I Can Ruin Your Food For You

Recently someone shared a photo of our pigs on her Facebook page, recommending that her friends get their pork from our farm, because our animals are healthy and well-cared for. Someone responded, “Right. Like I’d want to eat one of the cute pigs.” She replied that he would think differently if he saw factory-raised pigs and he responded, “I try not to think about where my food comes from.”  Someone else commented that they once bought beef from a local farm, then gave it all away because they couldn’t stand the thought of eating cows kin to the one’s they’d seen.

I don’t think I need to dwell long on how I feel about that kind of attitude.  I can’t count the number of times people have told me that they could never eat an animal they raised themselves (implying that they are more compassionate than a person who does–like me for instance).

But of course the fact that as a society we “try not to think about where our food comes from” has given industrial agriculture a blank check to raise crops and treat farm animals and farm workers anyway that yields the greatest profit.  Because no one is looking at them, they don’t have to concern themselves much with ethics or husbandry.

We try hard to convince people to look behind the curtain of industrial agriculture.  Often people don’t like that.  I’m convinced that’s because they know they won’t like what they see.  They’re afraid their conscience may cause them to change the way they eat–and that is something they do not want to do.  It’s more than just blissful ignorance; it’s stubborn denial of facts they already know in their hearts to be true, facts that would be confirmed if they dared look.

So instead of being seen as advocates for a more ethical and sustainable food system trying to help people eat better, some folks see us as killjoys, out to ruin their appetites for junk food and meat from mistreated animals.

Of course the sins of industrial agriculture run far deeper than just abused farm animals, and the closer one looks at the system the more corrupt its products are revealed to be. The other day I wrote about strawberries–a seemingly healthy wholesome food.  But not if they’re bathed in pesticides and harvested by mistreated workers.  What about the chocolate Easter eggs many will be eating tomorrow?  Unless they’re made from fair trade chocolate there’s a good chance some of the cocoa used to make them was harvested by child slaves in the Ivory Coast.  That’s not very appetizing.  And the list goes on and on.

Not long ago one of Cherie’s friends was telling her about the changes she had made to her diet.  She mentioned that she was now drinking almond milk instead of cow’s milk.  Knowing the truth about almond production, Cherie told her, “I can ruin your food for you.”

Learning about food production does come with a cost.  Sometimes it will mean learning things that will cause you to change the way you buy and think about food.  Sometimes it might seem easier to stay in the dark; to try not to think about where our food comes from.  But the first step toward a better food system is awareness of the need for one.

Cherie loves olives.  They’re one of her favorite foods. When I read Ella Dee’s recent post about olives I sent it to Cherie with a note: “I can ruin your food for you.”

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51 comments on “I Can Ruin Your Food For You

  1. Best. Blog Post. Ever.

    Like

  2. Jeff says:

    Well, now …. at the risk of alienating you by bringing up the “C” word again, I’ll say this: capitalism, by commodifying everything so that it can be sold for a proft, inevitably results in industrialized agriculture and industrialized-everything-else. Do you think that people would buy cars if they realized how much socialized damage and pollution the manufacture of cars results in? One of the core principles of capitalism is that capitalists (and that means all of us) privatize the profit and socialize the loss. The loss being, in the case of CAFOs, pollution caused by manure, bacterial resistance caused by over-use of antibiotics, unhealthy animals and a long list which you have written about many times. The reason people shrink in horror at eating animals is because capitalism, because it commodifies everything, has ripped the social fabric apart and created isolated individuals who have no connection to nature, their fellow human beings or anything else. If everyone had to kill animals so that they could exist, they wouldn’t have the Bambi syndrome. There is no history in capitalism, no ethics, no compassion, nothing. Capitalism is all about profit. Nothing else, just profit.

    It isn’t about conscience and it isn’t because people think you’re killjoys. It’s because people are trapped in an economic system that is destroying the world and they don’t see an escape route. 90% of the people, of course, don’t see anything wrong with capitalism at all. They think it can be “greened up” so that it will behave and treat people right. No. Capitalism is an amoral and thus immoral economic system that has to go. Unfortunately, very few people have the resources to own a piece of land that they can have a garden on. That stopped with the Enclosure Acts in 15th century England. Even if they do, they don’t have the time or education to do so. We are immersed in a capitalistic economic system and we don’t see a way out of it so we continue to party while the world burns, inexorably descending into Hell. A Hell of a ruined and poisoned environment with people fighting for the last few scraps of resources to sustain their unsustainable lifestyle.

    One day, perhaps people will connect the dots and realize that capitalism is destroying the world. Maybe. If not, the less-complex life forms will win and humans will lose. Nature bats last.

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    • nebraskadave says:

      Jeff, I know that you have voiced your views about capitalism many times here in a convincing way that has really made me think. I’m interested in conversation about what would be a better system than Capitalism. dbentz24@gmail.com

      Like

      • Jeff says:

        Dave, I have no answers. Many of the people who read this blog are contributing to the formation of this new economic system, though. I have no idea what that system will look like, but no doubt one of its primary features will be the creation and sustenance of community, both of which are relentlessly destroyed by capitalism. Human beings, after all, are social animals.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Even though I’m suspicious of metanarratives, it seems to me that it is industrialism (in opposition to agrarianism) that is to blame. Industrialism is not limited to capitalist societies and centrally managed economies can (and do) practice it as well. Cuba, for example, embraced industrial agriculture (without capitalism), exporting its agricultural production (mainly tobacco and sugar) while importing its food. Cuba was every bit as committed to industrial agrictulture as the US is today, actually using pesticides at a greater rate than U.S industrial farming. All that came crashing down when the Soviet Union collapsed and their source of fuel, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides suddenly went away.

      Here’s a link to a fascinating and encouraging film about Cuba’s transition (of necessity) to organic sustainable agriculture. A lot of the “peak oil” predictions are now dated due to the natural gas boom, but the story of their break from industrial and chemical ag is fascinating. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76F4z4DRafA

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      • Jeff says:

        “Industrialism is not limited to capitalist societies and centrally managed economies can (and do) practice it as well. Cuba, for example, embraced industrial agriculture (without capitalism), exporting its agricultural production (mainly tobacco and sugar) while importing its food.”

        I’m sorry to write this, but your statement, quoted above, reveals a misunderstanding of what capitalism is. Capitalism is not confined to Western “democracies.” China is very much a capitalist country. You are quite correct that centrally managed economies practice capitalism, China being a prime example. The Soviet Union was a state-capitalist economy. Industrialism is the expected end result of capitalism and is to blame, but the underlying cause of industrialism is capitalism. That has to change. In 600 short years, capitalism has created havoc with natural systems. Capitalism is not natural; it is not inevitable. It is a human invention and it can be “uninvented.” It won’t be, though, until people understand what it is and how it works.

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      • Bill says:

        No worries. I’m obviously no expert on capitalism. I wouldn’t have supposed Cuba was a capitalist society. Are there any countries with non-capitalist economies or is the whole planet capitalist at this point?

        Like

      • Jeff says:

        The roots of capitalism in Cuba date back to the mid-19th century, when there was a movement to make Cuba another state in the United States. The U.S. offered Spain $20 million for Cuba in the early 1890s, but Spain turned the U.S. down. Then, there was the Spanish-American war in 1898. Was there any connection between the those two events?

        The only non-capitalistic societies on earth left are in the remoter parts of the world: the remote reaches of the Amazon, certain areas in central Asia, perhaps a few areas of the African continent … not many areas of the world haven’t been touched by capitalism. Which is exactly why the world is in such bad shape. But a counter-movement is taking form, as people realize that what capitalism has brought them has had severe side-effects.

        Like

  3. Sue says:

    My neighbor raises all the chickens and beef we eat. We chose her because we knew she raised her animals in a loving environment with plenty of good grass and fresh air. I asked her how she felt on the day she had to “take them in”…..and she said she felt she gave them a very good life and that this was just part of the cycle. I couldn’t agree more. Anyone who hasn’t seen an actual feedlot has no clue as to how horrible factory farmed animals live. Hubby and I passed a lot of them on the way to visit the grandson. The conditions are atrocious. Now there is a case where one should feel guilty to eat meat.
    Have a wonderful Easter

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Well said Sue. I certainly take no pleasure in having our animals processed, and it bothers me when people make light of it. We know we’re raising animals to be human food but we try to take our obligations of husbandry and stewardship seriously and give them the best most natural life we reasonably can. We like knowing that we give people an ethical alternative to industrial meat.

      Like

  4. Cynthia says:

    Have to admit, sometimes it feels like a huge burden knowing all the things you’ve mentioned and frustrating that so few are aware. Takes a lot of effort and money to live otherwise. Also, I don’t want to be a preacher so I live to my standard instead of talking about it. Right now the stores are probably filled with $20 giant hams. Gross, I know, but how easy to run in and buy it , oblivious. No looking back for me, could not do that. Better to know, be ‘the strange one’, lol.. “Live the change, etc… Slowly I see this grass roots awareness taking hold

    Like

    • Bill says:

      That’s a point of tension for me. I don’t really want to be a preacher either. I’d usually rather just quietly live my life, following our principles. But at the same time I’ve decided that it’s important to advocate for change and to help educate folks as best I can. The industrial complex spends many millions in advertising every year trying to persuade people to buy their products. We can’t compete with that but we don’t turn down invitations to talk about alternatives. Today we spoke at a local health food store. And of course I can’t resist using this blog as a platform on occasion. 🙂

      I see the grass roots awareness taking hold too and I find it encouraging. I’m optimistic that a saner, more ethical system will emerge.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cynthia says:

        How you are making your living automatically takes you out of the preacher role and into that of someone who is making his living in the food industry with integrity 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. valbjerke says:

    In a conversation the other day with someone at work – I said ‘it’s very hard to be a purist when it comes to food’. Just off the top of my head – I like to cook with preserved lemons – so I make my own. But I don’t grow lemons or harvest salt etc….and I’m sure if I dug deep enough into the growing/production of either – I’d probably stop using the stuff.
    Also – as I point out to my husband on occasision – neither we, or any other farmer for that matter – can possibly raise enough food to feed the masses without becoming one of those production farms we love to hate. Ultimately – if we all at least try to make conscious and informed decisions in regards to our food purchases, we can effect at least some small changes. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Yes, I agree. The key, I think, is to just try to do the best we can, based on the information we have. I try to choose nutritious food that is ethically produced, and that’s what I encourage others to do. Sometimes whether food is ethically produced or not will be obvious and other times the answer will be more subjective. We just need to be honest with ourselves I think.

      I’m convinced that sustainable farms can feed us all. If farming practices aren’t sustainable, then any ability to feed the world that way won’t last and will end in disaster.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t want you to think I was just clicking through with the “like.” I actually have a lot to say, but it’s a long story about anthropomorphizing the cows I pass by on my daily commute and cheeseburgers. And a lot of other things. In short, this gave me food for thought, so to speak.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I’m convinced that if we had to personally slaughter any animals we eat, the vast majority of people in our culture would become vegetarians immediately. It seems ironic to me that we live in a culture that finds the killing of animals repulsive (more so than any human culture ever) while at the same time we eat more meat than any culture ever.

      Like

  7. I think we’re a bit trapped by the system, as others have commented. While I totally agree whith what you’re saying about the head in the sand attitude so very prevalent about food production among those who have better choices that they choose not to make, I think Valbjerke is right, we need the larger producers to feed the masses as the system currently exists, and in the interests of efficiency, they are using methods those of us closer to the ground see as inappropriate. There are lots of farmers demonstrating that it’s possible to make a good living farming ethically at a scale that con produce for the general population – Salatin is an obvious one in terms of livestock, Jean-Martin Fortier or Eliot Coleman come to mind for veggies. There stuff costs more, though and ultimately it always seems to come back to the bottom line. How many of your pork customers buy your wonderful ethically raised pork but save it for special occasions, telling you that they do so because they buy the cheaper meat from the grocery store for everyday meals. As long as we believe that our food is expensive on this continent, we will not change the production models – we think we can’t afford to, and so we cover our eyes as to how it is produced.

    I haven’t missed the point about people who choose “factory” meat over meat raised as you and I do, because they couldn’t eat something so cute – I really struggle with this one, and I’ve been pretty blunt recently with someone who only wanted to see her chicken without head and feathers, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to eat it. I lost a customer, and I don’t care. Well, I do care, and that’s really your point, right?

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Well said. We live in a culture that is convinced that good food is too expensive, while we are spending less of our income on food that any civilization in history. As long as we continue to believe food is expensive (while spending 90% of our income on things other than food) we’ll continue to encourage the industrial producers to become more efficient (at great cost to animals, nutrition, the environment, etc.) to keep our prices low.

      The people who want to eat meat but prefer to pretend it didn’t come from a living animal are enablers. They may like to think of it that way, but their sensitivity is making it worse for animals, not better.

      Like

  8. avwalters says:

    Great point. Beautifully written. That perfect tag line will haunt us (and become the way we tell about not so good food.)

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks. Despite the negative tone of the post, I’m encouraged by the growing number of people who “get it.” Especially the ones who ditch the life our culture tells them to pursue and move to the country to build a house and start living close to the land. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Thanks for that link Bob. We used the California drought graphic in a talk we gave today about industrial agriculture. Cherie calls it an ecosystem under siege.

      Like

  9. ain't for city gals says:

    I agree with the first commenter …best blog post ever! And the one that talked about all the $20 hams…the last one I bought was about 4 years ago…I took one bite and threw the rest away….never ever again.. I often wonder why people don’t seem to care but you might be right…they don’t want to know.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks. We’ve had people tell us directly that they just don’t want to know. In other words they know that the facts will cause them to change how they eat, so they prefer to pretend they don’t know the facts.

      Like

  10. barnraised says:

    As a vegetarian, I obviously don’t eat animals. But I have so much respect for those who do and raise it themselves or, at least, are conscious about where they are getting it from and how it was raised. I honestly (and surprisingly to many) have a level of respect for hunters as well. To know that at least the animal did live a free life, was hunted and the hunter knows what he/she is eating. What makes me sad is the rows and rows of packaged and pretty (maybe not the right word) meats in the Wal-marts, etc. Thanks for this post. I have much respect for you and really enjoy your blog!

    Like

    • Bill says:

      My wife and daughter have chosen to be vegetarians, for ethical reasons. I greatly respect that. On the other hand, I think anyone who would rather eat the meat of an abused animal that they’ve never seen, rather than the meat of a humanely treated animal that they have seen, has some moral wires crossed.

      I totally agree with you about hunting. Deer is now the only red meat I eat. I take a couple off our farm every year (living plenty behind). Game animals are the ultimate in free-range naturally-raised meat sources. I also eat fish from our pond. Other than that I eat the few extra roosters we end up with each year and some of the pork we raise. It’s been many years since I’ve eaten any meat that didn’t come off this farm. At this point I’m pretty sure I’d become a vegetarian rather than eat industrial meat.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. valbjerke says:

    Adding to my comment above – people often ask how we can ‘butcher’ our livestock – well it’s sometimes not all that easy. Our first breed sow – well I actually went into the house because I didn’t think I could manage to watch her happily hop into the trailer that was taking her away. It’s hard not to get attached to the ‘four leggeds ‘ ….. But as I tell people, we love those animals til death, and we’re not operating a petting zoo.
    It might sound harsh, but it’s the reality of raising food.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      It’s the hardest thing, by far, that I do on the farm (along with euthanization). We love our animals too and do the best we can to give them good lives. I literally hate killing animals. But ultimately we are raising them to be human food. As you say, that’s the reality.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Joanna says:

    We cull most of our male chickens and my husband always pauses before killing it. He still finds it hard

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Same for me. And I hope it always stays hard. I treat it as something to be done with gratitude and respect, and never with joy. I always thank the animal, thank God for entrusting it to us, and ask to be forgiven for any ways we have fallen short in our duties. That doesn’t make it any easier, but it does put it in the context I think it deserves.

      Like

  13. Zambian Lady says:

    It is interesting that your pigs are too ‘cute’ to eat just because someone has seen a photo of them, but the pork in the shop is good enough for food.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Exactly. It’s maddening.

      We’re fortunate to have lots of customers who understand and appreciate our ethic. But the folks who prefer to eat mistreated and unhappy animals rather than well-cared for and happy animals—them I do not understand.

      Like

  14. I really liked the title of your post because I have to hold my tongue around my co-workers when talking about food. Most of the general population have no idea where their food comes from or what processes it goes through before it gets to them.

    For some reason your post reminded me about the “free range chickens” commercial from Geico. Have you seen it? It’s hilarious 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Someone sent me a link to that video recently I think (if it’s the one where the chicken is sending the farmer postcards from her travels). It was clever. 🙂

      Like

  15. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, our culture has progressed so far away from the food source that they haven’t got a clue where it comes from or what’s been done to it. I find it humorous that when I tell people that I put grass/leaf mixture on my garden as mulch in the fall, they will express horror because everyone knows that poison chemicals go on lawns. Most of the mulch is leaf and the grass has been cut several times since the last application of lawn chemicals. These are the same people that eat those ever so healthy strawberries (being sarcastic) and other not so fresh foods that have been bathed in chemicals to make them smell good and look good but don’t have nutrition or taste. Some would say there is no organic food any more. The air has been polluted, the water has been polluted, even the rain water has been polluted so there’s no really pure food any more.

    So what’s a person to do. For me it’s to reduce the processed foods to a minimum and grow more of my own food. Will I ever get to a point where no food will be purchased at the grocery store. Probably not. I’m convinced that our bodies were designed to deal with a certain amount of pollution and as long as I can keep it to a minimum, I’ll have to chance to live a long and productive life. So far it’s been working.

    Have a great day ruining my food. 🙂

    Like

    • Bill says:

      At the farmers market once a woman asked Cherie what our free-range chickens eat. Cherie said they eat grass, bugs… When she got to the word “bugs” the woman said “Eww! Bugs!” and walked away. What do you do with that kind of ignorance? I guess you can only laugh about it.

      You’re doing it right in my book. If everyone did that–reduce processed food to a minimum and grow as much of your own food as possible–then we wouldn’t have a food problem in our culture.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. BeeHappee says:

    The biggest part for me is to have kids understand where food comes from, how it comes into existence, and how to grow/raise/gather/hunt/protect/save food. That practice used to take years and decades to learn and absorb and perfect and none of it is taught in today’s schools in any shape or form. We were at a wildlife shelter today and vulture was tearing up a rat, many kids today are sheltered even from that experience. I am happy to see more and more childrens gardens popping up in our local forest preserves and more education programs, but still not nearly enough…

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I’m in full agreement with you. I’m encouraged to see more opportunities for children to learn and it’s clear that there still aren’t enough of them. Disconnection from our food is the problem we need to overcome. If an entire generation grows up believing that food comes from factories, then there may be no turning back.

      Like

  17. BeeHappee says:

    Bill, too funny about a woman who walks away when she finds out chicken eats bugs and worms. 🙂 I suppose if you said soy and corn, she would be happy. . . We watched a falcon tearing up a mouse today. A lady walked by, and she said: this is so amazing to see a bird eating meat, I never knew that, I thought birds just eat seeds! Can you believe that, a grown up person… I suppose people no longer know birds do eat worms, not just bird seed from the pet store. Dogs do eat meat, not just fake bones from the pet store. 🙂

    This is too real, and too gross, I had not seen the full film yet:
    http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/without_saying_a_word_this_6_minute_short_film_will_make_you_speechless/

    And lastly, I am amazed by your willingness and graciousness to answer with detail to every comment on your blog!

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Bee. I have seen that clip. In fact, I shared it on the blog some time ago. Numbing.

      I enjoy responding to the comments. I’ll do it as long as time permits. Things are starting to get real busy around here so don’t be surprised if I start to slack off. 🙂

      Like

  18. Our food supply has become one of those topics like religion and politics. To be informed means you have to make changes which are not always easy or cheap. We have a small local store, Tendercrop, that markets only their own meat which has been grass fed on local range. You can stand in line for up to 40 minutes to get waited on at the meat counter. But, we all stand there with a smile and chat with our neighbors because it’s worth it. 🙂

    Like

  19. EllaDee says:

    In hindsight I look with fondness at the first time my “food” was ruined… back in the good ol’ days of the 80’s I was told about acceptable limits of cockroach in chocolate… sometimes supposed as an urban myth but sadly for chocolate devotees, not.
    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/03/bugging-out-chocolate-allergy-linked-to-roaches/
    The result was I didn’t eat chocolate for years… and unrelated, still don’t each much now; I lost my taste for it, which didn’t do me any harm.
    I try, and do, think about where my food comes from. It doesn’t ruin it for me; truth and integrity will get you a better product every time. As the adage says, the proof of the pudding is in the eating… I feel terrible if I eat crap food, but that’s not my rationale either.
    I refuse to enter into a co-dependent relationship with Big Food, etc and be told something is good for me when it’s not. Not good to eat. Not good in the way it’s produced environmentally, or ethically. If it was a domestic relationship and I indulged those behaviors, at best I’d be told I was a fool.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      That’s a great analogy. I heard someone say recently that we spend more time choosing our cell phone covers than we do choosing our food. I sometimes say that we would never consider putting our children in a day care center without carefully investigating it, yet we’ll feed them anything off the shelf without any investigation into it. We have mixed up priorities.

      Many years ago Cherie came down with food poisoning. In the aftermath of that she started researching food and food production. Along the way she read Fast Food Nation. Ultimately she completely changed her diet and the way she chose food, and eventually I got on board too. It all began with becoming informed. Knowledge is power, and Big Food would prefer we just continue blindly trusting that they stuff they’re selling us is good to eat.

      Like

  20. MansWhirld says:

    We don’t have our own animals yet, but I am excited to be able to consume our own livestock. We recently started purchasing freshly butchered chicken from a nearby farm and I can’t believe how much flavor I’ve been missing out on all my life. If the kin to my supper was roaming contentedly on open pasture I would be much happier than knowing my meal came from a cowncentration camp! 😉

    Like

    • Bill says:

      One of the great things about this movement is that people who couldn’t give a rip about all the ethical reasons to eat good food can still appreciate the simple fact that good food just tastes better than bad food. Like you, I take satisfaction in knowing that I’m not complicit in torturing animals for food, but even if that meant nothing to me, I still wouldn’t want to eat nasty, tasteless factory food.

      Like

  21. There’s not much I can do about the people who would rather buy their meat in a styrofoam tray and tell me they couldn’t ever eat a chicken they knew by name. But I CAN enjoy my homegrown food, knowing that I’ve given my animals a good life. It’s great to read the comments here and find people who get it!

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Amen. This post did generate lots of great comments. I agree that it’s good to connect with people who understand. So often our food culture just leaves me shaking my head.

      Like

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