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ethical food

For The Love of Pigs and Their Pig-ness

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Inspired by his clever wit and unconventional-yet-successful approach to farming, I am republishing, in part, an interview from http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/joel-salatin-americas-most-influential-farmer-talks-big-organic-and-the-future-of-food.html. For those of you who are familiar with his highly acclaimed farming methods, his always surprising turn of phrase is almost as delightful as his farming methods.

Joel Salatin is a self-described environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer, or as the New York Times calls him, “the high priest of the pasture.” You may remember him from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he was profiled at length by Michael Pollan. Salatin’s innovative farming system—where the animals live according to their “ness,” the earth is used for symbiosis, and happiness and health is key—has gained attention from around the country, and he travels in the winter giving lectures and demonstrations. He is the author of a number of books including Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, You Can Farm, Pastured Poultry Profit$, and Family Friendly Farming.

“The food industry actually believes that feeding your children Twinkies, Cocoa Puffs and Mountain Dew is safe, but drinking raw milk and eating compost-grown tomatoes is dangerous.”

MG: In your opinion, what’s the biggest problem with the food industry in the U.S.?
JS: Wow, where do I start? Number one is that it destroys soil. Absolutely and completely. The soil is the only thread upon which civilization can exist, and it’s such a narrow strip around the globe if a person could ever realize that our existence depends on literally inches of active aerobic microbial life on terra firma, we might begin to appreciate the ecological umbilical to which we are all still attached. The food industry, I’m convinced, actually believes we don’t need soil to live. That we are more clever than that.

And that brings me to the second major problem: hubris. The food industry views everything through the skewed paradigm of faith in human cleverness rather than dependence on nature’s design. the difference is expressed in many ways, from parts to wholes, from manipulative dominion to nurturing, from worshiping techno-glitzy to honoring wise traditions and indigenous knowledge. But this hubris seems to relish the fact that we can irradiate food to sterilize poop, rather than slowing the processing down enough that we can wash the poop off before it gets in the food.

Which opens up the next big problem: safe food. And this runs the gamut from nutrition to outright danger. The food industry actually believes that feeding your children Twinkies, Cocoa Puffs and Mountain Dew is safe, but drinking raw milk and eating compost-grown tomatoes is dangerous.

Which brings me to the final point: disrespect of the inherent uniqueness of the living world. Industrial food never asks whether the pig is happy. The pig-ness of the pig never enters the conversation. It’s all about fatter, faster, bigger, cheaper. And a culture that views its life from such an arrogant, manipulative, disrespectful hubris, will view its own citizenry the same way–and other cultures. We cannot return to traditional nutrient density until we respect soil microflora and pigs for what they are and do in the system.

Next, I checked out Joel Salatin in wikipedia. Here’s some background on him . . .

In high school, Salatin began his own business selling rabbits, eggs, butter and chicken from his family farm at the Staunton Curb Market. [A feature-writer in college], [t]ired of “having his stories spiked,” he decided to try farming full-time after first getting involved in a walnut-buying station run by two high school boys. Salatin’s grandfather had been an avid gardener and beekeeper and a follower of J. I. Rodale, the founder of regenerative organic gardening. Salatin’s parents had bought the land that became Polyface in 1961 after losing a farm in Venezuela to political turmoil. They had raised cattle using organic methods, but could not make a living at farming alone.

Salatin, a self-described “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer” produces high-quality “beyond organic” meats, which are raised using environmentally responsible, ecologically beneficial, sustainable agriculture. Jo Robinson, the author of Pasture Perfect: The Far-Reaching Benefits of Choosing Meat, Eggs and Dairy Products From Grass-Fed Animals (2004) said of Salatin, “He’s not going back to the old model. There’s nothing in county extension or old-fashioned ag science that really informs him. He is just looking totally afresh at how to maximize production in an integrated system on a holistic farm. He’s just totally innovative.”

Salatin considers his farming a ministry, and he condemns the negative impact on his livelihood and lifestyle of what he considers an increasingly regulatory approach taken by the agencies of the United States government toward farming. Salatin now spends a hundred days a year lecturing at colleges and to environmental groups.

Salatin’s 550-acre (2.2 km2) farm, Polyface Farm, is featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) and the documentary films, Food, Inc. and Fresh. His unconventional farming practices have drawn attention from the alternative agriculture community especially those interested in sustainable livestock management. For example, Pollan became interested in Salatin because of his refusal to send food to locations not within a four-hour drive of his farm, i.e. outside his local “foodshed.” “We want [prospective customers] to find farms in their areas and keep the money in their own community,” said Salatin. “We think there is strength in decentralization and spreading out rather than in being concentrated and centralized.”

Salatin’s philosophy of farming emphasizes healthy grass on which animals can thrive in a symbiotic cycle of feeding. Cows are moved from one pasture to another rather than being centrally corn fed. Then chickens in portable coops are moved in behind them, where they dig through the cow dung to eat protein-rich fly larvae while further fertilizing the field with their droppings.

Other authors have criticized Salatin’s goal of eco-friendly meat, citing studies by the Audubon Society that free-range and organic meat products have more negative environmental impacts than other meat products, since more methane is produced.Additional criticism claims that Salatin’s farm is not scalable, since the Earth—which already uses 26% of ice-free land for grazing—does not have enough land to support free-range meat at current consumption levels.

In response to complaints about free-range methane production, Salatin has written, “Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world; herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration. Anyone who really wants to stop methane needs to start draining wetlands. Quick, or we’ll all perish.” In response to criticism on land usage and scalability, Salatin has written that most livestock producers still use “Neanderthal management” that exaggerates the amount of land required, and that modern technology allows for far more sustainable land usage. See his response to the New York Times.

Joel Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farm — which was featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary film Food, Inc. and Fresh. He is a third generation family farmer working his land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with his wife, Teresa, son Daniel, daughter Rachel, and their families. Polyface Farm, an organic grass-fed farm, services more than 3,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs. Salatin writes extensively in magazines such as Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA, and American Agriculture.

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