The Way We Live Now: Produce Politics

Whenever I go to the supermarket these days, I collect labels. No, I’m not saving up box tops in order to get a decoder ring from Battle Creek. The sort of labels I collect now promise something else, a slightly different decoding. Each of them tells me a little story about where the food I’m buying comes from and how it has been produced.

The Lives They Lived

History is written by the victors, it’s often said, but what about natural history? This invariably gets written by one human being or another, no matter what species’ triumph it trumpets, for the altogether trivial reason that (so far as we know) humans do all the writing around here. But what if it were otherwise? What if, let’s say, the plant perspective were brought to bear on the events of the past year? My guess is that the death of one Claude Hope, a man you’ve probably never heard of, would rank as a big, big story.

The Triumph of Burbopolis

I grew up in a pretty nice subdivision on Long Island, but try as I might to kindle some spark of nostalgia for “the Gates of Woodbury,” the gravitational pull of the place is almost nil. It has been nearly 30 years since I left, and at least until a couple of months ago, I could think of no reason to go back: no people to see (everybody I knew had also left), no curiosity to satisfy. In my imagination Juneau Boulevard is the same as it ever was, except maybe for the cars and the people, which I assume have been regularly updated. Isn’t that the way it has always been in the burbs—change without history? More of the same?

The Way We Live Now: Feeding Frenzy

Gazing nervously across the Atlantic at European outrage over genetically modified food, industry and government leaders have been quick to reach for words like “hysteria” and “madness.” How else to explain the uprooting of biotech crops in English fields? Or naked protesters in Rome pelting American cabinet secretaries with genetically engineered (“G.E.”) soybeans? It’s irrational, surely, to reject out of hand such a shiny new technology, especially one that comes with the seal of approval of American regulators (the vaunted Food and Drug Administration, no less).

Our Time

A wide gulf of time separates this issue’s two intended audiences. It is addressed to those reading it today, on a Sunday on the verge of the year 2000, and also to those reading it—assuming that quaint practice survives—on a distant today in the year 3000. Every time capsule is a kind of mirror. An

The Way We Live Now: A Very Fine Line

The same week that a Republican candidate for President spent struggling to compose ever more tortuous nondenials of his drug use as a young man, a former Republican Presidential candidate could be seen in full-page advertisements forthrightly acknowledging his own use of another drug. Oh, I know: two completely different and incomparable situations; how unfair

The Way We Live Now: Land of the Free Market

I live just beyond the dilating fringe of the New York metropolitan area, in the kind of place that was called “the country” until a few years ago. That’s when the ratio of urban refugees to farmers shifted in a way that made that designation feel self-conscious, so people began calling it “the exurbs,” a

The Human Habitat: The Real World of Interiors

The twilight struggle between Life and Design surely counts as one of the great long-running stories of the century now ending. This clash of terms has given us battles drenched in both tragedy and farce, on fronts as different as the Iron Curtain and the curtain wall, Soviet collective farms and Corbusian villas, American urban-renewal

Breaking Ground: The Call of the Wild Apple

ALL the way in the back of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station’s orchard here stand several jumbled rows of the oddest apple trees you’ve ever seen. No two are alike, not in form or leaf or fruit: this one could pass for a linden tree, that one for a demented forsythia. Maybe a

Playing God in the Garden

Planting Today I planted something new in my vegetable garden — something very new, as a matter of fact. It’s a potato called the New Leaf Superior, which has been genetically engineered — by Monsanto, the chemical giant recently turned ”life sciences” giant — to produce its own insecticide. This it can do in every