word “manager” in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Where is our usual manager of mirth? What revels are in hand? Is there no play to ease the anguish of a torturing hour?”

And surely our current state of food production can be considered “a torturing hour” for the non-farming community at large.

In answer, let us disaggregate the negative data of our food production system, dialog about re-tooling, so we can maximize our efficiency.

We will simultaneously use best practices to reach our projections of feeding the world while being on target to save it.

We will let the snake eat its tail another day.

Donna Steele, an Alabama native, moved to Hancock County in 2011. She lives in Greenfield.