The Grass is Greener…

Plants and People Blog

Entry #9 – The Omnivores Dilemma (chapters 10 – 14)

Pollan, M. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York (NY): Penguin Group. 186- 273P.

All semester we have been encouraged to question where our food really comes from. In this week’s reading of the Omnivores Dilemma, I was doing that more than ever.I no longer looked at my hamburger the same way. Did the meat come from a cow that was grain fed or corn fed? How humane are the slaughter houses it was killed in? Are the vegetables on this burger grown anywhere close to Kamloops? Pollan starts chapter 10, at the Salatin farm where he explored grass in all of its glory. He looks at the idea of grass farmers who “grow animals – for meat, eggs, milk, and wool- but regard them as part of the food chain in which grass is the keystone species…” (pg. 188) He also explores how labor intensive grass farming can be, makings sure the cattle graze the pasture at the right time on the grass sigmoid growth curve.  He even looks at why farmers opted to feed their cattle with corn instead of grass in the first place… the answer is corn is cheap and produces a high yield of meat. He then focuses on the animal’s chickens, cattle, rabbits and pigs and how they are taken care of on an ordinary day. He turns to the idea of efficiency and in order to do so “you need to count not only all the products it produces… but also all the costs it eliminates: antibiotics, wormers, paraciticides, and fertilizers” (pg. 214). In chapter 12, you get an inside look at the slaughter house, as Pollan takes his turn in the slaughtering process of chickens. In chapter 13, Pollan tags along as the food grown on the Salatin farm gets delivered to local restaurants. Salatin describes his vision for an alternative to the American food system, where consumers have a closer relationship to the farmers. Finally in chapter 14, Pollan cooks a meal for his California friends with ingredients partially from the Salatin farms.

I really enjoyed the reading this week because not only did it give you a perspective from the farmers point of view, which you don’t always get. Most the time when you hear about supermarket foods, it is from the CEO of company or a public relations supervisor. However, being able to go behind the scenes at a farm was really interesting. My favorite part of the reading this week was how surprised I was by the amount variables that go into running a grass farm. I mean when you hear the term “grass farm” the first thing that comes to mind is: how hard can it possibly be, its grass; it grows everywhere. However, it is very difficult, you need to have the cows eat the grass when it’s at its top of the blade growth but not after the grass starts to flower and becomes more lignified and therefore less palatable to the cow.  He even uses a complex system of electric fence to move cows to different pastures when necessary. I found his system of manure composting fascinating, how he lets the cow’s defecate on the floor and then sprinkles corn on manure to ferment. So when the cows are out to pasture the pigs can come in and eat the corn and aerate the soil at the same time. So not only does he get fantastic soil, he gets happy pigs in the process. I find I so interesting how all of these small steps working together to great a larger product, but also how Joel Salatin came up with these ideas in the first place. How he is able create all of these complex systems that create great products while being astonishingly efficient.

I love the way that Pollan carries through a lot of similar aspects throughout the book. An example of this would be when he re-introduces steer 534 into this chapter when he’s talking about the Salantin’s cattle. This creates a nice flow pattern throughout the entire book and reinforces and reminds readers of past concepts.

I thought the slaughter house chapter was especially interesting not only because Pollan killed many chickens himself but that it was open to customers to come watch. Slaughtering animals is not a new thing, it has been done for centuries. However, I thought it was interesting how easy Pollan got use to killing. This sentence sums it up perfectly: “In a way, the most morally troubling thing about killing chickens is that after a while it no longer becomes morally troubling” (pg. 233) This made me self-reflect, if I was in that position would it be just as easy for me to slice a chickens throat without another thought? Sadly I think it would be, because; as humans we have a tendency to remove ourselves from the idea of killing animals. We don’t realize the magnitude of the situation and just focus on the physical act in order to avoid the emotional repercussions. In the matter of the open air slaughter house I totally agree with Salatin: “…transparency is a more powerful disinfectant than any regulation or technology” (pg. 235). If people could actually see how their food is prepared, I bet there would be a lot of companies/foods that would not be as popular. Again, it goes back to humans being disassociated from our food, we pick up a chicken breast at the supermarket and many wouldn’t even think of how it was raised or slaughtered. However, if they actually had to watch some of the cruel practices of slaughter by some companies, I bet you many would stop buying that product. It may even force the company to change their practices. Having grown up around hunting I am no stranger to animal death, so I would definitely be interesting in becoming more involved in the process of obtaining my meat.

Another idea that really stuck with me was when Salantin was talking about how a healthy food system is one where the consumer and producer are closely associated. While, I think this is a great idea in theory, it is very idealistic. I think it would be great to have a closer relationship to a farmer especially since visiting the Dhaliwal potato farm. After meeting the Dhaliwal’s, it gave me such an appreciation for what they do and how hard they work, and it made me want to support them anyway I know how.   However, that can get expensive and time consuming, being a university student I don’t have the time or money to go out and shop at local organic grocery stores. Some companies such as Thistle farms in Kamloops will actually deliver boxes of organic local food right to your door but, then again the cost is the major factor. I hope one day food systems will change, but for now eating local is not an option for everyone.

I really enjoyed this reading, I thought Pollan delivered a very personal experience filled with a ton of useful information. He delivers the same great literary elements that we have become so accustomed in Pollan’s work, such as great pieces of dialogue, character development and descriptive writing. He illuminated many farm processes that I did not know about and furthered my appreciation for farmers everywhere.

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