Everything I want to do is illegal
MagpieOfLove Blog - December 28, 2010
Over the years, my family has gotten steadily better at giving gifts (of course, the only way you can go is up after giving someone a 3 foot tall nutcracker). This year, in addition to a good novel, a hand-me-down Camelback, a pre-opened bag of quinoa, and a healthy dose of chocolate, among other things, I got a copy of Joel Salatin’s Everything I Want to do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front. My sister picked remarkably well: it’s a book that I had forgotten I wanted to read, and one that I’m too cheap to buy for myself and which the Tallahassee Public Library certainly doesn’t have. As I’ve been missing my bees and sugar snap peas in Florida, I’ve started reading it, complete with one very fluffy cat on my lap.
In case it’s been a while since you’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which is an absolute must-read for anyone who eats food), Joel Salatin was the badass farmer in the book who’s leading the way in management-intensive rotational grazing (for those of you who don’t know: this is a fancy term for letting cows, pigs, goats, chickens, etc. eat grass–what they were made to eat, in other words, before we started force-feeding them corn and other animals–and moving them around often enough that they don’t kill an entire pasture. It’s what we do for our cows and poultry at Warren Wilson).
The main point of the book, as far as I can tell, is that all of the things that sound really good–drinking raw milk fresh from the cow, eating beef that is butchered and sold at the same place where it’s been grass fed, employing local young people as farmhands, teaming up with other local food and craft producers to sell a variety of products from one farm, building small houses, using composting toilets–are illegal in America. Many, many small farms have been shut down for violations of such things, and nearly everyone involved in the Good Food Movement has a story to tell about buying expensive raw milk cheese that’s labelled “for use as pet food only” or buying fresh free-range eggs from a farmer under cover of night. I’m not kidding. It’s actually that bad.
Joel Salatin has been at the center of such nonsense for 40 years, and it has made him brilliant, feisty, and little bit paranoid. Still, he’s pretty fabulous. He describes himself as a “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer.” In the introduction, he talk about wanting young folks today to be able to “catch a vision of a righteous food system, a healing agrarianism, a local farm food ministry.” And here’s my favorite quote so far:
“That we’ve become an exercise-machine-only culture, not to mention Nintendo and cyber-creation, is probably setting us up for a collision course with newly virulent industrial-strain pathogens at the very time when we are least able to handle them. We should be rolling in the dirt, gardening, wrestling with some brambles and skinning animals for supper. These are important immune system builders.”
Can I get an “amen”?
Read the original review here.
US Senate Passes an Overhaul of the Food Safety Regulations
DIY Mama Blog - December 1, 2010
In a weird convergence of topics, I just barely finished Joel Salatin’s book, Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, last night. This morning the headline of a New York Times article popped up announcing that the Senate has passed an overhaul of the food safety regulations.
This was my official review of Salatin’s book on GoodReads:
“An interesting read, and he makes some valid points about the difficulties of running a small farm in the current regulatory culture. He takes more personal satisfaction than perhaps appropriate at lambasting government employees who are enforcing the rules to the best of their ability (i.e. not turning a blind eye and letting him do whatever he wants) but still, he makes good points that it hardly seems fair that the rules are at times so vague that a change in personnel can mean the law is interpreted so differently that he now must spend tens of thousands of dollars to keep doing what he’s been doing legally for 30 years. He’s very anti-government, and pro-capitalism. He’d love to return to “Buyer beware” and let the onus of personal safety rest on the consumer, instead of trying to constantly legislate integrity- he has a valid point there, I think, but there are very few consumers who have the time to personally get to know every single food supplier their family would use, and who have the time to drive farm to farm to get their food. His idea of a parallel food culture is interesting- just like homeschoolers can opt out of the governmental education system, he would create a system in which consumers could opt out of the government (USDA, inspected) food system.”
OK, so Joel has become a bit of a celebrity in the past few years. When Michael Pollan contacted him about getting some grass-fed steaks to try out for a book he was writing, Joel refused- he wasn’t going to waste the fuel sending his beef all over the country, you’ve got to come here if you want to eat my steak. Joel runs a very efficient family farm, replacing expensive water pumps with gravity, compost instead of fertilizer, intensive pasturing instead of buying feed (moving the cows every day, and following behind with chickens to break down what the cows left behind), etc. He has a lot of unique ideas to expand his farm and business, and under current laws they’re mostly illegal. Because federal regulations are written about enormous “agri-business” farms, but applied across the board, this often means that small operations are priced entirely out of the game.
I’m curious to see what happens with this new bit of legislation from the senate. It seems to me that Joel Salatin is correct when he says you can’t legislate integrity. New layers of reporting is not going to make our food any safer. If the salmonella comes from the raw cow sludge that industrial farms spray on their crops as fertilizer, wouldn’t you think the answer is to stop using the sludge? If an e.coli outbreak can spread across the country in a matter of days, wouldn’t you think the answer might address decentralizing food production, so one plant’s mistake can’t sicken people across the nation?
I don’t agree with Mr. Salatin on everything, but he has some valid points: we need to address what is CAUSING the issues, not simply keep putting bandages and more rules every time the natural consequences of the centralized, industrial farming model crop up. I don’t want to see small farms run out of the business, because industrial farms are making people sick.
And that ends my political rant.
Read the original review at DIYU Mama.