A review by Robert Waldrop, Oklahoma Food Cooperative
If I had a million dollars, I think I would spend a substantial amount of it to buy copies of Joel Salatin's new book, "Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: the food buyer's guide to farm friendly food", and give them away.
I spend a lot of my creative time trying to figure out ways to encourage people to buy local foods, specifically in our case, Oklahoma foods. It's a two-sided process. You have to talk with the producers, and help them understand how city people think about local food and what the farmer needs to do to help people buy their locally produced foods. You have to talk with the customers, so that they understand the opportunities, and the limitations, of the local food market as it presently is. Before both you have to dangle bundles of carrots, "just keep moving in this direction, it's not far, we'll get there, it will be great when we do get there", and so on and so forth in a thousand different iterations just in the past 12 months since we put up our Oklahoma Food Cooperative shingle and got into the local food marketplace bidness.
Neither farmer nor customer really understands the other at this stage in our development, some have more clues than others, but even after 12 months of work, there is a lot of producer and customer education that needs to be done.
Enter Joel Salatin, one of America's most successful direct farm to customer producers.
He has written a book about local food that is filled with passion and love. I have met him a couple of times, he spoke at a pasture meeting here in Oklahoma City and we were both at Terra Madre 2004 in Turin. But I can't say as how I have sat down and talked with him for any particular length of time, the way you do when you really get to know someone. Well, having read this book, I feel like I know him much better. He writes with a spirit of authenticity that is almost startling to behold in an era when the 30 second sound byte is the attention span of most folks.
He covers both sides of the local food equation in his book. He speaks to farmers and customers, and by reading what he says, each side can learn about the other. If customers want to understand local food from a farmer's perspective, they can read what Joel says to the farmers. Ditto for farmers trying to grok how to sell directly to the public, they need to know about customers and so they can read what Joel says to the customers. He tells city people how they can tell if food is farm friendly, what to look for when they visit a farm, what questions to ask. He tells farmers how they should talk to customers, and calls both customers and farmers to a culture of respect for each other.
His writing is very readable, the book is not a long polemic, but rather more like an extended conversation. He tells a lot of funny anecdotes, although some of them are kind of "funny-sad", especially when he talks about some of his interactions with government regulatory agencies. "Folks, I am not making this up." You don't have to be a rocket scientist or an organic chemist to understand what he is saying.
Both farmers and customers need a timely reminder of the importance of what we do, and in that regard this little book could fairly be compared to Thomas Paine's pamphlet, Common Sense, which as much as anything else laid the philosophical and political foundation for the American Revolution.. Joel lays it all out, he names names, and does not pull any punches. He calls things what they are, he is plain spoken, as perhaps only country people can be. The book is well organized. It covers GMO's, nutrition, health, food safety, cheap food, small versus large, heritage crops, heritage breeds, heritage values, east versus west, globalization, food security, decentralism, bioregionalism, government regulations, "deep food" philosophy.
The book ends with a stirring call to action, and I would like to quote extensively from it. Joel Salatin writes to us:
"Every day you get to nudge our world either toward or away from farm friendly food. Do not go into a guilt-induced depression over the magnitude of the task. Do not be discouraged over its enormity. You are not responsible for fixing it all. I think the central question each of us needs to ask ourselves at the end of the day is this: "Today, which food system advanced because of me -- farm friendly food or industrial food? , , ,
"My goal for each of us would be that we would at least think, at least break stride, before patronizing the industrial fare. When we think about the environment, the plight of plants and animals, the nutrition of our families, we have a responsibility to act in accordance with some moral and ethical discernment. None of us will ever be 100% consistent. We we can aspire to be 50%. Or 60%. Every day thousands of farmers across this land go against their peers, the academic institutions, the farm organizations that receive the media spotlight, and a legion of bureaucrats to produce and process farm friendly food. This food keeps dollars turning in local communities. This food maintains green spaces wthout government programs and expensive taxpayer-purchased development rights or easements. This food maintains clean water and fresh air for all of us to enjoy. This food protects our watersheds, viewscapes, and natural resources."
"Farm friendly food respects the wisdom of the Creator's DNA, honors the information in the mind of an earthworm, and appreciates the beauty of hogs in their rooting heaven. This food values bioregions, social structure, and wildness. It ponders the environmental and moral footprint of every decision, every activity, every marketing model. You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit. Will it be a world of soylent green, of cloned cookie-cutter sameness? Or will it be a world resplendent with variety, a veritable panoply of heritage diversity? Will it be a world of rural landscapes shaped by global positioning satellite-steered machines manipulated from a robotic computer console half a continent away? Or will it be a rural landscape blooming with diversity, brimming with dancing children, and blossoming with pasture flowers?"
"You don't need to wait until Congress is in session to impact what you eat for dinner tonight. You don't need to wait until the next Farm Bill to voice your concerns about the USDA budget. You don't need to picket the next World Trade Organization talks in order to affect who wins and loses in this great quest for the global food dollar."
"Right here, right now, you can do something. You can vote with your food dollar. You can go to a farmer's market. You can contact your state's alternative farming association. You can pick a day next week to fix an entire meal from scratch from something local. . . but just like any action, the most critical thing is that you do something. Today. At least this week. . . a whole world, a wonder world, exists outside of Wal Mart. And although it's not a sin to go there, it may be a sin to go frequently."
"If you are a person of conviction, a person of action, you will begin wtih one step, a second step, then a third. New habits are formed one tiny change at a time. A year from now you'll look back and wonder how you ever tolerated that factory fare. . . You'll be emotionally and spiritually uplifted, knowing your food buying has encouraged farm friendly food." . . .
"To all caring food buyers, I honor you. To all farm friendly food producers, I honor you. We must be committed, focused, and persistent if we are to see farm friendly food triumph. It can. It's up to us. Let's keep on keeping on."
Robert Waldrop, Oklahoma Food Cooperative