Posts Tagged ‘farming’

U.S. Food System: a recap post of almost everything I learned this year & announcement of new blog

This is the last installment of The Local Foodie Fight blog as we’ve known it. (Hah.) Sorry I up-n-disappeared for a while. It’s been harder than I thought post-grad and interning 40 hours a week and I had meant to post a “recap/this is what I learned/final summation” from this past semester but it took a while and so here it finally is. Nothing too revelatory or groundbreaking. If you have followed the blog at all over the past 4 months, nothing here should be new but I think it’s a helpful post to kind of tie everything together–well as much as that can possibly be done. After this post, this blog will become strictly a place for recipes and restaurant reviews.

Problems

The majority of the food production problems the United States and most of the world is experiencing with regard to sustainability is the result of the Green Revolution, which happened from around 1943 to 1970. This “Green Revolution” isn’t what you would initially think. It actually refers to a series of research, development, and technological initiatives that increased industrial agriculture in volume, largely replacing many small family-owned operations. The initiatives were essentially intended to do one thing: increase the amount of food calories that were produced in order to feed an increasingly larger population.

The initiatives that were pursued during this government-motivated movement involved the development of high-yielding grains and commodity foodstuffs (like heavily subsidized corn and soy), expansion of irrigation infrastructure (which led to issues of soil nutrient depletion, groundwater depletion and erosion), and use of genetically modified seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides (which would later prove detrimental to human health and specific ecosystems). Furthermore, this reliance on corn and soy translated into a dependence on more heavily processed food that utilizes ingredients like soybean oil and high-fructose corn syrup. I highly encourage you to conduct an experiment over the next day: look at the ingredient label of everything you eat. Unless you are allergic to soy (my roommate is, it’s a tough lifestyle), or you follow a macrobiotic or raw diet, I would bet at least 25-50% of the food you eat has at least one of these ingredients.

This cheap, fast, processed food has gone on to contribute to obesity, heart disease, cholesterol problems, and other health problems and also poses increased risks related to food borne-illness due to the high quantity of food being turned out and the cross-contamination that results, coupled with insufficient federal standards. This has also resulted in an agricultural economy that has power concentrated in just a few hands and pockets, namely giant corporations like Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield and Monsanto, which weakens local economies and cultures across the globe and contributes to global warming through the carbon output of the transportation used to move this food such far distances. Furthermore, this has led to a growth in organic labeling but also has contributed to misleading marketing that has further confused consumers and created a divide between people and wholesome, nutritious food. This divide is a cultural side effect of our current food system that will take much work to fill.

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Additional challenges

There are several challenges this movement is currently facing.

It can’t be just ‘trickle down’ or ‘bottom-up.’ Too many authors and scientists are preaching about green development while sipping from McDonald’s cups and Dasani bottles. And too many urban gardeners don’t understand how government involvement affects what people are able to do in their personal lives and how to make behaviors more practical for people on tight budgets. Leaders of the movement need to be more united, informed, and responsible for their personal actions and the message those actions send to the public. Throughout my research and while speaking to experts, there has seemingly emerged two somewhat distinct “camps” of thinkers in the field of sustainable food system development: people who believe progress will come from the “top” (government regulations, subsidy revisions, legislation, corporate restructuring, breaking up monopolies, changing company practices) and those who believe progress is going to be motivated from the “bottom” (individuals, families and communities making changes in their personal lives). It is with optimism that I believe both sets of changes are happening and both will continue to happen until both collective needs and personal needs are met in a way that is equitable, as well as ecologically and economically beneficial. Not only will the possibilities made through political action trickle down to consumers, but consumer action and demand will rise up to influence those who possesses the political power and what decisions they are driven to make.

The Farm Bill requires intense overhauling. This is an issue many organizations are lobbying hard to change. The USDA needs to begin incentivizing biodiversity instead of monoculture commodity crops, to encourage farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables, and help end our obsession with high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods created using corn and soy surpluses. We should also move away from free trade agricultural policies, which encourage agribusinesses to buy crops from countries with poor environmental standards and labor conditions, and move more toward food sovereignty and local, domestic farmer support. These sorts of efforts would also pave the way for cafeterias at schools and other institutions to fund and provide infrastructure that would allow them to purchase food from regional food producers more often. Improving the food of young eaters would start a generation on the proper track toward health and wellness, instead of death and obesity as they currently are. Lobbying on Farm Bill work will largely fall on organizations, but those organizations need support from investors and foundations and feedback from individuals in order to their job, so ultimately we all have a role to play.

Environmentalists aren’t on the same page with each other, let alone with economists and financial experts. In just a few short months of following the different approaches to food production, I’ve heard too many varying opinions and stances on how to deal with our food system woes. For example, William McDonough asserts that our food security issues need not be battled with population control; Lester Brown sees population stabilization as the most important factor in regaining stability of our food system. Food sustainability advocates need to be on the same page in order to maintain credibility and convince skeptics. They also need to think like economists just as often as they think about making progress toward a greener world. My former professor, Terry Sankar, has invented a vertical wind axis turbine which is currently priced at about $30,000/each. His goal is to get that number down to about $10,000, because if you can make turbines cheaper, you get more people buying, you get more people on board with clean energy. You have to use economics in a way that benefits all involved, instead of in a way that produces one-sided profits. This is how we need to think. Create, invest and innovate in order to increase the feasibility of products, services, and projects that are better for the planet and humanity.

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Seeds of change and planting more

Throughout the past decade, a movement has started to slowly take shape. For example, while food industry monopolies have taken hold, in some areas, small farmers like Michael Heller, owner of Clagett Farm in Virginia, have worked toward converting previous corn fields into fruit, vegetable and livestock farms. Organizers have begun to educate community members on methods of urban agriculture, and we have a lot of development in this area. Innovations include: green rooftop farms, neighborhood gardens, hydroponic window farms for tiny apartments and compost bins within homes to produce richer, more nutritious soil while cutting down on the trash sent to landfills. These are small movements in the grand scheme of things, but they are seeds of change.

However, these efforts, while important, are isolated. They need to be more sophisticated and organized in order to draw these initiatives together and be impact. Some tactics I propose include:

  • Better education and more recruiting for students to agricultural, urban agriculture, and sustainable farming educations, as well as training on how to manage these businesses effectively. (More universities are beginning to offer urban sustainability and food science degrees, and I see this trend picking up more in the future.)
  • Increased education within elementary and middle school about nutrition and our food system (The Farm to School program being a great example of how to connect children with producing food while also teaching about nutrition.)
  • Better public relations and strategic communications campaigns that convey the benefits (health, social, longer term economic gains) of organic food, urban agriculture, and supporting local farmers–incentives drive change

There is not any one solution or method that will bring us to a sustainable system of producing our food. After all, sustainable food production is not a goal, just as sustainability is not a goal–it’s a process, which fortunately is gaining acceptance. Improving our food system is no longer an option or a would-be-nice.

We often lose sight of our common interests as humans. There are countless special interest groups, government agencies, struggling families, corporations–the list goes on–and so many conflicting opinions and politics. Most of the time I feel like I’m on the “environmentalist side”, but as the last few months have passed, I’ve come to see it shouldn’t be about sides and winning arguments, it should be about finding our similarities. Or our…

Common ground.

This is going to wrap up my study, but I will be taking my intellectual thoughts, etc over to a new home. I hope you keep checking back here for the occasional (weekly, I think) local recipe/restaurant review and I also hope you consider expanding your green horizons through my new blog over at Talking on Common Ground.

I’d also like to just say thanks to everyone, especially all the food/fitness bloggers, who have followed me and become my Twitter friends and left comments and feedback and told me they enjoy this blog because in all seriousness I never thought anyone would read it.

OK, now hop on over to the new site and I’ll catch you on the flip side.

More exciting news: Farmer’s Festival

Talk about full circle moments…it’s a major award!

About 8 months ago, I started on my visual strategies in public relations project with the desire to choose a client/event/organization that was focused on sustainable agriculture. At first I was going to design marketing materials for the Green Festival but then decided that I had ideas in my head that the Green Festival just didn’t really incorporate. My professor, Debra Witt, suggested I create my own concept, which would be a bit more work, but could be a lot more interesting in the end.

I had an idea of a huge festival-like event on the National Mall where people could gather, meet farmers, get information from them, see how to milk a cow, learn about how crops are grown, learn about what CSA’s are available to them, and what affordable options were there and most of all—learn the names of farmers—find a farmer that could be their food producer and get to know them. I kept the name simple, the Farmer’s Festival, and let my thoughts unfold around a design that I wanted to keep whimsical, colorful, kid-friendly, but informative.

I know it’s not the best and even now I look at it and see things I would tweak, and have thought about working on it more to make it a few more pages, or even just one more so that the back cover just has contact information (now the back cover has a lot of text–but the assignment was an 8 page brochure so I worked within those limits…)

WordPress doesn’t let me embed, but the brochure is on Issuu here if you’re interested.

Anyhow, I found out today it won for best visual strategy in my school‘s Public Communication competition. I am seriously shocked because I know how amazing a lot of my classmates’ work was and I’ll be seriously honored to accept it.

… And I’m off to see Lester Brown’s talk!

Where have all the farmers gone?

Or, I suppose the better question is, if someone does a study that shows the economic benefits of growing more diverse fruits and vegetables for more local consumers on smaller farms, will enough people attempt to test the theory out?

Job creation

Let’s first take a look at exactly what this study (“Selected  Measures of the Economic Values  of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Production and Consumption in the Upper Midwest”) found. First, more fruit and vegetable production in the six Midwestern states looked at could, theoretically, equal $882 million in sales at the farm level, with more than 9,300 jobs. Corn and soybean production on that same amount of land would support only 2,578 jobs. If half of the increased production was sold in farmer-owned stores, it would require 1,405 such stores staffed by 9,652 people. Only 270,025 acres—roughly equivalent to the average cropland in one of Iowa’s counties—would be needed to grow enough fruits and vegetables for the six-state region.

It’s first important to note that I realize this data was collected based on research in the Midwest, and the same numbers would not apply throughout the United States. However, if pursued even just in the Midwest, this sort of movement could drastically change the way agriculture is looked at in this country. This study shows that there is the potential to grow 28 different kinds of fruits and vegetables there that people in the region are currently getting from far distances, possibly even outside the Untied States. This is one thing that really irritates me, personally, with regard to buying locally: the idea that food items are being trucked or flown in from far away when they actually are being grown just miles away.

Creating desire by easing the process

But here is the one looming issue: Are there really enough people out there that want to be farmers? Can we really get 9,300 determined-to-be-farmer folks? It’s hard to say, because I don’t think there are enough people out there that know they can be farmers. There are plenty of college recruiters visiting high schools and talking to students about spending thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, on their education. How many of them are talking about studying agriculture? I don’t even remember thinking about the idea of agriculture until well into college. And further, how many of those colleges actually offer degrees in agriculture? And how well do these degree programs actually train people to own and manage a farm in a practical sense but one that uses progressive, organic methods? This Web site indicates that there are at least twelve schools that offer this degree in the U.S.—compared to the oh, say, hundreds, perhaps thousands that offer finance or business degrees. But then what happens after?

This got me thinking about creating an agency that would facilitate efforts to create more small farms (say, 100 acres or less) that did not rely on government subsidies for commodity crops. I am familiar with the NFFC (National Family Farm Coalition), but I feel they are still very small and focus primarily on helping existing farmers instead of making communities more able to produce their own food by motivating more people to take interest and become educated on how to.

What would an agency focused on making farmers succeed do?

  • put interested individuals in touch with schools/universities that offer degrees in agriculture
  • put students and potential students in touch with scholarship programs specifically designed for agriculture students
  • help to find land to farm or existing corn/tobacco/soybean/cotton farms that can be transformed and diversified
  • teach them how to correctly negotiate the purchase of this land
  • offer classes/put in touch with education on proper farming techniques that would minimize or eliminate pesticide use, not rely on GMO’s and keep land fertile (crop rotation, etc.)
  • train on proper budgeting and financial training, how to take out loans properly and how to pay them back
  • helping to create a business plan

All of this would have to come for free or for a very low cost in order to encourage more farmer training. And these are just some of the ideas that first come to mind. There are likely other innovative and less expensive ways to go about encouraging more small farmers to go into business (programs at the universities that partner up business students/MBA’s with those that specialize in agriculture/biology who might want to start a farming business together).

Farmers as entrepreneurs

Because the truth is that farming is NOT easy, which is why it has been industrialized over the past 100 years. It requires both farming know-how, technological savvy, science and biology training/college education in agriculture, business planning, and huge start-up costs (though you can get a loan, much like any businessman or entrepreneur knows). Further, farming carries with it huge risks related to crop failures, inability to sell enough goods, weather-related issues, and other problems. This is why it is so tempting for farmers to grow commodity crops, in order to get by on subsidies from the government, (which also gets into why the government needs to diversify its subsidy program in order to encourage more biodiversity.)

Interestingly, I think the idea of making more people embrace the farming life as a legitimate job, in fact a business well-worth pursuing, comes down to a bit more education, that is, PR type messaging to the country as a whole, which could lead to cultural shifts. As Giovanni Federico asserts in Feeding the World, 75 percent of the population must take up the helm of farming if we expect to keep people fed but do so with more traditional farming methods (I don’t think the real figure would be quite this high, because I think traditional farming methods have been improved on many existing smaller farms, while still keeping them sustainable.)

But the reality that more people would need to farm (and more people will need to garden/find ways to produce their own food) in order to eliminate industrial farming is quite undeniable.

Next up, I plan to outline some of the innovative ways urban gardening and small farm operations are improving.

Food Access Solutions: Urban Ag, Local Food, Community Development

Sometimes it’s hard to know if you are seeing something that is actually happening. Sometimes it’s hard to know if our own interests, backgrounds, experiences and lessons are shaping what is going on around us to the point where we are, in a sense, creating our own reality—or if our reality is largely the same as what is actually taking place—that is, if our reality is the same as other people’s realities.

I will eventually make more clear what I mean by this. I hope.

Panel Event: Food Access Solutions

On Friday, I spent a good part of my day at a panel-focused event titled, “Food Access Solutions: Urban Agriculture, Local Food & Community Development.” It was held in a large auditorium in a great new building in Southeast D.C., and there were about fifty of us there to see and hear experts in the field shed some light on the issue of healthy food access and sustainable community development.

Throughout the past eight months or so, I have been surrounded by this food debate. Meanwhile, the food debate has been raging, unbeknownst to me, for decades. Though I feel like this year it has hit critical mass. Meanwhile, it has taken me all this time to put the pieces together and realize that everything that’s going on isn’t really about food. The food issue is merely a symptom of a wider issue of a shift in our cultural values. Namely, that people are craving human connection, are dying for a sense of community, whether or not they realize it. Not to be dramatic, but regardless of where we live or what social class we belong to, we have become slaves (the concept of “food freedom” was discussed at length) to a commercialized, industrialized, profit-driven society that doesn’t cultivate mutual respect or promote equity, and ultimately devalues the natural resources we depend on. Consumerism has replaced consumer-power, as Robert Egger said during the panel. This causes us to devalue our neighbors, friends and family, who depend on those resources along with us. And what the current food revolution is about is fixing this broken value system, through tactics that help to chip away at the symptoms of it, with the hope that eventually the problem itself will begin to reverse.

FYI, here is who was there:

There is a lot worth mentioning and talking about from the panel, but in the interest of keeping this somewhat brief, here are just a few questions that I think elicited the most interesting responses, along with my commentary.

Who do you think is missing from this conversation and this panel today?

Ahh. I appreciated this opening question. Some answers included: city planners, very young people (kindergartners, elementary and middle school students), grocery stores/retailers. I also think that we need government officials (from FDA, USDA) included in the debate, as well as politicians, as these are the people that are helping to shape the policy which determines how our food system functions.

What are some possible solutions?

I was really surprised to find that the majority of the discussion focused on local community efforts that can be made, rather than wide-scale policy changing. I think the general feeling was that a bottom-up approach, rather than a trickle-down approach, may be what we need to rely on, at least to start, in order to motivate changes. In a way, this makes some sense, because if you can mobilize people in pockets all around the country, or world, you can really have an impact–but if you spend your money and efforts targeting a government who ultimately is only serving its financial interests and the interests of the people, nothing can change. You have to change the interests of the people first, and then, if there is a legitimate government, it should follow suit and work to align with those interests. Some ideas that the panelists included:

  • Using music, games, activities at farmers markets to draw more people to them, as well as offering the markets more often and at different times.
  • Urban agriculture methods. So think city/community gardens. AU has one, window farming, roof farming, hydroponics, etc. (I have a o going up soon about these methods in more details, so stay tuned.)
  • Food producers need to reach out more to the existing small corner markets and stores and get their fresh produce there.
  • Making more farmers markets available to under-served communities.
  • Programs like Farm to School, which involve more people, young people especially, in the act of growing their own food from an early age, so they appreciate it more.
  • Making food a more inherent part of our culture, something that we pride ourself on, enjoy the taste of, and would rather spend time with than other consumer endeavors.
  • Shifting the power from large corporations back into the communities, because if you bring a local food economy somewhere, you will build up their economy in general, produce more jobs, and make the community better able to weather the storm when crises occur.

Open Q&A

During the question and answer session, many stood to offer their accolades to the speakers. One young woman, around my age, who works at the Earth Day Network, stood to ask how she, as a middle-class white girl with a passion for the causes of community development and fighting hunger and providing healthy food to those in need—can do without just playing that role of the rich, white girl swooping in to “save” the struggling black community. Malik talked about how we need to stop looking at the issue as one where we are “saving” people, but instead, empowering them. He also said that there are countless nonprofit organizations that start up and go into these communities to help them, but instead of then employing the actual citizens of these communities, the organization leaders hire their other white friends. If we expect to empower people, we must include them in the processes that seek to empower, instead of keeping them on the outside, working minimum wage jobs. But he also mentioned that members of the black community have to “step up,” as he put it, and become active in that sort of work in order to allow themselves to be empowered.

I asked a pretty specific question. I wanted to hear more about how to incorporate the large family farm operations in this discussion, and what role those large commodity crop growers could play toward making healthier food more accessible while reducing the impact that their food has on the world from a greenhouse gas perspective (industrial livestock raising, nutrient soil depletion from not rotating crops, the fuel used to create fertilizers, the fuel used to transport food). I hate to say I didn’t really get an answer to that question–so then I asked how Michael, the farmer on the panel, managed to transform the corn/tobacco operation that once existed into his livestock/vegetable farm which exists today. His answer was, “very slowly.” He also said he relied on a lot of community support for it to happen. I’m not sure if that meant financial support or just support of them buying his food. It wasn’t really enough of an answer for me. So we chatted for a bit after and I got his contact information.

After, I was talking with a girl there who had interned at National Family Farm Coalition. I told her how I was interested in learning more about how to find that balance between being able to grow more fruits and vegetables in places where nature allows them to grow, without pitting large farmers against small farmers. In a sense, how to take away the whole “if you can afford small farm food, that’s great–but if you can’t, there’s factory farming which can provide you cheaper, less nutritious food.” I wanted to know what he had done, in order to use his as a case study for other projects. But his situation was not entirely the same as many large-scale farms across the country. Anyhow, the girl, who was about my age, said something worth noting, which amounted to basically, “If everyone always waited around for someone else to provide a model for how to do something, nothing would ever get done.”

Our Collective Reality

Here is where I am coming from in this discussion. I am a privileged, white girl from a middle-class family who has received an amazing education from a private institution; who has never been forced to miss a meal in her life; who never had to stow away food handed out in elementary or middle school during state-wide exam days or after school activities so I could bring it home to feed my family for dinner; who knows what self-induced starvation feels like, but has never once opened the refrigerator or the pantry only to find that there is not one thing to eat; who knows what healthy food is and what it isn’t and never once has had a problem getting somewhere that offers that food and being able to afford it.

I walked away from this panel finally feeling justified in my thinking of this whole movement as a big deal. It’s not a trend; it will go down in history books. We have to all do what we can to make sure that this is a turning point for the better instead of the worse.

I also walked away from this panel and counted the number of people who would be considered obese as I walked toward the metro station. I sat down on a seat on the train facing one such person, a young black mother and her, I assume, toddler son. He was adorable in his vintage-looking Mickey Mouse t-shirt and Nike sneakers. She was feeding him snacks from a couple plastic baggies, one of which appeared to be filled with sugar cookies and the other with Fruit Loops cereal. And after watching them for a few minutes, watching him eating and giggling and playing, completely ordinary interactions—I felt completely overwhelmed with the strangest combination of despair and hope.

I live a completely different life than the people who are being affected most negatively by our food system. I’m sure I live a completely different life than the mother and her son on the metro, and though our immediate, personal realities are quite different, when it comes down to it, we face the same threats, and our collective reality, as humans, remains the same. This should be what unites us in the struggle.

Tambra Stevenson, a panelist from the DC Food Justice Coalition, reminded us of Harriet Tubman’s famous quote, which I feels ties this entry up nicely: “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”


Reporting back on food spending

Well. It’s the moment of truth. Last week, I told you I was going to keep track of all the money I spent on food. So I did. And here’s the breakdown.

Friday, March 12 – Went to Giant, bought too much really, intended to only get the “essentials” like peanut butter, bread (which, as I didn’t even need to get eat because I bought bread at the market so I froze this bread), jelly (again, didn’t need to get), pickles (I never buy pickles, not sure about the decision–never shop while experiencing strange cravings), salt (definitely needed that), soy milk, matzo crackers, cream cheese, cuc’s, strawberries. – $52.18

Saturday, March 13 – Went to Farmers Market and bought all that stuff I pictured last week – $33.75

Then Wednesday came and I was up late Tuesday writing a paper (and by up late I mean I slept from 10pm to midnight, then 7-8am, which apparently is now my customary routine.) The point is, I woke up and had to run to an interview and then meet with my dean to read him a speech I entered into this commencement speaker contest and so anyway I didn’t have a lunch prepared. My school is pretty awesome and unique in that we have a mini farmers market on campus on Wednesdays, which is rather fitting as that is the only day I’m ever on campus. So I went there and picked up some snacks (dried cranberries and apples–which I still haven’t finished–and challah bread which I shared with the Eagle office in part to prevent myself from consuming the entire loaf) and then later on I bought a salad with black beans because let’s be real, eating nothing but carbohydrates all day is just not fulfilling. So, salad plus farm goodies – $17

(Now, considering I started this tally on Friday, I would think the last day would be Thursday. So we will disregard the fact that I forgot the salad I specifically made to bring with me on Friday to work and instead had to go to Whole Foods and spend $7 at the salad bar. Oh well.)

This puts my grand total for March 12-18 at:

$102.93

Which is pretty much what I estimated I have been spending.

All in all, I honestly think I am buying too much food. I don’t think I am spending too much on the food that I buy, I just think I am buying so much that I’m not eating everything I buy that week, and then I am also having to throw away the stuff that goes bad, usually veggies. I am overestimating how much I am going cook and eat. I need to just buy enough for one week at a time, (obviously except for things like spices or big bags of rice or whatever.) So I am glad I did this because it taught me three important things I need to work on to curb my spending and reduce and hopefully completely eliminate the food that I waste–while not changing the quality of the food I buy:

  1. I need to buy smaller quantities of food, especially bread and vegetables.
  2. I need to make my lunches/meals for the next day the night before and I need to remember to bring those meals!
  3. I need to plan better what I am going to make as my “main meal with leftovers” so that I only buy the ingredients I will use.

It’s still important to mention that my opinion still stands, I would rather spend more on food than other things. For crying out loud, half my paycheck this week went directly to the food I put in my mouth (I say 30 percent of my total “income” because my parents help me with most of my rent right now and I include that as income.) And a lot of times I share the food that I buy, or cook a meal that is shared. But usually that’s balanced out by the food people share with me.

Anyhow, it’s a gorgeous day. I think I will throw some things in the crockpot and go outside and read in the sunshine.

How’s the weather where you are? I hope wonderful. And I hope everyone at Fitbloggin‘ is having so much fun! I wish I was there meeting you all!

If there were only more farmers like Joel Salatin in this world…

I’m getting through the meat of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (both literally and figuratively), and I have found myself particularly interested and moved by the section where Pollan interviews and lives with Joel Salatin and his family for a week. Salatin is a man I have heard speak quite passionately in the past about the topic of sustainable food production and bringing consumers together with their farmers, so they know where their food is coming from.

Joel Salatin, self-described libertarian, environmentalist and Christian lunatic, argues there is “no salvation to be had through legislation.” He argues that it is government subsidies and USDA requirements that make real food produced by local, small-scale farmers so expensive. He’s right. Small, organic farms must follow the same regulations as corporate organic farms (you know, like the ones that supply to Whole Foods)–which often means buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment that smaller scale farms really don’t need. In fact, Salatin has had his meat inspected by a lab before to test the bacteria load, it’s far smaller than that of any supermarket meat. These regulations explain why food from small farms is more expensive–their output is tiny by comparison to factory farms, but they’re still expected to buy the “necessary equipment” and pay for a USDA meat inspector.

On top of all this, Salatin and small farmers like him are not receiving government subsidies like large farms do, because they aren’t producing commodity crops.

Salatin essentially answers the questions I posed in my recent post about the small scale movement for better, “more real” fast food, which were: Do we try to fix what is broken, or start from scratch? Do we try to convince traditional fast food chains to clean up their acts or just hope they go out of business when they are not able to keep up with the consumer demand for healthier, safer, more sustainable food?

Salatin’s answer is to empower individuals with the right philosophy and information to opt out–that is, to stop supporting big agriculture and start supporting local farmers–collectively:

“…Make no mistake: it’s happening. The mainstream is splitting into smaller and smaller groups of like-minded people. It’s a little like Luther nailing his 95 theses up at Wittenberg. Back then it was the printing press that allowed the Protestants to break off and form their own communities; now it’s the Internet, splintering us into tribes that want to go their own way.

“…An alternative food system is rising up on the margins. One day, Frank Perdue and Don Tyson are going to wake up and find that their world has changed. It won’t happen over night, but it will happen, just as it did for those Catholic priests who came to church one Sunday morning only to find that, my goodness, there aren’t as many people in the pews today. Where in the world has everybody gone?”

So, how do we go from here? Well, if you are reading this right now, then I guess we’re already on our way. It takes conversations like this. It takes acting on the knowledge that we have. It takes getting mad enough about how screwed up everything is, and then opting for what is real, what is better for us. Salatin doesn’t even talk much about lobbying efforts and trying to change the government, although it’s clear that he believes much of the problems lie in the hands of the government. However, he sees the power of the individual as stronger, he believes individual choice is strong enough–what you choose to buy and eat makes a huge statement. Speaking of which, you can find all the restaurants Polyface supplies here on his Web site. OK, maybe I am looking at some of the menus online currently. Maybe my mouth is watering.

I guess this as good a time as any to also mention that this whole concept gets at quite an inner struggle I have been having ever since I began learning more about our broken food system and that is this fundamental question: is government the cause of all of the problems or can it be the solution? At my internship, more often than not, F&WW sides with the idea that more government regulation, oversight, ownership, and management is what will keep our food and water out of the hands of corporations who have little in mind about our health or safety and everything in mind about their bottom line. But they also do understand that the USDA is far from perfect. And their anti-corporate stance certainly does not translate to anti-small-farmer trying to make a profit in order to stay alive, just as Joel Salatin’s libertarian anti-government-regulation of small farm organic stance doesn’t make him an anarchist. But still, I struggle with this debate. What do you think?

Next up on my reading agenda is Jonathan Safran Foer’s, Eating Animals, which explores the atrocities of factory farming. But, on a personal note, while I haven’t eaten meat in over eight years, I truly believe in the possibility for animals to live a full and happy life and then go on to serve as an energy source for humans, as they do on Polyface Farm. And as a testament to how much I truly believe in what Salatin is doing, I think I’d actually go out on a limb here, and while the thought of this may actually make me feel slightly physically ill…I’d eat a steak from the Polyface farm. I might even eat a pork chop.

Can Slow Food be Fast Food?

Does fast food have to mean non-local, unhealthy, unethical, and not socially conscious? We are beginning to see some signs that maybe it doesn’t.

And I am very excited to say I have a guest post on this topic on Greenfudge.org today! You can check it out here.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful day.