“Folks, This Ain’t Normal”

Joel Salatin was in Union Square yesterday talking about his new book, appropriately titled, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” and passionately spoke about the state of industrial agriculture and its effects on our soil, our health, and our culture.

When I asked him what we could do as activists to align ourselves with the Occupy movements and combat Big Food he said, “The beauty of that is you don’t have to wait for a government regulation, you don’t have to wait for a program, you don’t have to wait for an agency.” Rather, Salatin said that all cultural movements are started from the bottom-up with real grass-roots activism. He went on to say that we all need to get into our kitchens and get cooking. He said, “Get in your kitchens, buy unprocessed foods, turn off the TV, and prepare your own foods. This is liberating.”

Salatin also advised us all to start growing something — anything, even on a small patio or windowsill. If we can’t grow anything, he said, then we should come to the farmers markets and buy from our local farmers. “Know you food, know your farmers, and know your kitchen. Start building up your larder! We don’t even use that term any more,” he said. “It used to be, 100 years ago, if I came into a town and said, Where’s the food? People would take me to their houses and show me their larders. Today if I ask, Where’s the food? The food is 1000 miles away in a Costco warehouse. It’s very vulnerable, very insecure. And at a time when many people feel insecure and feel like the culture is heading off a precarious precipice, we will absolutely return to some of these normal practices that our forbearers did but we will continue…to take the best of our technology into these normal structures.”

I really like Salatin’s use of the term “normal” when discussing local and sustainable food and food production. At a time when industrial agriculture has taken over what is perceived as “normal” and has largely succeeded in making Americans believe that packaged, processed foods are indeed normal, Salatin suggests a real normal — one that humans have been practicing for thousands of years — not the 60 years or so years of industrial practices. Salatin is talking about a real shift in our understanding about food and agriculture. And this shift is indeed going to come from the bottom-up; we need to address these issues in new and innovative ways. Join us in Occupying Big Food.

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2 thoughts on ““Folks, This Ain’t Normal”

  1. Joel Salatin has good PR, but close examinations of his farm have found much to be desired.

    He is openly antagonistic to concerns about the welfare of animals:

    Given his own very questionable practices towards animals, perhaps this is no surprise.

    In an interview with Mother Jones, ethicist Peter Singer expressed grave concerns about the welfare of animals on Salatin’s farm

    “MJ: Do you think there can be such thing as what Pollan describes as a “good farm”—a farm where animals live happy lives and are slaughtered with a minimum of suffering?

    PS: Yes, I think it’s possible. But I think it’s rarer than Pollan thinks. He refers to Joel Salatin’s farm as a model of a good farm. I’ve had other reports about that farm and I don’t think it’s nearly as good as Pollan is suggesting. The hens that are in the fields are actually in small wire pens that get moved around on the grass; they’re pretty restrictive. It’s a lot better than the standard intensive farm, but it doesn’t meet my standards of a good farm.

    MJ: Have you been to Salatin’s farm?

    PS: No, I haven’t. But one of my researchers has. There’s another guy who’s got a book about raising poultry outdoors [Herman Beck-Chenoweth, author of Free Range Poultry Production and Marketing] who talks about the system that Salatin uses for his hens and describes it as one of the worst of the methods of raising poultry outdoors—[he’s] not comparing it to the factory cage, of course. He says it’s like a cage with a grass floor.”

    Even poultry farmer Frank Reese has condemned Salatin:

    “Michael Pollan wrote about Polyface Farms in The Omnivore’s Dilemma like it was something great, but that farm is horrible. It’s a joke. Joel Salatin is doing industrial birds. Call him up and ask him. So he puts them on a pasture. It makes no difference. It’s like putting a Honda on the Autobahn and saying its a Porsche. KFC chickens are almost always killed in thirty-nine days. They’re babies. That’s how they’re rapidly grown. Salatin’s organic free-range chicken is killed in forty-two days. ‘Cause it’s still the same chicken. It can’t be allowed to live any longer because it’s genes are screwed up. Stop and think about that: a bird that you simply can’t let live out of adolescence. So maybe he’ll say he’s doing as much right as he can, but it’s too expensive to raise healthy birds. Well, I’m sorry if I can’t pat him on the back and tell him what a good guy he is. These aren’t things, they’re animals, so we shouldn’t be talking about good enough. Either do it right or don’t do it.”

    Birds genetically programmed to die in adolescence who spend their lives in wire cages? That ain’t normal, Joel.

  2. I agree with Adam. Also, I must add that I grew up on a small family farm. We treated our animals far better than Salatin treats his, but the pigs still were terrified and struggling and panting as they were loaded onto the slaughterhouse truck. The chickens still struggled as we held them to have their throats sliced. They were still killed in the primes of their lives. I have since renounced the old ways and believe the domestication and use of animals is inherently immoral unless there is no other option. Right now, almost all forms of farming involve some cruelty to animals whether it is directly or through incidental killing. I do not deny this. However, veganic farming is possible as I have dabbled in it myself when I lived in Ohio. Many small farmers where I live did not treat their animals well. It was a regular practice of chicken farmers to shoot coyotes and then impale them in front of the chicken coup as “a warning to the others”. If we are to complain and fight oppression, then how can we do so in good conscience while we oppress others? These others include creatures who feel the same pain and fear we do and do have an interest in living. Joel Salatin is NOT a good ally.

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