This self-proclaimed lunatic farmer is basically my hero! It’s crazy to me how Joel is seen as radical when his views make so much sense. If you don’t know who Joel is, he is a farmer that uses sustainable practices on his farm in Virginia, Polyface farms, and has been featured in the film Food Inc. His farm was also written about in the New York Times bestselling book Omnivore’s Dilemma. He is also an author, proponent of small farms, and quite a humorous guy. He was featured on ABC World News and his after broadcast chat room experienced more hits than any segment to date! He came to Kalamazoo last weekend and I had the pleasure of seeing him – I was sitting in the first row of course! His new book ‘Folks, This Ain’t Normal’ is out, and he discussed farming practices and various things in our society that just don’t make sense. On top of it all, it was an entertaining talk. Here are some of the things he discussed.
He explained that necessary death has to occur in order to give life, and most people don’t understand this basic principle. He discussed the importance of keeping our food system local and integrated, as well as biodiversity on farms. One animal houses are touted as having a low carbon footprint, however, you have to take into account the land needed for growing food for the animals to eat, and the land needed to export the manure to – and add this into the carbon footprint. When you have a biodiversified farm, it all becomes a cycle where the animals can live together in unity. You can participate in an integrated food system just by getting some chickens outside of your house. The chickens can eat your kitchen scraps, and you can eat the chicken’s eggs – it all comes full circle.
When you have one animal houses instead of a diversity in animals, you are setting yourself up for problems. Animals are crammed into a dark building with no ventilation, breathing in their own feces. There is no fresh air and no sunshine. They receive no exercise to keep them healthy. As they breathe in their own feces their immune systems are weakened and they start to get sick. Instead of treating them adequately, they receive suboptimal antibiotic doses and this therefore breads resistant bacteria which contributes to human problems such as MRSA. We do not celebrate the animalness of the animal and let it live how it should. Nature really does know best! It seems so arrogant of man to think they can outsmart nature – why not work with nature?!
Instead of looking at how to celebrate a tomato and letting it thrive as a tomato should, we research things such as how can we manipulate this tomato to get what we need out of it. For instance, how can we make a tomato that will withstand being banged around as it is shipped far distances? This may result in a tasteless tomato, but that doesn’t seem to be our focus.
As a country, the US spends less per capita on food than any other country – no other country spends less than 14%, and we are down to about 8%. We used to spend about 18% on food and 9% on healthcare, and now these numbers have flip flopped. It’s no surprise to me that if we spend less on food, we will make up for it by having health issues. People in today’s society are more worried about the purity of gas in their car then they are about the fuel in their body!
Many people today are not eating real food. Food is something you can make in your kitchen; food is something that rots and digests. We add preservatives and chemicals to things so they don’t rot – how is your body supposed to digest that?
An issue that was brought up was the cost of good, real food. First off, Joel believes that food should not be cheap – you should be willing to pay for what you are putting into your body. But he also acknowledges that processed food is expensive. An example he gives is potatoes. You can buy potatoes for 79 cents a pound and make delicious fries. Or you can go over a few aisles and buy frozen French fries for $1.99 per pound. Or you can go over a few more aisles and buy potato chips for $4.99 a pound. Processed foods are not cheap; cooking at home with local fresh ingredients can actually save you quite a bit of money. Other suggestions are to buy in bulk, buy directly from farmers locally, and preserve your own food.
Food is important for home life. Dinner used to be time for a family to sit down together and spend time at home. Now home seems to be just a stopping point as we run from one place to the next in our busy lives. How important are these activities really if it means we are feeding ourselves and our families junk because we are too busy for a ‘real’ meal? Find ways to prepare good food quickly and efficiently. Find a way to take pride in what you eat. Find time in your busy schedule to eat something real!