Monday, December 5, 2011
Book Review: Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal
In his book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, Salatin tells story after story of how the government agencies have put in place regulations that make it all but impossible for a small farmer or rancher to survive in the agriculture business. Salatin claims that even if the small farmer's product and operation is healthier for the consumer, cleaner and better for environment than the big guy, they can't sell their product at all if they don't meet the criteria written for a multi-million dollar operation (like having a dedicated bathroom for the inspector). Never mind that the multi-million dollar USDA inspected slaughter houses and packing plants are where virtually all of the cases of e.coli and salmonella originate.
Joel Salatin and his family have been in the middle of the food business for generations. His family owns and operates Polyface Farms in Virginia, which provides "clean" food to his community. He calls himself a grass farmer, and if you've seen him slaughtering chickens in the documentary Food Inc. or read about him in the Omnivore's Dilemma you understand what he means by that. He believes that by being a good steward of the grass pastures growing on his farm he can turn the solar energy soaked up by his grass into food energy produced by his livestock. Rather than bringing massive amounts of animal feed, antibiotics or petroleum onto his farm (in the form of fertilizer, pesticides and tractor fuel) he uses the output of his animals and a bit of human power to turn his pastures into lush salad bars to feed his livestock. He doesn't work his land, the animals do. He doesn't medicate his animals to keep them healthy; they are healthy because they eat good food and are treated well. So the end product that he sells to his customers tastes better and is better for them that what they could buy in the supermarket.
Salatin is a master story-teller! His writing style draws you in and makes you feel like you're sitting on his couch in his living room talking away the afternoon. But his indignation at the hoops he's had to jump through over the years just to provide clean food to his family and neighbors is very apparent. Reading his books makes the reader want to lobby for a change in the regulations and most definitely a change to the very way our food is grown and processed. It makes the reader want to opt-out of the government regulated system all together and buy local from neighborhood farmers, gardeners and ranchers or to grow our own food. According to Salatin, either of those last two options is vastly preferable for a healthy food economy, healthy body and a healthy environment.
I enjoyed this book immensely and also enjoyed Salatin's other book The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer. Salatin's books are very enjoyable reads, but they definitely make you want to do something about the food system or opt-out of it. I suppose in my own kitchen, I've done a combination of both. During the summer I grow my own vegetables, but during the winter I subscribe to a local organic produce delivery service. For meat, we purchase grass-fed beef in bulk from a local rancher and occasionally slaughter our own backyard chickens. Our hens provide us with eggs mostly year round, and I buy milk without antibiotics and hormones. You do the best you can with the knowledge you have, or in the words of Maya Angelou "When you know better, you do better."
Have you watched the documentary Food Inc.? How about King Corn? Have you read the Omnivore's Dilemma? If you haven't, you really should stop in to your local library and put them on reserve or fire up NetFlix and watch the documentaries. Whether you believe our food system is as it should be or not, it's always good to learn more about the currently accepted model and decide for yourself what you want to put on your family's dinner plates and in their bodies.