I was, in a textbook sense, very bad today. I pushed a nice Virginia lady to near tears, told a cherubic Ohio mom that what she did was fucking evil and, in an exasperated moment of utter despair, equated the work of a bunch of “family farmers” to the evil doings of Wall Street at it’s worst.
Actually, you should know, I believe what those “family farmers” do is far more reprehensible than Wall Street. The brokers and money changers, they just make you poor. Industrial farmers, the people I talked to today, their work is tearing apart the very health of our society — degrading the animals they raise, polluting the environment and, if you did a little research, you’d learn and take heed, damaging your health.
Oh, and you should know — the “farmers” and “ranchers” that are perpetrating the atrocities of factory farming, they actually believe that what they are doing is right and just.
It’s legal, even.
Just like Wall Street!
Me, I’d rather just get financially raped by Wall Street than have to face the horror that the people on the front line of our food supply are, I dunno, shockingly ignorant? mindbogglingly clueless? utterly inhumane?
So while I was, I admit, audacious in my outrage, what I learned today is that outrage may be our only salvation.
Because these people who produce our food are not listening.
And , er, uhm, well, they are also not really glomming onto the subtleties of our fear — or obvious atrocities of reality.
I was trying to be polite. Trying to be politic. I don’t think I did a very good job. But if you measure my performance against how I actually felt, you would be applying for my sainthood. Because I was that consumed by confusion, twisted into rage, with a side dish of infuriation. I don’t even care if that is not a word.
B.T., by which I mean Before Today, in a biblical “marking time” sense, I didn’t much think about the people who grow our food. Well, that is, I should say the people who grow your food. Pretty much, I know the people who grow mine.
There’s some stuff I pick up at Costco, sure — Marcona almonds, some basic house cheese for the random sandwich or omelet — and I tend to run to the my local food co-op every so often to pick up supplies.
But when I am thinking, mindful — not consumed by the all-consumingness that is an internet startup — I, really, know who grows my food. Even a lot of the stuff I pick up at the co-op.
There’s Marty from Spence Farm. I have a make your own CSA with him and have been to his farm a few times, met the family and even volunteered at a fundraising event he held.
And there’s Seedling Pete. I stayed at his farm one weekend when I needed to get away. It was really lovely, quiet and peaceful, with a small band of farm workers who are part of the farm, not just expendable parts of the harvest.
I get a lot of chickens, and last year’s turkey, from Greg Gunthorp. I actually have not only been to his farm but learned how to catch a “wild” pig while I was there — or at least learned that his pigs live in his woods and when someone orders one, he goes and runs, crazily, through the woods to catch it. Holy Shit! And how holy, really.
Oh, and Mick Klug and Crazy Tomato Mountain guy. I haven’t been to their farms but I know people I trust who have and, well, we all know that Mick is known to throw a punch or two when the nuances and importance of sustainably raised produce is the topic at hand. He’s pretty serious in a way one can only respect.
I buy meat from Rob at Butcher & Larder and sometimes, now, from PQM — they both use farmers and ranchers I have met and whose animal husbandry is exceptionally humane. Before them, I had farmers I trust come sell meat in my home so I could make it available for myself. My friends were grateful for the residual benefit of access to honorably raised meat.
We have to eat meat, I believe; but we also have to do it responsibly.
I try to live by that and get to feeling guilty if I succumb to a package of, say, Niman Ranch sausage. My mother, I think, is at this point afraid to make me a sandwich, for fear I am questioning her motives and intent. I also get pretty woosey about eating meat out if the restaurant I am at doesn’t really follow what I believe are: The Rules.
I am sure by now you think I am a kook. As I look over this post, it certainly reads that way.
But maybe it is just that I tend to read — a lot — about our food supply. And what I read scares the crap out of me.
I don’t retain a lot of facts about it. I don’t have to, really. I am just me, choosing what I want to eat and what I feel is responsible. To be honest, I don’t really have time to get involved with the politics of food beyond posting a few articles on Facebook — which is, I believe, a personal endeavor — or having a conversation with people who, pretty much, already heartily agree with what I think.
I am blessed in that I can construct a life where I don’t, really, have to think much about it. And I realize, well — we are all believing that. It is a delusion. That we don’t have to think much about it. And frankly, that’s why we are where we are. And, friends, where we are is so not cool. In fact, it is horribly, horribly wrong.
B.T., I thought it is important to know your farmer, but, I’ll admit, I never really gave much though as to why. Had you asked me, B.T., I would have mumbled something about community or, possibly, if my mood was dark, something vague but scary and probably involving Monsanto, Whole Foods or another evil empire.
A.T., as in After Today, I realize that if you don’t know your farmer, you are probably eating something grown, raised or harvested — let alone processed — by someone who, really, you should not trust. And I realize that I need to jumpstart my research and remembering. I need to pay more attention to the food community and not just worry about my own food. I need to worry about the food of people who don’t know to worry or, maybe, don’t have time.
Maybe that is to say I need to worry more actively — and proactively.
Because today, I met the farmers and ranchers who grow your food.
And they frightened me to the very core of my being.
Wait, let me back up.
First off, I should tell you that today I had the pleasure of meeting the people at the front lines of producing food — the fine folks of the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. I was invited to a breakfast they hosted. A “conversation” they were starting with people like me. (Whomever they thought “me” was.)
Now, it might seem frighteningly elitist of me but I will admit that B.T., I assumed that the people on industrial farms were just a sad lot of people who got stuck in a horrible spiral of debt and oppression by The Man. I did. I felt bad for them. And I think, generally, that was all my psyche could admit was reality. I felt they must have had lives that had gone horribly wrong somewheres. But I didn’t have the means to help them and I could only hope that some day they would come to their senses and just leave.
That’s as far as my thinking could go. Beyond that, a cliff, a place I couldn’t even imagine.
But, and I know you already know this. I was oh so very wrong.
The reality is, and you really should be really scared by this, the people who live on the “family farms” that house the CAFOs that produce the majority of our food are, in fact, proud of what they do.
I shall pause here for you to gather yourself again. When you are ready, we can go on.
The people who run the CAFOs are proud to raise pigs confined to sunless outbuildings with scientifically controlled environments that strip the animal of all dignity. Proud to stuff a million chickens into their farming operation to “live” in the filth of “dust” (chickenspeak for dried shit flying around as breathable) where they never, actually, ever experience the crazy antics of their inherent chicken-ness. Proud that they’ve harnessed so much technology that they don’t even have to ever feed a pig or pick a weed in the field.
They said, and you can be sure I heard this right, there were “no bugs” in their fields — so forget swatting a fly.
Of course, of course. Progress.
WAIT! What? In what natural world are there no bugs? I mean, I hate bugs but, really, NO BUGS! WHAT THE HELL DID THEY DO TO THE BUGS?
Oh, crap! Yes. Bees. Bees are bugs! And we know what is happening to the bees.
Maybe the bee researchers need to go hang out on some Nebraska monocrop farms and see what’s happening there because, really, it is a mystery to all of us but, and I kid you not, the Nebraska farmer I was sitting with said, no bugs.
(BTW: the people I spoke with today, they’d never heard of the word “monocrop,” even though it was their livelihood. They are that detached.)
But this is the thing you, dear reader, need to understand. It isn’t the pigs stripped of dignity or the chickennessless chickens or even the mysterious lack of bees that is the problem. No, The USFRA exists because these “family farmers,” the ones who don’t ever feed a pig or pick a weed or worry about swatting a fly, they think they are misunderstood.
Which is the only point at which we found common ground. By which to say that I didn’t understand them, before I met them — because I didn’t realize they actually believed in what they were doing.
So, clearly, they are misunderstood.
And they hosted this breakfast because, well, they want to be understood. They want all of us to think of them as “family farmers” and they realize they are represented, mostly, by comically scary food conglomerates that everyone justifiably hates — the likes of Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson, BPI (aka The Pink Slime-ers).
So, they’re banding together and taking what seem to be the most homespun family types of their ilk on the road. To state their case in the most familyesque way.
“Hi, I am *Peggy Sue and I am a soccer mom from Nebraska. My family, (ZOMG I have six kids!), has been farming for seven generations and I love my farm and what we do everyday in our chicken house!”
“And I am *Scottie Boy and my family is from Oklahoma, we have three kids who love to get dirty, and though my wife says I don’t do anything but eat her brownies I swear I work all day tending to my soybean fields.”
It’s all downright Norman Rockwellian until you find out that what Peggy Sue’s family does is raise a million chickens in enclosed steel structures that deliver scientifically prescribed doses of the cheapest crap that some greedy corporation can mix together and force Peggy Sue to buy so as to make those chickens grow — and by grow I mean an unchikenly fast hypergrowth — fast enough you’d think they are sprouting out of a comic book.
Oh, and if that isn’t enough to make you question Peggy Sue’s basic level of sanity, she actually feeds that chicken-esque detritus to her grandkids.
I did, I did, I misunderstood Peggy Sue. I didn’t realize that about her — and her “family farmer” cohorts as well. In my heart, honestly, I didn’t think they ate that shit themselves.
I mean, it is one thing for a mom in a big city far removed from the farm to not have time to pay attention to the poisonous scariness of, say, a Tyson chicken breast, as an example. It is a whole other thing for a woman who lives the horror of factory farming day-to-day to serve that stuff to her own grand kids.
You should know that Peggy Sue assured me that it is all OK because — are you sitting down — “God made animals to be tools for mankind. They aren’t equal to us.” By which she means the horrors of the lives of the animals they are responsible for raising are, well, condoned by the Almighty.
It is hard to imagine but the atheist, me, was technically the Godless half of that conversation. Technically.
It is all, in a word, horrifying.
And not the kind of horrifying you see in a docuwhatever about a despot African warlord with an army of murderous children in bondage. I mean, really. That is horrifying. But, well, it isn’t gonna happen here, right? With the kids that play on your lawn and that, maybe, you’ve gotten to know, right?
No, this is horrifying because these freaky people are sitting across from you eating pancakes, and, well — they are in charge of the food supply.
As I went through the rest of my day, post-breakfast, processing this horror, I vacillated from blind rage to deep sadness to outright fear. I cried in the whirlpool at the club for an hour (a middle aged woman crying in a whirlpool is not a pretty sight), cried in the kitchen at a client’s restaurant (crying at a client is not an awesome idea), and cried on the scooter ride home (crying while driving a scooter in the city is dangerous at best).
I decided at one point these folks were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. At another point I came to realize they were basically an American Khmer Rouge, brainwashed to support a system that believes it is doing the right thing while killing people.
And then I ended up just hopeless.
It seems, at so many turns, that we live in a world where people are so divorced from the very essence of life — compassion — that we now have a food supply that is unfixably twisted and distorted, horrifying and lacking in nutrition — so not what any God anywhere could ever have wanted or dreamed up.
I may not believe in Him but I do think I can claim a general knowledge of His, well, acceptable realities.
So yes, I was, of course, inappropriately outspoken at the breakfast. But how can one not rail against the inhumanity of a million-strong chicken “family farm?” How can you not shame the industrial pig farmer?
It was interesting. The CAFO pig farmer was aghast and catching an F-Bomb, to, it seemed, the point of needing smelling salts for the outrage of it all — I do declare!Preposterous if you consider that she has stomach to get up every morning and face the horrors she inflicts on pigs each day.
The misplaced righteousness of the evildoers. Gets us commie liberals every time.
But you know, maybe, just maybe, I ended up realizing that inappropriate outspokenness is what is needed. Maybe we need to tell these people that what they are doing is, in fact, fucking evil. Because it is.
Because from what I witness this morning — they are too clueless, methinks, to understand nuance. They trot out their homespun families and talk about, oh, how hard it was for grandpa to weed the fields or tend the pigs. They marvel in the technology that manages the carefully calibrated environments these animals live in.
They are frightening. And they are the front line of producing your food.
It is time for you to tell them all to go to hell. When you do, make sure it is loud and proud. And carry some smelling salts. They seem to need it.
*the names have been changed because, to be honest, the whole experience made me so blind with rage that I didn’t even think about their damn names, all I wanted to do was figure out how to get them out of business.
Addendum: there is a companion conversation that also occurred
over on the blog Points and Figures. The blogger, Jeff Carter, is the lead investor, I take it, in Tallgrass Beef and he also is a former board member of Merchantile Exchange (Think: Wall Street for food). I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about his comments and, well, Tallgrass Beef.