Background & Motivation
As much as some of these have grown into what looks like an ideological mindset, much of it we backed into as a result of practical considerations.
1) Opt out of industrial agriculture to the greatest extent we can
There are too many antibiotics and growth hormones in our food. In the early ’80s I was diagnosed as having a severe allergic reaction (can you say “emergency room”) to regular beef, and since then I’ve only been able to eat antibiotic-free, hormone-free beef. This did not engender me to the beef industry, since I love a good steak, and for years it was HARD to find beef I could eat. I suffered from cravings for Big Macs for years. Knowing that most of the hamburgers in this country come from 3 or 4 of the largest slaughterhouses where the meat from thousands of cows is thrown in together doesn’t spur us to want to eat them either. Once you start getting to issues wherein simply discussing them in public can get you sued by the beef industry, you know you have entered the vast wasteland of Orwellian politics and double-speak.
Antibiotic use should be restricted to humans and sick animals. If the living conditions of the animals are such that you are using them preventatively because you are crowding the animals too much, then you are doing several things wrong.
CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are not something we want to support. Never mind the effects on the animals, the effects on the American heartland and the people who live on it are devastating. It’s not like there is a paucity of data on them.
If a local farmer has a problem with their produce or their animals, the effects and consequences are limited. If a producer of industrial lettuce that sells it all over the US has a problem, it affects everyone.
There are indications that a number of the problems regarding our food supply that hit the news are problems of scale, not limited to the illustration in the paragraph above. In some cases it is actually the size of the operation that creates problems where there were none before. CAFOs are an easy example, but there are others.
2) Vote with your Dollars / Move your Money / Actions speak louder than Words
This may seem obvious to many who read this blog, but when you start examining exactly what you can do – yourself – it gets a bit more interesting. By far, the greatest action a lot of people take today seems to be to throw money to people who claim to be acting on your behalf in greater issues. We wanted to do stuff that was immediate and personal, ourselves. Growing our own food and eating it seemed like a good start.
3) Move your money to local / regional / national markets (in order of preference)
I called General Mills. They can’t / won’t tell me where the vegetables in canned food products come from. The nice lady on the phone informed me that it “varies”, and that customer service doesn’t know, themselves, specifically. Food that is processed in any way doesn’t have to have labels on it to tell you where it comes from. A can of peas packaged in a canning facility on American soil could be peas from China. We like very much that the fresh produce you get these days has countries of origin on them, but that is only the first 2 aisles of the whole supermarket.
Where does the food come from? I can drive down the road and visit the pigs and the farm they live on any time I want to view the source of our pork. When I buy a product in the supermarket, then I want to see that organic certification on certain items. I can buy the same item from someone I know who tells me “we don’t have the organic certification, but we use the same practices.”
People who have set out to verify organic certification on food from China have been unable to ever get to *the fields* where the items grow. You’d think that someone could do that. If we can’t get confirmation on organic certifications on food from China, can we trust the sources of the non-certified food?
Even we throw caution to the wind and get asparagus in January, we realize that we’re making an informed decision rather than just buying willy-nilly. We prefer local products from small farmers to regional products, prefer regional to national, and prefer national to international. We avoid buying food from China, no matter whether it’s labeled organic or not.
Buying local helps the local economy.
4) Eliminate grass yards
Cutting the grass and maintaining a lawn has always seemed like so much wasted effort and resources. Ideally, I’d like a perfect little golf course green of rolled lawn that is perfectly flat that I can lie on, or play croquet on. A croquet court is 35′ x 70′, or about 0.056 acres. Other than that, I really have no use for it. There are plenty of alternatives that look just as attractive, and few of us have any practical reason for maintaining a well mown pasture around our houses.
5) Pastured chicken taste
I had been complaining for over two decades that no one can cook a fried chicken like I had frequently as a child. And it’s not just the batter-dipped armor-like overly gloppy coating you get on most fast food chain chicken. I have even made fried chicken the right way (more about that later) myself, but couldn’t get it right. I wondered what Ms. Gill, and Ola, and my grandmothers were doing that I wasn’t. One day after reading about the diet of modern factory farmed chickens, it occurred to me that maybe it was the chicken, not the cooking method. About 2 years later we bought a pastured chicken that grew up eating in an open area the bugs and whatnot that chickens eat beyond their feed. It was a revelation. Pastured chickens taste better.
6) Animal welfarist
She is an avid animal welfarist, having been several varieties of vegetarian for such reasons at different times, and someone else who believes in honoring that which we eat. She donates to certain animal welfare charities, and has spent much time and resources helping with such things. There isn’t any question of buying plain ‘ole MEAT from the regular supermarket, our discussions are more like “Is it ok to buy organic chicken or beef from the Whole Foods if it is coming from an industrial agriculture national source? If the only difference in the organic chicken is the feed, and not the life of the chicken, is this something we want to support?” Whole Foods, btw, has a 5-step classification system these days of how their meat is sourced. Sometimes we buy Step 4 from them, we have yet to see Step 5, but nowadays 90%+ of our meat is sourced from within 20 miles of where we live from small independent farms where we are welcome to visit. We’re fortunate to live in a progressive area where a critical mass of people share many of the same values we have when it comes to this topic; then again, it’s one of the reasons she moved to this part of the country.
I’ve always believed that animals should be treated with dignity and care, and that their owners have the responsibility to see that their needs are met and that they don’t suffer needlessly. I learned that from my parents and other relatives and the farm people I grew up around. I’ve always known where our meat comes from, and one of my beliefs is that if you’re not willing to slaughter, clean, butcher, and cook it, you shouldn’t be eating it. I believe in the Aiua (also Yua, Atman, etc) of animals, and that if you’re gonna eat them, you should honor and respect their spirit. I name my lobster (lamb, turkey, etc) before I eat it, to make it more personal. None of this has ever stopped me from being an avid omnivore, or a user of leather or fur objects. Where I come from, the more you use of the animal, the less wasteful you are being, and therefore the more respectful.
People have lost track of where their food comes from. Children cry and scream when they find out that carrots grow in dirt and that meat comes from little fuzzy lambs and not from plastic-wrapped packages from the meat tree. I know kids who don’t want to eat a piece of meat that has bones on it, because it is gross to them to think that meat has bones and ligaments and whatnot.
We’re growing our garden without the use of chemically-synthesized inorganic fertilizers or pesticides. At the same time, every square foot of grass we refuse to maintain using similarly synthesized products does double duty.
I grew up using pesticides and liked it. Kill the Bugs was one of my favorite things. Of course, if we kill all pollinators and the life in the soil we’re probably not doing our grandchildren any favors. I’m glad to have the chance to see how we do without spraying everything with malathion and dragon dust (my two favorite pesticides when younger).
10) Eat less processed food – sugar, salt, & additives
Did you know that some sauceless frozen vegetables in the supermarket have sugar added? The quantities of sodium added to put flavor into food that was grown industrially and never had any flavor to begin with are astounding. Additives and preservatives that you have to be a food chemist to know what they are or do. We started it for reasons of health and diet.
As a consequence we eat a lot less junk food than we used to, and we carefully scrutinize the labels of everything, having discovered some wild and wacky things along the way.
11) Make something with your hand
Everyone should have a hobby. When you make something with your hands, it resonates. I don’t care if you are making music on a banjo, painting, building toothpick skyscrapers, or gardening. Do something that is real, and real now, today, in a very concrete sense. It will help keep you grounded in your perspective.
12) Farmers’ markets / economical
Buying produce from the farmers’ markets can get expensive when compared to the supermarket produce. It helps if you pay attention, because sometimes it is the other way around, why I don’t know. I’d rather just not eat a tomato from the supermegamart that is a result of industrial agricultural and has no flavor.
Buying meat from local producers is definitely more expensive: sometimes orders of magnitude more expensive. Well, we can’t keep a hog and a dozen ducks and 50 chickens and a goat in our backyard, but we can reduce the quantity we eat (and reduce waste) when we decide to be more selective.
Doing so makes us think about what we’re eating, not just mindlessly eating because chicken was 59 cents a pound at the supermarket that day.
Think about it – how does industrial ag make a profit when you can buy a chicken for $4? The “grower” and people who work on the “farm” — the transport to the slaughterhouse — the slaughterhouse itself and the people who work there –transport to the store — the store and people who work in it. The profit margin is so slim that it guarantees that no one in the supply chain cares whether the animal is suffering because the worth of an individual animal is measured in pennies.
And yet we can grow our own produce right here. If I can grow all my own produce, or even a majority of it for most of the year, I’ll rate this a big success.