[This is a special online version of the most recently published print copy of The Reader Magazine]
It's time to simply start eating better—right here, right now. Impractical? Not really. It’s actually the most realistic and effective approach to transforming a system that is slowly but surely killing us.
The unprecedented variety of bar-coded packages in today’s supermarket really does not mean that our generation enjoys better food options than our predecessors. These packages, by and large, having passed through the food inspection fraternity, the industrial food fraternity, and the lethargic cheap-food-purchasing consumer fraternity, represent an incredibly narrow choice.
Rather than representing newfound abundance, these packages winding their way to store shelves after spending a month in the belly of Chinese merchant marines are actually the meager offerings of a tyrannical food system. Try buying real milk—as in raw. See if you can find pot pies made with local produce and meat. How about good old unpasteurized apple cider? Fresh cheese? Unpasteurized almonds? All these staples that our great-grandparents relished and grew healthy on have been banished from today’s supermarkets.
They’ve been replaced by an array of pseudo-foods that did not exist a mere century ago. The food additives, preservatives, colorings, emulsifiers, corn syrups, and unpronounceable ingredients listed on the colorful packages bespeak a centralized control mindset that actually reduces the options available to fill Americans’ dinner plates. Whether by intentional design or benign ignorance, the result has been the same—the criminalization and/or demonization of heritage foods.
The mindset behind this radical transformation of American eating habits expresses itself in a couple of ways.
One is the completely absurd argument that without industrial food, the world would starve. “How can you feed the world?” is the most com- mon question people ask me when they tour our Farm." Actually, when you consider the fact that millions of people, including many vast cities, were fed and sustained using traditional farming methods until just a few decades ago, the answer is obvious.
America has traded seventy-five million buffalo, which required no tillage, petroleum, or chemicals, for a mere forty-two million head of cattle. Even with all the current chemical inputs, our production is a shadow of what it was 500 years ago. Clearly, if we returned to herbivorous principles five centuries old, we could double our meat supply. The potential for similar increases exists for other food items.
The second argument is about food safety. Lest you think the pressure to maintain the industrialized food system is all really about food safety, consider that all the natural-food items I listed above can be given away, and the donors are considered pillars of community benevolence. But as soon as money changes hands, all these wonderful choices become “hazardous substances,” guaranteed to send our neighbors to the hospital with food poisoning. Maybe it’s not human health but corporate profits that are really being protected.
In America I have the freedom to own guns, speak, and assemble. But what good are those freedoms if I can’t choose to eat what my body wants in order to have the energy to shoot, preach, and worship? The only reason the framers of the American Constitution and Bill of Rights did not guarantee freedom of food choice was that they couldn’t envision a day when neighbor-to-neighbor food commerce would be criminalized. . . when the bureaucratic-industrial food fraternity would subsidize corn syrup and create a nation of diabetes sufferers, but deny my neighbor a pound of sausage from my Thanksgiving hog killin’.
People tend to have short memories. We all assume that whatever is must be normal. Industrial food is not normal. Nothing about it is normal. In the continuum of human history, what western civilization has done to its food in the last century represents a mere blip.
A reasonable person, looking at the lack of choice we now suffer, would ask for a Food Emancipation Proclamation. Food has been enslaved by so-called inspectors that deem the most local, indigenous, heritage-based, and traditional foods unsafe and make them illegal. It has been enslaved by a host-consuming agricultural parasite called “government farm subsidies.” It has been enslaved by corporate-subsidized research that declared for four decades that feeding dead cows to cows was sound science—until mad cows came to dinner.
On our Farm nestled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we have consciously opted out of the industrial production and marketing paradigms. Meat chickens move every day across the pasture, enjoying bugs, forage, and local grain (grown free of genetically modified organisms). Tyson-style, inhumane, fecal factory chicken houses have no place here.
Embrace Your Inner Pig
The magical land-healing process we use, with cattle using mob-stocking, herbivorous, solar conversion, lignified carbon sequestration fertilization, runs opposite the grain-based feedlot system practiced by mainline industrial cattle production. We move the cows every day from paddock to paddock, allowing the forage to regenerate completely through its growth curve, metabolizing solar energy into biomass.
Our pigs [enjoy] bedding in the hay feeding shed, where manure, carbon, and corn create a pig delight. We actually believe that honoring and respecting the “pigness” of the pig is the first step in an ethical, moral cultural code. By contrast, today’s industrial food system views pigs as merely inanimate piles of protoplasmic molecular structure to be manipulated with whatever cleverness the egocentric human mind can conceive. A society that views its plants and animals from that manipulative, egocentric mindset will soon come to view its citizens in the same way. How we respect and honor the least of these is how we respect and honor the greatest of these.
The industrial pig growers are even trying to find the stress gene so it can be taken out of the hog’s DNA. That way the pigs can be abused but won’t be stressed about it. Then they can be crammed in ever tighter quarters without cannibalizing and getting sick. In the name of all that’s decent, what kind of ethics encourages such notions?
In just the last couple of decades, Americans have learned a new lexicon of squiggly Latin words: camphylobacter, lysteria, E. coli, salmonella, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, avian influenza. Whence these strange words? Nature is speaking a protest, screaming to our generation: “Enough!” The assault on biological dignity has pushed nature to the limit. Begging for mercy, its pleas go largely unheeded on Wall Street, where Conquistadors subjugating weaker species think they can forever tyrannize without an eventual payback. But the rapist will pay— eventually. You and I must bring a nurturing mentality to the table to balance the industrial food mindset.
Here at our farm eggmobiles follow the cows through the grazing cycle. These portable laying hen trailers allow the birds to scratch through the cows’ dung and harvest newly uncovered crickets and grasshoppers, acting like a biological pasture sanitizer. This biomimicry stands in stark contrast to chickens housed beak by wattle in egg factories, never allowed to see sunshine or chase a grasshopper.
We have done all of this without money or encouragement from those who hold the reins of food power, government or private. We haven’t asked for grants. We haven’t asked for permission. In fact, to the shock and amazement of our urban friends, our farm is considered a Typhoid Mary by our industrial farm neighbors. Why? Because we don’t medicate, vaccinate, genetically adulterate, irradiate, or exudate like they do. They fear our methods because they’ve been conditioned by the powers that be to fear our methods.
The point of all this is that if anyone waits for credentialed industrial experts, whether government or nongovernment, to create ecologically, nutritionally, and emotionally friendly food, they might as well get ready for a long, long wait. For example, just imagine what a grass-finished herbivore paradigm would do to the financial and power structure of America.
Today, roughly seventy percent of all grains go through herbivores, which aren’t supposed to eat them and, in nature, never do. If the land devoted to that production were converted to perennial prairie polycultures under indigenous biomimicry management, it would topple the grain cartel and reduce petroleum usage, chemical usage, machinery manufacture, and bovine pharmaceuticals.