Over the past year, on my journey to Paleo, I have learned a great deal about about our ancestral past, the food supply, nutrition, the politics of farming, GMO’s, food sensitivities, etc. After a seemingly endless stream of books, documentaries, podcasts, websites and blogs on similarly related subjects, the pattern / connection between the health of our farmers and the health of the American people has never been more clear. Mr. Salatin’s recent book, “Folks, this ain’t normal” brings a number of these concepts together in a powerful manifesto on where we have gone wrong, things that just “ain’t normal” and some clear direction on ways we can improve the situation.
He starts out by discussing how children have lost a lot of opportunities to challenge themselves and explore their creative, adventurous and entrepreneurial natures because they are camped in front of digital devices and gaming consoles and such. Taking his own children as examples, Salatin mentions how each one had their own “cottage” businesses while they were very young, which taught them responsibility, discipline and the value of money. As I sit here watching my eleven year old son playing “Call of Duty” on his Xbox, I’m wondering what he’s learning. Not much, is the answer. Certainly nothing that’s preparing him for life outside in the real world.
The next chapter discusses how we’ve lost our connection to nature, our farmers, animals and how our dinner winds up on our plates. It wasn’t too long ago, when supermarkets weren’t as commonplace. More often, people grew the vegetables and raised the animals that they used for food. Many had “kitchen chickens” that turned their food scraps into eggs and an occasional Sunday chicken dinner. As a nation, we have seriously lost our way. Thanks to the giant good conglomerates and the advent of GMOs, we no longer control much, if any, of the food we eat. This is changing slowly but surely, with the rise in organic farming and people moving to a more whole foods, high quality, and of course paleo diet. I purchase a split half of grass fed beef from a NorCal farmer which lasts me most of a year. This is supplemented with pastured pork from US Wellness Meats, and good quality (although not the best) of everything else. The eggs in particular are something that I would really like to upgrade, simply because I eat so many. Having a handful of “kitchen chickens” sounds really good to me. If I could get the wife on board, I would love to make that happen. We also have a nice spot in the backyard for some planters. I’m going to try and grow some vegetables back there this spring and see how that area does. I’m not much of a gardner, but I really want to try and grow some tomatoes, zucchini, maybe some lettuce and herbs.
There is a great section of the book that talks about microbes, bacteria and the “live” nature of real food. How the sterilization of processed and packaged food leaves it literally bereft of any bacteria whatsoever. These bacteria and other organisms are a constant presence in our soil, air, water and food. When animals are raised in natural ways, these microbes are kept at non-toxic levels and our exposure to them is for the most part benign. The problem truly began with the factory farming methods that crowd animals into small spaces and give viruses and diseases a perfect storm in which to thrive. Because of this, the animals need to be dosed with antibacterials and other drugs at every step of their lifecycle. After slaughter, the animals are bathed in ammonia and the meat irradiated to kill anything still “living”. Clearly this is not normal. Salatin once tried to feed his cats some store bought hamburger, which they refused to eat. Perhaps they’re picking up on something we should be more attuned to?
Another great chapter talks about “laying in the larder.” This is a art that seems to be making a resurgance in the Paleo crowd what with all the discussion about fermentation and charcuterie. The key learning is that nothing went to waste on a farm. Today that notion is a distant memory. I recently watched the documentary, “Dive” about people who pull a great deal of edible food from grocery store dumpsters. The filmmaker explains how 50% of the food produced for sale is wasted. The extraordinary amount of meat and produce that finds it’s way into the garbage is criminal. Real food rots. Our ancestors knew this and devised ingenious ways of preserving that food, laying in the larder, to provide during the long winters and times of scarcity. We need to remember these ways of living more economically and less wastefully. Fermenting, drying and preserving foods can also increase their digestibility and healthfulness.
A portion of the book also explains how the folks at Polyface Farms try to comply with all of the regulations which the government imposes on small farms and the difficulty they face in trying to do so. The nature of politics with regard to our food supply is broken beyond belief. The laws and regulations are designed to accommodate large, factory farms, while creating a financial and legal burden for smaller farms. Clearly our government doesn’t understand the quality food that smaller farms provide and their substantial value to the community (as well as the environment). Its imperative that we support our local farmers and vote with our wallets. We must continue to strengthen our relationship with our farmers, demand the highest quality along with the utmost in transparency, everything we’re NOT getting from the mega food corporations.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about where their food comes from and to get a “farmer’s eye view” of what’s “normal” these days. Joel has a unique voice filled with compassion and humor and, as this was the first of his books I’ve read, I’m looking forward to reading some of his previous books and certainly his next one.