Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

I don't use the word prophetic lightly. It is one that is so often misapplied from random kooks to shysters fleecing people to the leader of the mormon church. When it comes to Joel Salatin, I think it fits. He is someone who speaks out against prevailing culture in food and really against the culture that pervades every corner of our culture where no one is responsible for themselves, anything can be fixed by a new regulation and we blithely go around eating chemical compounds called "food" without a thought. I was first exposed to Joel the way a lot of people probably were in his cameo in the documentary Food Inc. Thanks to that movie I purchased one of his books and it was a great read from cover to cover (even though Kindle books don't really have covers)

Joel's book, Folks, This Ain't Normal is a labor of love by a man who is a voice crying out in the wilderness in our perverse culture where people live longer but live worse. As a farmer he chastises the farm industry. As a Christian he chastises fellow believers for our general uncaring attitude toward the environment. No one gets a free pass but none of his criticism is unwarranted and none of it is given in a vacuum.

Folks, This Ain't Normal is chock full of common sense (an uncommon virtue today) sprinkled with pretty savvy writing. Don't let the big glasses, suspenders and "aw shucks" mannerism fool you, Joel is a very bright guy and is not only bright but someone who sees through the garbage peddled to us by those who decide what is healthy for us in the belief that we are too dumb to think for ourselves. The basic message of the book is that as a culture we have completely lost control of our food supply in a historically unthinkable way. We all know people who think that meat magically appears on shrink wrapped foam platters in the store or that milk doesn't actually come from a cow. Joel is simply calling on people to get involved in one of the most basic functions of human life, namely eating. In a country with epidemic levels of diabetes, heart diseases, obesity and all other sorts of food related maladies, shouldn't we start wondering why we are living longer but living sicker? Joel looks at the ridiculous regulations, the growing threat of the armed food police, the efforts to monopolize food production, the historical reality of food production vs the modern industrialization of this most basic need. On and on, each chapter is valuable and engaging. Not one chapter had me yawning or wishing it would just end.

Although he goes to great lengths to encourage those who are just explaining that anything you can do helps, including a series of practical tips to put into place at the end of each chapter, you can feel overwhelmed. How can the average Joe who lives in a quarter of an acre in a suburb with association rules do anything to take control of his diet? I am not sure there is a solution to this but those who feel that way might try rereading the book and focusing on the places where Joel encourages the little steps that combined make a big difference. While I can see where some people might brush this off as pie in the sky utopian thinking, I found it to be absolutely reasonable. We might not all have a family farm large enough to sustain multiple generations but we all can do something to take control of our diet.

There are few books I recommend quite as unreservedly as this one. I am sure a lot of people don't like this message, many who would agree with me on most issues but who, thanks to the unquestioning allegiance to corporatism in what passes for conservatism in America, see a guy like Joel as a rabble-rouser and dangerous. Nevertheless there is a critical need for people to think seriously about issues of liberty and if the government can tell you what you can or cannot eat, there is really no limit to its power. The place I have arrived in my thinking on issues of liberty and freedom mesh quite nicely with the message of Folks, This Ain't Normal and we are already taking some of the steps outlined in this book. Are we even 5% of the way there? Not at all but each day we get closer as we raise our own hogs for meat, chickens for eggs and a cow for milk, as we plant a sizable garden and as we try to eliminate the worst offenders in our diet. We have a long way to go but Folks, This Ain't Normal has been an important wake up call for me and one that a lot of people need to hear. Get this book, read it and prepare to be challenged!

1 comment:

Bethany W. said...

Good review! I love the book too!