Resolution for Revolution: Help Change The Future of Food in 2014

           I’ve never been any good at New Year’s resolutions. I’m great at making them, not so great at actually following through with them. My resolve usually peters out by about the third week of January and I’m right back to scarfing down chocolate, ignoring my abs or neglecting my kitchen floor again. I still haven’t knitted a pair of socks or cleaned a fish myself, I still succumb to the occasional deep dish pizza binge and I haven’t gotten past the Tom Bombadil chapter of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The list goes on. And on, and on, and on… yeah.

           Resolutions seem to be rooted in the human need to repair, maintain and improve ourselves. Our waistlines, our bank accounts, our level of education, and so on. The Walmart sale flyer stops advertising toys and god-awful Santa sweaters and goes straight to treadmills, hand weights and Suzie Orman books immediately following Dec. 25th. Some people do go so far as to resolve to improve the world around them through outreach, volunteerism, random acts of kindness towards strangers and so forth. All good things that should be acknowledged and encouraged, don’t get me wrong, but there are other resolutions that could encompass both the personal growth and benefit of mankind spectrums.


     This article does an amazing job of illustrating the reality of factory farming in America. Years of undercover work and insider accounts have given consumers a look inside where our food really originates, and its far from the bucolic circle of life and death that Fern confronted in ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ The green pastures dotted with quaint wooden barns have been replaced with feed lots crammed with desperately ill cattle.

                “I was on my way to visit a farmer in California’s Central Valley. It was one of those gorgeous autumn days when the hills of California are gold. Out of nowhere, a really nasty smell assaulted my nostrils—the stench of a gas station restroom sorely in need of attention. But I could see nothing that might explain the smell—all around me were the same blue skies and golden hills.
              And then, very suddenly, the golden hills turned jet-black on both sides of the highway: black with tens of thousands of cattle crowded onto a carpet of manure that stretched as far as the eye could see. I was driving through a feedlot, with tens of thousands of animals bellying up to a concrete trough that ran along the side of the highway for what seemed like miles. Behind them rose two vast pyramids, one yellow, the other black: a pile of corn and a pile of manure. The cattle, I realized, were spending their days transforming the stuff of one pile into the stuff of the other. This is where our meat comes from? I had no idea.”                          
                                                                  -Michael Pollan, ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’

                      Sick chickens crammed into battery cages so small they can’t move and resort to pecking each others’ combs and feathers off in a desperate attempt to get the calories they need to churn out the eggs they exist to produce. Broilers who cant even stand due to a mixture of their terrible living conditions and the fact that they’ve been genetically modified to reach butchering weight at such a rapid pace that they often await slaughter lying in a soup of their own waste and the decaying bodies of their dead comrades. If they should happen to have open sores and obvious signs of disease, they’re probably still fit for you to eat though. Pus? check. Salmonella? check. Campylobactor? check. There’s a darn good chance at least one of those is in there. No amount of Frank’s Red Hot is going to make that any more appetizing.
                    Pigs don’t have it any better.
                    Neither do turkeys.  We’ve raised turkeys for two years now, and I can attest to just how much personality these animals really have. Despite their tendency to become difficult to deal with as they reach maturity (and are instinctively focused on breeding during every waking moment, not unlike teenage boys) they’re intelligent, endearing and just as deserving of humane treatment as any animal. We kept two hens as pets last year because we just couldn’t bear to process them, and they died a natural death days apart after spending their lives presiding over our barnyard like matronly old ladies on a stroll in the park.

                    Cows in large-scale dairy operations don’t fare any better. Even when not subjected to outright abuse, most cows live in a way that’s far from ideal for them (as living beings) and us (the beings who subsequently consume their meat and milk.) They’re pumped full of hormones to increase their milk production, hormones that have been proven to increase the rates of breast, prostate, colon and other cancers. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) has been banned in Canada, Japan and Australia as well as the European Union, and somehow remains legal in the USA (kinda like the GMO corn these cows eat, hmm…) They’re injected with antibiotics in order to counter the assault on their health from abhorrent living conditions. This is standard practice with the poultry and pork we eat as well. Yummy… who ordered a side of drug-resistant staphylococcus aureus with their burger? Anyone…?

        It’s easy to demand change. Talk is cheap, until the McRib comes back on sale and the ethics of pork production stop mattering as much as getting that 2 for $4 BBQ pork-like product fix. We can point fingers at ‘Big Ag’ but in the end, we’re the ones buying their products. Their practices continue because a market exists for what they provide, and things could get worse before they get better if Ag-Gag laws keep popping up on the ballots.  Every time we fill our shopping cart with their products, swipe our cards or hand over our cash, we’re giving factory farms the means to continue committing atrocity. We’re inviting them to keep making us sick. We’re allowing ourselves to stay helpless and relinquishing control of our food to politicians who are more interested in the kickbacks from Big Ag than they are in the safety and sustainability of its products. Every time we eat their food we’re putting our stamp of approval on their methods and assuring that their practices continue, at least for the time being. 
          There are alternatives. The market for responsibly-raised meat and dairy products is growing, and small-scale farming is gaining momentum again. Finding protein for your dinner table that you can actually feel good about eating is getting easier, even if you can’t raise it yourself. Websites like and help pair up food-conscious folks with farmers.  Even good old Craigslist (as always, use with caution) can be a place to locate local farms that are willing to allow potential buyers to observe their practices and purchase directly. Word of mouth is invaluable; even if you’re surrounded by urban sprawl, chances are there’s a place to buy better meat nearby. 
        It’s probably going to cost more, yes. The solution? Simply eat less meat. Incorporate more meatless into your meal plan, and you’ll save even more money than you would’ve spent on factory farmed foam-tray nastiness. You just might lose some pounds as well; Americans eat far too much meat as it is. Do your aorta a favor, as well as your waistline and your wallet. Then when you do eat meat, why not have it be meat you can feel good about? 
          We hunt. We fish. We also barter with friends and relatives for our family’s meat. What meat we do buy is purchased from the local family-owned butcher shops, and although we can’t confirm it’s all from responsibly-raised sources at least it’s not Tyson. We occasionally submit to the siren song of the McD’s dollar menu (and at least 2 members of our 8-person family always end up fighting over our lone bathroom for hours afterwards) and I can tell you exactly how many party boxes of tacos we require to feed us all. BUT, we’re a lot better than we used to be. It’s progress. It’s something. The three homestead-raised chickens we roasted with garlic and parsley a few nights ago were three chickens that were not abused, mistreated or malnourished and had lived a life full of sunshine, green grass, adequate feed and clean water. They weren’t fed chicken feed containing arsenic. They were healthy at the time of butcher and they weren’t washed in bleach water. They tasted damn awesome, too. 
          This year, I resolve to put a lot more effort into sourcing our family’s meat responsibly. I know we’ll still end up eating Big (G)Ag’s meat here and there as well, but it will be much less frequently. I resolve to vote with my grocery cart and with my debit card in all things I buy, and to continue shopping at family-owned small businesses as much as possible too. I resolve to stop being complacent, to stop being oblivious and to stop hiding behind apathy. I resolve to provide the best possible life for the animals in my care, our pets as well as our livestock. I resolve to make more deliberate food choices fueled by actual thought instead of convenience. Most importantly, I resolve to pass this knowledge on to my children, in hopes that they will live their lives as contributors instead of consumers. With the start of the new year, please take a second look at what goes onto your plate and consider what took place to get it there. You might find yourself in the same place at our collective table as I’m finding myself.  


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