Monday, January 07, 2013

Why I Love Joel Salatin

It is this sort of stuff.

The function that herbivores play, for example, in stimulating biomass accumulation is both powerful and real. Chickens have historically converted kitchen scraps into eggs. Pigs have historically scavenged domestic waste products as varied as whey, offal, forest mast, and spoiled grain. That a large percentage of landfilled material is animal-edible food waste should strike us as criminal. Rather than showering landfill administrators with greenie awards for injecting pipes into the anaerobic swill to collect biogas, we should be cycling all that edible waste through chickens and pigs so that it never goes to the landfill in the first place. 

Instead, we send armies around the world to ensure cheap petroleum to energize chemical fertilizer factories to inject acidulated elemental Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosporus (N, P and K) into tilled soils to grow grain to be harvested, gas-dried, then transported to animal factories. And now that the landfills are filling too fast, we routinely incinerate these wet, edible wastes in energy-intensive systems that run at a net energy loss. It’s insane. Nature’s systems do not generate waste. When will we learn that there is no away? We say we’ll throw it away, but away doesn’t exist. That’s why nature is full of loops and cycles.

Salatin, Joel Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (p. 32). Kindle Edition

I am reading his book Folks, This Ain't Normal and it is chock full of solid information and common sense without the hysteria or silliness that accompanies a lot of books by people pontificating on ecological issues. I am far more interested in what a farmer has to say than what some pompous dude in Boston who has never been dirty opines about the ecology. Salatin in some ways bridges the gap by not giving into the hype. He is a Christian and a guy who likes meat but he also recognizes that there is something inherently unhealthy and unnatural when people are removed from the food chain. His view is a healthy position between the tinfoil hat wearing, Al Gore wing of the Left and the "pollution is good for you", Rush Limbaugh wing of the Right. Joel is someone who speaks eloquently and convincingly that our lifestyle impacts the environment and not in a good way but that you can still enjoy a nice steak without feeling guilty.

It is strangely perverse that we live in a society where people are living longer but also living worse. Life expectancy has never been longer thanks to medical advances to keep people alive but the general health of Americans is horrible. Asthma and allergies are incredibly widespread. Obesity is a national epidemic. Diabetes has in turn grown more widespread. We are more medicated and vaccinated and sanitized than ever before and I can't think of a way in which we are healthier. Granted people don't die from easily treatable diseases any more but what kind of a life is it? The ubiquitous bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere tell the tale. We are a people terrified of dirt and "germs", something that stems back I believe to our disconnect with the natural cycles of life, a cycle that includes death and dirt and blood. We may think we are so incredibly advanced but in truth we are unhappy and unhealthy in the extreme.

We once were a people that spread across the fruited plains, establishing small farms and homesteads that in turn created small communities. That model has been reversed over the last 50 years as more and more people returned to the urban areas and in turn created the phenomenon of suburbs (and now exurbs). This has turned farmland into acre sized lots for enormous houses that sit empty most of the time as both parents work to make the mortgage payment, sending their children off to day care and public schools (the difference between the two is hard to distinguish at times) until it is time to grab little Johnny and Suzie from school and begin running them to various activities, exhausting everyone in a quest to make sure that kids are "well rounded" enough to go to college so that they can get married at some point and start the cycle all over again. It is simply madness.

I don't consider myself a Luddite nor am I naive enough to think that we will all move back to farms. I like being able to buy foods from the store. The convenience of buying a bag of potatoes at will rather than trying to store them up is great. I don't see my family eating primarily items that we grew ourselves any time soon. I like having computers and my Kindle. I just agree with Joel that there is something essential about having this connection to the land, not just for my wife and I as adults but for our children as well. As farmers age and young people leave the land to go sit in a cubicle somewhere we are in real danger of losing something fundamental to society, namely a connection to our food supply beyond putting pre-packaged foods on the belt at Wal-Mart.

Thus far I have found Folks, This Ain't Normal to be a welcome breath of fresh air and common sense into a conversation that all too often veers off into ridiculous rhetoric and posturing. Expect to see more excerpts and thoughts from this book as I continue reading!


Aussie John said...


The way to go! If you haven't, or can't, because of space or regulations, have chickens, and/or pigs, it's easy to have composting and worms which admirably deal with organic waste..

Bethany W. said...

I love that book! It had a humorous tone.

He has a CD with the Vision Forus folks too, regarding teaching kids to work - good stuff.