Updated: Jul 21
I recently heard James Rebanks, an English organic farmer and author, say that people nowadays are bombarded with information and worry about what to eat, but few people know how to eat - how to make informed choices about what they consume. I think he is quite right. And this lack of investigating the full story leads to a lack of conviction about why decisions as a consumer matter. I’d like to share a few thoughts about why this whole food thing matters and to help us realize the power of everyday decisions.
Why should we care about what food choices we make? (I’m seeking to go beyond the obvious thought that a Whopper-a-day is problematic!) It seems that if we ever ask ourselves the question, we likely answer it according to some influence from the media, conventional medicine, etc. We usually think it’s good to think about what we eat because it’s more healthy for our bodies, or maybe animal welfare, or increasingly, the environment. But food, a decision we make several times a day, one of the few things we absolutely cannot live without, should cause us to consider how much is affected by our society’s model for food - land, animals, health, business, community, suicide (farmers), monopolies, livelihoods in foreign countries, and dare I say, ethics...our views of what is right and good?
To many of us, food is something that seems to nearly fall out of the sky, land in a nicely presented package in the grocery store, and mindlessly pass through us so we can have the calories to keep rushing through our days. And indeed, a good improvement in history has been the efficiency of producing food so that other people can devote their time elsewhere for improvement in other things. But we have a lot more to think about. If we aren’t going to produce everything we eat, it is a moral obligation to think about how our food arrives on our plate.
The natural consequence of buying-in our food is that we become disconnected from reality. Disconnected from the land, the soil, ecology, etc. Without being grounded in this reality, we have no way to discern what voices we should tolerate in the media. Can we really proclaim ourselves wise enough to criminalize a cow simply because it emits methane? Has anyone stopped to consider what a cow is designed to do in its natural environment? How can we listen to opinions about food when we have no clue about life in the soil and the natural instincts of livestock? Before we rid the earth of animal agriculture and whatever else the media says, many must admit, “We have no clue what we’re talking about!”
On our farm, we seek to understand and honor the natural behavior of the animals. Cows and sheep are herbivores by design, so we give them a fresh 100% grass buffet daily. Pigs have a powerful snout and great curiosity, so we let them root and explore to supplement their diet. Chickens widely scavenge for insects and pests, so that’s what we let them do. Sound good? It is good; they are happy, healthy, and produce a great product.
But that is not even close to normal for most meat, even organic meat in the grocery store. Most meat from the local “all natural” grocery department has not just had a sorry, sad life, but the system that produced it produces a host of issues we cannot rightly call good. The conventional system has made food just another commodity and corporate, profit-based scheme. We’ve been enticed by crazy low prices and addictive tastes. (The average person spends a tremendously less portion of their income on food today than a couple generations ago.) Money rules the game, and many things suffer...it’s just been made hard to notice. Let’s very briefly jog over some realities, starting with the animals.
After having been sold as a weaned calf, beef enters a feedlot. Usually packed on a concrete pad, their diet is high in grain for fast weight gain and antibiotics to deal with the quick gain and “fecal-concentration-camp-like” conditions. Same for chicken (20,000 birds in a house, organic ones too), and pork, curious creatures so packed together that they will eat each other’s appendages (if not “docked”) out of boredom and insanity. It is hard to say that these are happy animals under our responsibility, unless we choose differently.
How about the soil, historically considered the foundation for life and society? Soil life is assaulted by the system used to grow the grains for all those animals. Excess tillage, chemical applications, and synthetic fertilizers are no friends to soil life. And for the environmentally conscious veggie burger fans, have they considered that the fertilizers used to grow the grains of most veggie burgers are produced from fossil fuels and petroleum? Probably not. Remember, veggie burgers do not innocently fall from some Garden-of-Eden up in the sky! Moreover, the runoff from the chemicals applied to the crops has created a dead zone the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico.
How about the wellbeing of the farmers? For the grain growers, those acres and acres of corn and soybeans are heavily subsidized by the government, since without the subsidies farmers make little money (the average farm income last year was negative). Sadly, the strain of generational debt and farms going under has given farmers one of the highest rates of suicide. As for the farmers raising the animals, the money mostly goes to the processors such as Tyson, Purdue, Smithfield, etc. These processors employ low-paid, usually migrant, workers in suppressive conditions. Many of these workers’ home countries have a number of farmers who went under thanks to America’s abundance of cheap grain. This cheap grain is not feeding the world; it is hurting it.
We haven’t even gotten to the massive topic of personal health consequences. Conventional foods come from a system that cares more about profits than health. Chemicals, antibiotics, and low nutrient density are commonplace. Indeed, pesticides are readily present in many people’s bodies, and every year it seems that we hear more about how small amounts of these toxins cause disease in ways not previously known. If the farming system doesn’t support biological life in the field, then the product from those fields cannot support biological life in the body.
We could go on, but I hope the inescapable connection of food to so much more is becoming apparent. The status quo is not a beautiful system. It continues because we choose to uphold it. Unless we don’t. We have the power and freedom to choose our food and how it impacts the world and our families!
The media gives simplistic rationale to govern our dietary choices...far removed from reality and driven by corporate interest. Isn’t it interesting that when the animals are given their natural place, and things are done in a way that’s healthy for the soil, animals, and community, that the accusations of the anti-meat movement crumble?
We need to strive for a better system. The impacts are powerful, from communities around the globe to the health of the microorganisms in your gut. Let’s seek to understand where and how our food is raised and seek truly natural, soil-building, and life-giving food.
This is not to condemn anyone not eating a 100% diet from local, organically minded farms. This is first a call to expand our thinking, to consider how seemingly inconsequential, everyday choices have far-reaching impacts. Everyone’s personal choices will look different, depending on your body’s personal needs, your budget, your location, etc. If you are already making more mindful choices about your food, know how much your decisions matter! On a note to our personal customers, your support and kind comments are invaluable to a small farm’s morale and energy! As we all press on, let’s ensure that what we think about our food is actual reality, and let’s employ the power of our individual decisions!