Yesterday I visited the Green City Market located in Lincoln Park in Chicago. Green City Market is a not for profit organization that has existed for 12 years that features a variety of farmers that produces sustainably grown food. As I walked around the market, I sampled various cheeses, vegetables, etc., and would stop to speak to the farmers a bit about how their farm began and why they chose to farm.
Almost everyone I spoke to kept saying that one needs to love farming to become a farmer in the local realm, and that farming is mentally stimulating. It takes hard work and dedication, but has a very rewarding purpose. Many of the farmers drove down from Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, and various parts of Illinois, preparing for a long workday. Multi-tasking, the farmers talked with the many customers surrounding their farm-stand, while selling them produce, and surviving the humid Chicago heat.
Now produced in mass quantities by a few large corporations, the purpose meat production serves for this country has become tainted. Over decades, meat has become an American commodity—a mission to feed Americans with a growing desire for meat at the cheapest prices. But, who can know exactly what they are eating? Maybe we should ask the hunter…
I have many times heard people say, “I don’t want to think about where this meat comes from. I don’t want my fish with eyes, or my chickens with feathers.” While I get the comedic nature of this statement, I think it would be empowering if people paid a little more attention to the meat later cooked and served on their plate—and possibly even play a role in it. What about taking up hunting?
Tomorrow is the 4th of July where we celebrate our nation watching fireworks, while grilling our hotdogs, bratwursts, and hamburgers. We’ll shamelessly gobble down our charred meats, rejoicing our country based on a holiday that is very much a tradition in America.
While I’m not sure how much meat we as a country are consuming tomorrow, I can reassure you that most of our grilled delights are coming from commodified farms where the animals have been fed grain and antibiotics and packaged and shipped around the world. Way to celebrate our country!
I am one known to love tradition, but sometimes it’s positive to stop and examine traditions that are beneficial and harmful to our nation. Why celebrate our country by communally eating meat that is damaging our nation’s ecosystem and the health of our people? I’m not saying that we should not continue to eat these grilled meats, but rather, we as Americans need to start to rethink our relationship with meat and our land.
As Aldo Leopold once said, “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land... In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”
It’s time that we rethink the marketplace. We need to distance ourselves from traditional ideologies and techniques and take on an innovative way of exploring how to bring farming to the people.
How can we get most of society to experience the pleasures of the land?
The point is—there is not one set answer. When looking at urban and rural farming many will explore ways to develop a certain formula to apply to various types of farms. The truth is that if we keep looking for formulaic techniques we are going to keep finding ourselves resorting back to large, commodified farms.
When certain people look at Joel Salatin, we have gotten feedback stating that his farming style “will not work on all farms.” This is where I feel people have misinterpreted why Salatin has become such a public leader and role model. It’s not that he’s telling people to farm exactly like him, rather he serves as an image of a farmer who went against the traditional farming techniques, and developed his own innovative way of raising and growing his meat, poultry, and produce and getting it to people.
For example, the url link/video featured in this blog post highlights Salatin’s buying clubs. He consolidates various people interested in buying his food, creating a social environment where people can build relationships with others in their community. Joel is going against the grain shall we say (no pun intended).
Joel Salatin has opened his doors to the public. He has willingly explained his mission behind Polyface Farm and has allowed various camera crews to film him as he prepares the chicken for the marketplace and for human consumption. At his farm, Salatin removes the mystery behind meat. He thrives on honesty, and serves as an example of how Americans can reconnect with the food on their plate.
Many people who eat meat prepared by commodity farms accept this mystery. As they cut into their chicken or steak, they allow ignorance to take over. Why think about the death of the chicken or cow when about to eat it? These thoughts only lead to appetite loss.
While I understand this thought process, people need to become more skeptical of commodity meat. If we cannot legally and freely film the process of meat production in commodity farms, then there is probably a good reason people should lose their appetite. Wouldn’t it be a relief to eat a piece of chicken and know about the farmer who raised it? To take a bite of meat and not worry contracting a disease from contamination caused by mass production?
An article posted by the New York Times in April “Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming a Crime” by Richard A. Oppel (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/us/taping-of-farm-cruelty-is-becoming-the-crime.html?ref=factoryfarming) highlights this growing issue. If we have to sneak into commodity farms to show America what they are eating, then there is a reason to try to expose why much of our food has become a mystery.
The flip side of this argument makes sense. People who film hidden footage of these commodity films can edit it to look misleading—shaky film, scary music, and with an agenda set in mind. Should hidden footage be considered a felony? I don’t think so. Should it be illegal? Well, let’s discuss…
Today I’d like to talk about, how should America go about table talk?
When we sit down at the dinner table as a houseguest, the polite gesture is to clean your plate, not complain, and be thankful for the meal that has been prepared. For the conscious eater, this can sometimes be painful. As you go wash your hands in the kitchen, you notice that the plastic wrapping of the chicken from the big-name meat producer has been thrown into the trash. The “lovely” chicken that had been roasted and served on the silver platter had a much longer and industrialized journey to the dining room table than let’s say one of Joel Salatin’s chickens.
The dinner guest that tries to actively pay attention to where he purchases his animal products now hesitantly uses his fork and knife to eat the prepared chicken. In the back of his mind he thinks to ask, “Where did you get your chicken from? What was its journey?” The houseguest second guesses this inquiry, and continues to eat the prepared meal.
As many would agree, this would not be the time to spark the industrial versus small farmer debate—and rather, to simply be a well-mannered houseguest. Perhaps, this is why being a vegetarian has become a growing trend. A well-known reason people are vegetarians is that they question the moral reasoning behind eating animals. Over the years, the reasons for being a vegetarian have expanded. Some believe that people should eat only local animal products with animals that have been humanely raised and are antibiotic free, chickens that are cage-free, and meat that has been grass-fed. Unfortunately, this has not become an accepted approach to eating animal products that has been widely accepted by most of America. With that said, many people resort to vegetarianism purely for convenience.
When most people go to the grocery store, they will usually reach for what is cheapest. Our understanding of what is healthy versus unhealthy for many is often distorted. Most of us do not consider what went into the production of our grocery store treats. When we bite into the steak that we threw onto the grill for that summer barbeque, many of us do not think of the journey of this one cut of meat. Rather, in the mind of most Americans, the steak was made from a cow, the meat was delivered to the grocery store, and later drowned in A1 steak sauce on their plate.
Over the past few months I have had conversations with many people asking me to clarify what is wrong with most of American meat. “It’s protein, right?,” I have been asked. The answer is yes—you could say it is protein, but a very processed source of protein that is probably doing more harm than good to our bodies. When one takes a bite out of a hamburger purchased at the drive through, chances are this person is eating a cow that was fed antibiotics and corn feed genetically modified at a large industrial farm. When people say, “What’s wrong with genetically modified food? It’s not proven to be harmful?,” this is when the alarm goes off for me.
Each day, we eat. Whether it is grabbing a cereal bar from the cabinet, eating alone in a moving car, or, hopefully, sitting down to a home-cooked meal with family and friends, 310 million of us, as Americans, eat together.
Often, our minds are racing with thoughts, perhaps bills that need to be paid, an upcoming test, or the excitement of a conversation wit a new friend. Often, we eat meals, distracted, without reflecting on the people who dedicate their lives to putting food on our plate, farmers. Without reflecting on what we are grateful for.
In our culture, farmers are underpaid and under-appreciated. It's time, we change this. It's time we celebrate the work of these humble, vital people. Thank you, to all of America's farmers.
Friday April 12th, American Meat premiered theatrically in New York City. To pay tribute to our farmers, we decide to make farmers the guests of honor, to have these stars of our documentary be dropped off on a tractor, instead of a limo, to have them walk a grass carpet in place of a red one...
Big days often have the fleeting quality of a strange, perhaps sweat-inducing dream.
Endings, at least on this end, almost always seem muted. Hushed.
We got word Venango was cancelled so we slept until we woke. Drove out to Allegheny College the last stop on our tour. Spring had kind of arrived, especially after the recent memories of snow in Buffalo and the frigid air of Little Falls a couple long weeks back.
We got to the campus with a couple hours to spare, and found parking after a little search. Andy and I sitting a foot apart in that small black Ford Focus rental car, talking, and laughing and listening and sitting silent. We probably spent 100 days together straight, and it must be said it was spent well. Andy's a good man, quiet, respectful, and with a heart of pure good intention. A talented cinematographer, and observer, a committed brother, son, boyfriend and citizen. Of course, the last few hours were mostly delirium, a sort of disbelief that our days on the road were actually reaching conclusion.
We were greeted by the very positive Megan King, who hosted the event, along with a nice, tall fellow, who's name escapes.
At the end of a long journey, there's some deep need for a takeaway, a resolution. And yet, I often find, that those moments when one is traveling home, and the following days, are filled only with exhaustion. It's as if our body, and mind knows how much we can take, and we push ourselves to that limit, and when we know a return home is imminent, our reflections, our purpose and our wisdom evaporates coalesced into one final push for home.
We drove 6 hours across Pennsylvania, listening to stand-up comedy and music until getting caught in a 1am traffic jam crossing through Manhattan. Home.
Thursday morning we met at Southern Huntingdon Co. HS and screened the film for Ms. Sellers and the ag students out there. We had incredibly short periods because of a scheduling snafu, which meant that Chris and I were talking quickly, or not much at all.
We shared a breakfast at a diner, the only restaurant for miles, and it was a good breakfast, I had buckwheat pancakes. Chris, Andy and I have shared some great times the last couple years on the road, and we talked and laughed and learned as we always do. Chris jumped back in the car and headed home to NJ, as Andy and I headed out for our last shoot, with a young farmer who focuses on manure hauling.
Worn down by months on the road, the last days were often filled with nonsensical humor, the absurd laughter only the weary can muster.
Chris, the young farmer, cut stalks from the corn field, in preparation for planting in a few short weeks. We interviewed him, 3 five-gallon buckets flipped over, in the soft light of a cavernous barn with open doors.
He loves farming, just like most farmers do, and works with his Dad, hauling manure, and hay. He supports GMOs because they feed the world, and more than anything, likes the fact that he is his own boss. He mentioned Elk Creek Bar, a local food music joint that we'll hit up for sure next time we're around.
We drove out to Washington & Jefferson, where we had a wonderful evening, hosted by Anthony, and with a transformative panel of farmers, food service professionals and of course, the good people who joined the discussion. It went on for well over an hour, as we talked about the local food movement, and there was a lot of goodwill in the room.