8.03.2015

You got to know your chicken.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 2

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 2: The Hidden Costs of Cheap Chicken


Dear Mr. Singer and Mr. Mason,

I hope this letter finds you well.  I write again, this time with regard to the second chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat entitled The Hidden Costs of Cheap Chicken.

Decades ago, presidents made promises of "a chicken in every pot."  If only they could see us now, eh?  In 2014, the US alone slaughtered approximately 8,522,427,000 chickens (8.5 billion, shall we say).  Per this chapter, one company by itself - Tyson - is responsible for about a quarter of them.  Assuming a US population of 318.9 million, that's... 26 chickens per person?  Wow.  Just think of it!  In one year we killed 26 chickens for every single human living in this country.  Enough for each of us to consume an entire chicken, beak to tail, every two weeks all year long.  Fascinating.

Given the sheer numbers involved, I shouldn't be surprised at the methods that are used to create, rear, and kill chickens and other poultry in the US.  And yet I am, every single time I review them.  8 BILLION for heck's sake!  If we're killing that many chickens, could it possibly be wrong?  Well of course it could.  If we killed 8 billion dogs a year for food, people would be rioting in the streets.

"But dogs are so much smarter than chickens - they're our pets," people are oh-so-likely to say.  And whether or not that point is true or valid, I very much appreciate that early on in the chapter you note that the intelligence of chickens is not really the issue when considering how we treat them.  "[T]he point of real ethical significance is not how clever chickens are, but whether they can suffer."  And suffer they do - that's made abundantly clear in this chapter.

Practices such as using cages that give animals less than 80 square inches in which to move, that prevent them from engaging in any instinctual behaviors, that leave them "in chronic pain for the last 20 percent of their lives," that sometimes even leave some to starve to death, undoubtedly cause chickens to suffer.  One must wonder if those who would claim otherwise have ulterior motive$.  Greed in the food industry?  Never.

You touched on, but did not really explore, the impact that these practices have on the workers who carry them out.  There is a tendency in the vegan and AR communities to villainize these people, and that's understandable.  Abuse is carried out at their hands.  But their behavior does not exist in a vacuum - in fact it exists in hell.  Consider, for instance, the desperate situation in which chicken growers find themselves after investing tens of thousands of dollars in what they have been promised will be a viable career.  Carole Morrison, a chicken grower featured in the movie Food, Inc., describes this predicament in poignant and personal terms.  (Viewer warning: this video shows sick and deceased animals and other disturbing images.)



"This is mass production like on an assembly line" says Ms. Morrison.  After explaining the antibiotics given to chickens, she states that "I have become allergic to all antibiotics and can't take them."  She concludes the segment stating that "[t]o have no say in your business... it's degrading.  It's like being a slave to the company."  All that for $18k a year.

As to slaughterhouse workers, I can only imagine what slaughtering 80,000 chickens per day, every day, for weeks and months on end can do to the human psyche.  Under those conditions - which are well documented to be terribly unsafe for workers - there is no option but to become desensitized to the animals in whose blood they are constantly covered.

For these reasons, I wish in this chapter that you had spoken more of the plight of workers.  Rampant labor abuses in industrial food is a major component of my ethical stance against it.  Worker pay, which is discussed, is certainly a pressing issue.  I'd argue though that injuries (frequently caused by ever-increasing poultry line speeds), deaths, sexual assaults, enormous mental health impacts, and deportations are even more pressing.

In your own description of working as turkey inseminators, you stated that "[i]t was the hardest, fastest, dirtiest, most disgusting, worst-paid work we have ever done... Through all that we received a torrent of verbal abuse from the foreman and others on the crew. We lasted one day."  Imagine doing that for years, depending on that pay to support your family.  What kind of person would you become?

I do appreciate the shoutout to the incredible environmental damage done by poultry operations.  As a Gulf Coast resident and a student of ecology (not to mention someone whose tap water is pulled from the Mississippi River), I am all too aware of our ever-growing "dead zone."  Somehow, though, you failed to mention the factor that is environmental racism.  Oh and hey, shouldn't we talk about the poultry belt a.k.a. let's get poor black and then brown folks to do some of the worst work in existence for terrible pay?  Intersections y'all.  Intersections.

But, I suppose, all books cannot be all things. 

In closing, I'd like to say thank you for consistently referring to corporations as "it" rather than "they."  Citizens United can shove it.


Sincerely,
Melissa Bastian Breedlove


P.S. - You may be amused to know that the phrase "the maximum number of birds per hand is five" has inspired me to want a new tattoo.  If I get it, I'll send you pictures!

P.P.S. - These billboards may literally make my head explode one day.

Tender.  Loving.  Yep, that's definitely what poultry work brings to mind...

8.02.2015

Not Jack and Jake's.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 1

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 1: Jake and Lee

Dear Messrs. Singer and Mason,

I write regarding the first chapter of your book, The Ethics of What We Eat, entitled Jake and Lee.  I appreciate that you've laid this book out in three sections: Eating the Standard American Diet, The Conscientious Omnivores, and The Vegans.  Beginning each chapter with firsthand accounts of these dietary types humanizes the discussion; too often, discussions of food become detached and refer only to statistical trends in populations.  How absurd, when food is a topic so extremely personal.

And so in this first chapter we meet Jake and Lee, who do indeed seem to eat like "typical Americans."  I will note two things here: (1) most people in the United States live in significantly more urban areas than does this family, making me wonder why they were chosen to represent average citizens.  Also, (2) "American" is a misnomer here, but I imagine you are using it as shorthand for "people from the United States" because there is no better word for that.  I have unofficially proposed, via this and other blogs, "Staters."  Of course, Standard Stater Diet doesn't make for such a fun acronym... but I digress.

My understanding of the Standard American Diet (SAD) jives with what has been described in this chapter: a diet heavy in highly processed animal products and refined carbohydrates, and low in the "fresh" foods believed to be more healthful.  As you are both well aware, and as Jake notes in this chapter, food choices are now commonly based on price and convenience - factors which frequently are not compatible with less processed foods.

I found particularly interesting Jake's comments on cutting veal out of her dietary choices after the "horror" and "cost to the animals" was "so well covered in the media."  I often wonder what the best tactics are to get at the cultural zeitgeist around food.  Is it through intensive public-service-type announcements and informational advertising campaigns, such as those used in New York City a few years back around sugar-sweetened beverages?  Is it to change policy on the local and state governmental levels?  Or is it by creating expose-type media coverage around the food industry's worst abuses?  I would humbly suggest that the answer is all three, and more, hitting the issue from all possible angles.  The anecdotal information presented here indicates, at least, that popular media should be part of the messaging strategy.

Before I leave you, I'd like to address an idea presented in the Introduction of the book.  There is a short paragraph which reads:
"Virtually anyone, irrespective of income, can make a positive contribution to this movement.  Making better food choices doesn't require hours spent reading labels or rigid adherence to any particular diet.  All it takes is the information we provide in this book, which we hope will bring a little more awareness about the significance of the food choices we all make."
A lovely sentiment, and yet.  I believe, gentlemen, that what we are speaking about here is privilege.  Erudite as you are, it certainly hasn't escaped your attention that you belong to the most privileged group of humans in the western world: white men.  When you say "virtually anyone," I can't help but feel that you mean "virtually anyone like me."  In that context, it's true.  Middle or higher class, college educated people who live in areas with good access to real grocery stores and farmers markets and have their own transportation are held back from making better food choices only by obstinance.  This, I presume, is why so often in any part of the food movement, we see the message that "anybody can do it."

So I must point out that not everyone is like you.  In the United States, about 15 percent of the population lives in poverty.  A bit more than 14 percent of households are "food insecure."  Nearly 20% of households with children don't have enough to eat.  That's millions of households, tens of millions of people.  How must it sound to those people, parents, who are struggling to just put enough calories on the table for themselves and their families, that they must "only" obtain and read your $17, 300-page-long book to "make better food choices?"  Food for thought.

Many thanks,
mb

8.01.2015

Food Issues Book Club: August!

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

So, what'd y'all think of Wendell Berry and his essays on farming?  I found them interesting, at least.  As I will no doubt find this month's book, The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason.  I've never read Singer beyond a random passage or article here and there, so this is bound to be a fascinating experience.  I am prepared to frequently agree with him - and to frequently disagree with him.  And to occasionally exclaim in outrage at him.  Good times!  As for Mason, I don't know what to expect, except that he writes books with Singer, so... yeah.

Given that this is a work of philosophy rather than an exploration of fact, I expect to approach my writings on this book in the format of a series of letters to the authors, rather than to follow my summary / thoughts layout.  But we'll see.  Different chapters may lend themselves to different formats.  Let's have fun with it shall we?  After all, what could be more fun than a philosophical discussion about the ethics of food!  Certainly not a barrel of monkeys.  Putting monkeys in a barrel would be decidedly unethical.  (Even though I haven't read their book yet, I'm sure Pete and Jim would agree.)

So let's get to it!  Check back tomorrow for the first blog post.  And if you JUST CAN'T WAIT, you can watch this lecture Singer gave on the topic in 2009.  See you soon!


7.30.2015

Food Issues Book Club - Bringing It To the Table, Concluding Thoughts

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table, Concluding Thoughts

I am pleased that I've now read Wendell Berry.  I can now say with authority that his work frustrates me on numerous levels.  He is a bit of a broken record on two subjects: that small well-balanced farms are best, and that petroleum is expensive and unsustainable.  I agree on both of these points, of course, but I do not need to read dozens of essays making these points repeatedly to understand them.  He has said these things early and often - more early and more often than nearly anyone - and they're concepts that the food industry is still largely ignoring.  There's a limit to the reach of one man's voice I suppose, even if that man is white and famous.

Which brings me to my next point of irritation with Berry.  I can't help but note that, as far as I can tell, Berry has never spoken to another human being who is not a white male.  This trend begins in this collection with Michael Pollan's somewhat nauseating introduction and just doesn't let up.  This could be partially reasoned away in that he is "of a certain generation" and has spent his life in an area of the country predominately populated by white people, but he doesn't even seem to have ever read something written by a person of color.  At least nothing worth referring to.  Also, it's hard for me to excuse the complete absence of women in this work (aside from the fictional passages not discussed here).  He must have come across them.  Surely the father of the seven Amish sons, for instance, had a wife who stuck around the farm for, bare minimum, seven-ish years?  Was she just always knocked up in a bedroom somewhere?  Could there really not be a single woman in all of Kentucky worth speaking to or about?  Berry's own wife really only gets an honorable mention for existing.

Sigh.

I've read Berry.  Huzzah.  I highly suggest reading Stupidity in Concentration, Energy in Agriculture, Agriculture from the Roots Up, and The Pleasures of Eating (get it here) to anyone with an interest in food on any level.  If you're extremely (EXTREMELY) interested in the intricacies of non-industiral farming (and don't mind an endless parade of white men), you should read this collection and all the rest.






7.28.2015

Food Issues Book Club - The Pleasures of Eating from Bringing It to the Table

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table: The Pleasures of Eating, 1989

Summary:

Berry has frequently told audiences to "eat responsibly" and that "eating is an agricultural act," but knows that these bot mots don't constitute clear direction.  Most shoppers know little of how the food they buy was produced, processed, or transported, or how these and other factors have affected the foods' cost.
"The specialization of production induces specialization of consumption. ...  Patrons of the food industry ... have tended more and more to be mere consumers - passive, uncritical, and dependent.  Indeed, this sort of consumption may be said to be one of the chief goals of industrial production.  The food industrialists have by now persuaded millions of consumers to prefer food that is already prepared.  They will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your mother) beg you to eat it.  That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into your mouth is only because they have found no profitable way to do so.  We may rest assured that they would be glad to find such a way.  The ideal industrial food consumer would be strapped to a table with a tube running from the food factory directly into his or her stomach."
HA!

He continues by expanding upon the importance of shoppers' ignorance of industrial food practices:
"And this peculiar specialization of the act of eating is, again, of obvious benefit to the food industry, which has good reasons to obscure the connection between food and farming. It would not do for the consumer to know that the hamburger she is eating came from a steer who spent much of his life standing deep in his own excrement in a feedlot, helping to pollute the local streams, or that the calf that yielded the veal cutlet on her plate spent its life in a box in which it did not have room to turn around. And, though her sympathy for the slaw might be less tender, she should not be encouraged to meditate on the hygienic and biological implications of mile-square fields of cabbage, for vegetables grown in huge monocultures are dependent on toxic chemicals — just as animals in close confinements are dependent on antibiotics and other drugs."
This essay, as should be obvious by now, is a brilliant excoriation of the problems of industrial food (absent, noticeably, a mention of labor abuse, but otherwise well-rounded).  I strongly suggest you read it in its entirety.  And you can!  By clicking here!  Enjoy.

...In case you're not in a reading-the-whole-essay-right-now mood, here's a summary of Berry's suggestions on becoming a conscious eater (please add "to the extent that you are able" to each):
  1. grow your own food
  2. prepare your own food
  3. learn the origins of your food and eat locally
  4. buy from producers (farmers), not resalers
  5. learn about industrial food
  6. learn about good farming
  7. learn how current food plants and animals were bred, and why
Good suggestions, all.

Thoughts:

Berry's outline of how to eat consciously (and, I would argue, ethically) is very much what I have strived to do for the past 10 to 15 years.  I will say, though, that I have fallen terribly short on growing and preparing my own food.  Even I, as a privileged (white college educated with a salaried office job) person struggle with the time and energy necessary to grow or even regularly cook food.  This is why the "to the extent that you are able" qualifier is so important.  That's not to say, though, that various types of disadvantage (economic, health, etc.) are excuses not to do the best we can.

In a fascinating turn, Berry states near the end of this essay that he dislikes "the thought that some animal has been made miserable in order to feed me.  If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade."  He conveniently ignores that there is no slaughtering process in existence in which the animal being killed does not suffer terror and pain before death.  It's not hard to agree that a little terror and pain right at the end is better than lifelong terror and pain.  Berry, I suppose, is a "welfarist."  Which, I suppose, is still a good bit better than being an industrialist. 

In true form, he continues with: "The thought of the good pasture and of the calf contentedly grazing flavors the steak.  Some, I know, will think it bloodthirsty or worse to eat a fellow creature you have known all its life.  On the contrary, I think it means that you eat with understanding and with gratitude."  OK.  Sure.  I'll call that well-reasoned rationalization.  If you've ever wondered how meat eaters justify their actions, even when they fully understand the sentience of animals, look no further than Wendell Berry. At least he acknowledges the issue?  "Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world."  In that, Mr. Berry, I agree - even when it is evident that you are engaging in some willful ignorance yourself.

I wonder if Berry has ever read Singer and Mason?  He should like them well enough - after all, they're both white men!

7.26.2015

Food Issues Book Club - Agriculture from the Roots Up from Bringing It to the Table

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table: Agriculture from the Roots Up, 2004

Summary:

The Land Institute of Salina, Kansas is advocating for a better understanding of the pieces of agriculture that occur underground.  Their approach is "radical" in comparison to industrial agriculture because it sets nature as the standard of agricultural performance, rather than production or "efficiency."  This measure is painful even to small sustainable farmers, as it is a high bar to reach.

Humankind has waged war on nature, and we are losing.  That we would lose has always been the inevitable outcome of such a war.  Nature "has forced us to recognize that the context of American agriculture is not merely fields and farms or the free market or the economy, but is also the polluted Mississippi River, the [resulting] hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, all the small towns whose drinking water contains pesticides and nitrates, the pumped-down aquifers and the no-longer-flowing rivers, and all the lands that we have scalped, gouged, poisoned, or destroyed utterly for "cheap" fuels and raw materials."

Compared to a monoculture like wheat, a natural prairie is different in five important ways: soil erosion is low, it has good water retention, it harnesses sunlight to its greatest extent, it "builds and preserves its own fertility," and it is naturally resistant to ecological stressors.  The Land Institute asks how agriculture can better replicate these strengths.  "Harmony between our human economy and the natural world - local adaptation - is a perfection we will never finally achieve but must continuously try for.  There is never a finality to it because it involves living creatures who change."

"The context of everything is everything else."

The Land Institute assesses agriculture not by its productivity or efficiency but by the health of its waters and soils.  As goes the health of our agriculture, so goes our own physical health.  "If our war against nature destroys the health of water and soil, and thus inevitably the health of agriculture and our own health, and can only lead to our economic ruin, then we need to try another possibility.  And there is only one: If we cannot establish an enduring or even a humanly bearable economy by our attempt to defeat nature, then we will have to try living in harmony and cooperation with her."

7.23.2015

Food Issues Book Club - On The Soil and Health from Bringing It to the Table

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table: On The Soil and Health, 2006

Summary:

In this essay, Berry speaks of Sir Albert Howard, one of Berry's main influences and - per Berry - the first champion of "organic" farming.  Howard's essay The Soil and Health was published in 1947, just as industrial farming practices were taking a firm hold in the developed world.  "World War II had proved the effectiveness of mechanical and chemical technology that in the coming decades would radically alter both the practice of agriculture and its underlying assumptions.  This 'revolution' marginalized Howard's work and the kind of agriculture he advocated."

When practiced properly, Howard's method of organic farming "was proven to be a healthful, productive, and economical way of farming."  Regardless, government agencies and agricultural schools alike ignored the success, much as they did Amish farming practices, and embraced industrialization.

The organic practices that have ostensibly grown from Howard's writings, though, have dramatically oversimplified his teachings, failing to "connect farming with its ecological and social contexts."  Modern organic farming looks much like industrial farming without the chemicals.  Howard had envisioned a far more holistic approach that closely mimicked the natural world.  Per Howard,
"The main characteristic of Nature's farming can ... be summed up in a few words.  Mother earth never attempts to farm without live stock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and to prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; the process of growth and the processes of decay balance one another; ample provision is made to maintain large reserves of fertility; the greatest care is taken to store rainfall; both plants and animals are left to protect themselves against disease."
From An Agricultural Testament by Sir Albert Howard

Berry's farming beliefs, then, echo Howard's nearly identically.  (Perhaps I should be reading Howard?)  Howard was, and Berry is, "fundamentally at odds with the industrial economy, which sees creatures, including humans, as machines, and agriculture, like ultimately the entire human economy, as an analogue of an industrial system."  Howard's beliefs were born both of science and of intention and observation.  He supported a style of agriculture that creates no waste and returns nutrients to the soil - two major deficiencies of industrial agriculture, which creates enormous waste and utterly strips soil.  By refusing to see anything in isolation, Howard saw all farming issues and their solutions in the context of a farm's ecosystem.

Thoughts:

It must be noted that Howard performed his agricultural studies in colonized India.  The organic movement, then has at least some of its roots in British colonialism.  This is an unsurprising beginning, perhaps, for a food philosophy that remains almost completely dominated by the privileged and white, even while its products are grown largely on the backs of brown bodies.

7.20.2015

Food Issues Book Club - Elmer Lapp's Place from Bringing It to the Table

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table: Elmer Lapp's Place, 1979

Summary:

Editor's note: This essay frustrated me so greatly that I've been compelled to editorialize throughout my summary.
"The Thirty cows come up from the pasture and go one by one into the barn.  Most of them are Guernseys, but there are also a few red Holsteins and a couple of Jerseys.  They go to their places and wait while their neck chains are fastened.  And then Elmer Lapp, his oldest son, and his youngest daughter go about the work of feeding, washing, and milking."  Emphasis added.
***

"Standing in the stanchion barn while the cows are being milked, I am impressed by how quietly the work is done.  No voice is raised.  There is never a sudden or violent motion.  Although the work is quickly done, no one rushes.  And finally comes the realization that the room is quiet because it is orderly: All the creatures there, people and animals alike, are at rest within a pattern deeply familiar to them all."
Where Berry sees peace, I see broken spirits.

Lapp has spent his entire life on one farm in Pennsylvania.  It is a livestock farm where crops are grown only for animal feed.  It is primarily a dairy operation, and sells to Hershey chocolate manufacturers.  He also breeds horses, fed by the barley grown on the farm.
"But just because his major income is from dairy cows and brood mares, Mr. Lapp does not shut his eyes to other opportunities.  "You stay awake," he says.  He knows what will sell, and so far as his place and time allow he has it for sale.  He feeds three hundred guineas at a time in a small loft.  He raises and sells collie pups.  He sells his surplus of eggs and honey.  Even the barn cats contribute their share of income, for when he gets too many he sells the surplus at the local sale barn."
It's official.  This man disgusts me.  I can understand, if not agree with, a farm that keeps and well tends a small number of animals for food to both eat and sell.  Breeding dogs and horses and other animals purely for profit I cannot abide, and there is no justification for.  And HERSHEY'S ffs?!

This farm, of course, conforms to Berry's good farming standards.  "Underlying the patterns of the farm's productivity is a stewardship of the soil at all points knowledgeable, disciplined, and responsible."  Lapp uses crop rotation and manure from his own animals to maintain soil fertility.  "For a man giftedly practical, Mr. Lapp justifies what he has and does remarkably often by his likes."

And there you have the human justification for use of other animals in a nutshell: "I like it."


7.18.2015

Food Issues Book Club - A Talent for Necessity from Bringing It to the Table

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table: A Talent for Necessity, 1980

Summary:

This chapter focuses on Henry Besuden, a top breeder of Southdown sheep.  He managed to raise his animals on land that had been "corned to death."  "[H]is predicament became his education and, finally, his triumph."  He used a plow to even out deep gullies into "saucers" that allowed runoff to gently pool rather than cause erosion.  He chose grasses carefully, and even put weeds to strategic use.  After 23 years, the land was still not fully healed.

Despite his extraordinary flock, his priority was always the farm and not the show ring.  "He never forgot that the purpose of a sheep is to produce a living for the farmer and to put meat on the table."  Besuden feared that sheep, which he referred to as "land builders," would be removed from live stock programs after World War II.  "He had seen the handwriting on the wall: the new emphasis on row cropping and "production" which in the years after WWII would radically alter the balance of crops and animals on farms, and which, as he feared, would help to destroy the sheep business in his own state."  This fear did, in fact, come to fruition.

This essay, then, serves as another exploration of the types of farming practices espoused by Berry.  (Unsurprisingly, he again supports the idea of animals as commodity - despite acknowledging their suffering elsewhere.)  Besuden strove for "a way of farming compatible with nature," much as Berry does.  Per Berry, Besuden was "convinced that paying attention pays," setting him apart from industrial farmers who pay attention only to profits.




7.17.2015

Food Issues Book Club - A Good Farmer of the Old School from Bringing It to the Table

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table: A Good Farmer of the Old School, 1985

Summary and Thoughts:

This essay speaks to the farming practices and wisdom of a farmer named Lancie Clippenger.  He impressed Berry with his animal practices; specifically:
  • he let pigs reproduce naturally and allowed their "shoats" to forage in a corn field in a year when corn prices were particularly low, then sold the shoats for a premium
  • he would only keep 25 milking cows at a time, because if he had more than that he wouldn't really "see" them
  • he plowed with horses at the rate of one acre per day per horse, thus saving on fuel without exhausting his animals
Berry was also impressed with Clippenger's crop practices, stating that his farm was "ordered and used according to its own nature and carrying capacity."  Essentially, Berry uses Clippenger's farm as a case study in what can be produced with what he deems "proper" farming methodology.  The specificity of the essay and its dealings with animals make it a tedious and painful read, so I shan't discuss it further.