Joel Salatin originally published this article in the spring 2015 Polyface Farms newsletter. We run the piece here with Joel’s permission. — Ed.
While I was in Australia in February, imported Chinese raspberries carrying Hepatitis A (from human sewage) hospitalized a dozen people and heightened interest in my seminars to a fever pitch. The news media and individuals fell over themselves trying to learn about local food systems and integrity food.
Here at Polyface Farms, our business always thrives when recalls and food illness outbreaks hit the news. Why? Breaches in food safety continue to be our best advertisement. While these acute issues make headlines and instill panic, the most egregious food safety issues remain imbedded as a part of our cultural orthodoxy.
If it kills you or sickens you fast, the issue dominates discussions. But if it kills you or sickens you slow, it’s buried as a non-news item. Such is the current state of the industrial food system. Isn’t it amazing what gets people excited and creates societal movement?
To be sure, nobody wants people killed with tainted food. But isn’t it amazing that a couple of deaths and hospitalizations from an E. coli or salmonella outbreak creates hysteria while rocketing autism and childhood leukemia receive scant attention. The U.S. leads the world in the five chronic causes of death.
While our hospitals fill with leaky gut syndrome and bowel problems and our wealth goes from farms to pharmaceutical companies, collectively we just assume these societal changes follow capitalism’s success. If we really loved our children and really loved our neighbors, we’d be staying up at night trying to solve this terrifying trajectory. Don’t get me wrong, there are companies out there that try to solve certain issues, whether it be by offering something like a probiotic supplement to help improve leaky gut syndrome as a simple example, but I’d expect far more people to be trying to make an impact on these issues.
Fertility is dropping like a rock. I’m reminded of iconic news commentator Paul Harvey’s little ditty: “We worry about the wrong things, you know.” I’ve never shied away from difficult issues, so I’ll wade in just to make the point: is terrorism really a bigger threat than skyrocketing health issues?
To take it one step further, would it be better to allocate all the investment fighting radical Islam in the Middle East to eliminating soil erosion, water depletion, and nutrient deficiency here?
We love to be victims. “Not my fault” absolves us of responsibility. Part of that is refusing to deal with big problems while we fritter away our time and energy on little problems. When Bill and Lucille Salatin purchased what is now Polyface farm in 1961, it was a place of gullies and rock. It didn’t even have enough soil to hold up electric fence stakes. Large areas 100 feet in diameter were solid shale rock. I remember those areas, like big oozing inhospitable wounds. What were our predecessors in this place thinking during those couple of centuries, eroding the land, destroying the soil? They were in their church pews, diligently putting money in the offering plate for foreign missions and church building projects; meanwhile they were destroying their habitation. How can this be?
What is it about the human condition that keeps us from being able to face the important things? One of the most iconic history books of all time was the 1788 Edward Gibbon’s work: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The book set forth five basic reasons why great civilizations wither and die:
- The undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis for human society.
- Higher and higher taxes and the spending of public money for free bread and circuses for the populace.
- The mad craze for pleasure–sports becoming every year more exciting, more brutal, more immoral.
- The building of great armaments when the real enemy is within–the decay of individual responsibility.
- The decay of religion–with faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life, losing power to guide people.
Can you see America in this list? Perhaps the greatest lie of our day is that America has some sort of special divine dispensation that entitles it to beat the historical odds. That somehow we’re so special we can go the way of Rome but escape Rome’s fate. The Huns simply finished off what had already become rotten on the inside.
The bank bailout destroyed perhaps 1,200 community banks, including the one where I’ve banked for 50 years. Destroying community banks is not healthy. This is simply an extension of disrespecting small farms, disrespecting earthworms, and disrespecting the pigness of pigs.
Dear people, when a farmers’ market vendor can’t slice watermelons for tasting samples because that’s food manufacturing; when a homeowner’s association sues a member for planting a tomato vine because that’s farming; when a municipality criminalizes house chickens because they can’t be pets: this bespeaks a culture completely out of touch with our ecological umbilical. And I don’t know about you, but I find this much more disconcerting than whether Russia controls the Ukraine.
If we can’t encourage neighbor-to-neighbor food commerce, soil building farms, and integrated rather than segregated food systems, we obviously have no business telling other people how they should live. Wouldn’t it be cool if the U.S. became the place that showed the world how to build soil with farming, how to hydrate the landscape with permaculture practices, and how to create food participants out of supermarket zombies? Now that would be leading by example. None of these is incredibly difficult; what’s difficult is to get serious about the big things.
What? Soil building more important than war? Salatin, are you nuts? What? Nutrient density more important than Wall Street? Are you nuts?
Yes, I am nuts according to modern sofa-think TV la-la land. But consider that proper governance follows proper living. Proper economy follows proper ecology. Proper security follows proper stewardship. It’s far more convenient, far easier to scream: “Bomb those barbarians!” than it is to look in the mirror and say:
“Eat integrity food.”
Integrity food builds soil, hydrates the landscape, insures nutrient density, produces abundantly, stimulates diversity, and embraces transparency. I don’t know about you, but that gives me enough to work on for a lifetime. In truth, it gives our society enough to work on for a lifetime. I submit that if we devoted the effort to these things that we devote to bristling armaments, boondoggle agencies, and bumbling regulations, we’d be a far safer place.
Here’s a parting thought. Which would you rather be known for? The country that beat bad guys over there, or the country that created Eden? Can we do both? Maybe. But since we aren’t doing either one right now, why don’t we pick one and concentrate on it? Hmm? And lest the obvious isn’t obvious, let me say that those of you who come alongside Polyface are absolutely building an Eden. Bless you.
— Joel Salatin, Transition Voice