Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fighting for local food at Virginia Tech

Context: Virginia Tech created a new position called a sustainability director in dining services Oct. 1, 2008, and hired Andy Sarjahani to fill it. He has been aggressive and made remarkable changes in a few short months.

Last month he exchanged battery eggs from Pennsylvania with Virginia cage-free (a far cry from pastured, but we take baby steps). Humane Society in the U.S. found out about it and did a press release applauding Virginia Tech's effort. That riled the Virginia Farm Bureau, the Virginia Poultry Federation, the Virginia Tech Poultry Science Department, and the Virginia AgriBusiness Council who pressured Virginia Tech's president and underlings to reprimand Andy and muzzle him from extolling the virtues of pastured livestock and local food. Instead of rolling over, Andy went to the New York Times, which supposedly is doing a story on this Tuesday, April 21. I had written an email to Virginia Tech's president when I heard about
Andy's treatment, encouraging him to let the sustainability effort proceed.
The NYT reporter, Kim Severson, emailed me and asked if the president had responded. He
did not. Then she asked an amazing question: What do you think is at a heart of this matter?

Below, you will see my response to that question. I have not heard back from her. I don't know if the story will be spiked, delayed, or run on schedule, But I think you should know what I said. Here it is:

At the heart of the matter is this: The local, clean, humane--call it what you want--non-industrial food movement is beginning to chip away at the mainstream industrial food system's market share, and they are hopping mad about it. Our movement disparages industrial models on many levels: energy, ecology, nutrition, economy, animal welfare. The industrial elitists are fighting for credibility and market share.
To be fair, most of the industrial food proponents believe farmers like us and people like Andy jeopardize the planet's food system by espousing what they believe to be pathogen-laden, anti-scientific, Luddite models like pastured livestock and compost-grown tomatoes. The industrial food advocates truly believe that if more people eat from their backyard gardens and neighbors' pastures, we will have an epidemic of diseases that will destroy the human population either directly or indirectly through sickening plants and animals on factory farms.

What we're seeing is the battle heating up between heritage wisdom and the techno-cult. It's the age-old war between humility and hubris, east vs. west, nurturing vs. dominion, manipulation vs. respect, egocrentricity vs. sacredness. We are at Wounded Knee in the food system. Just look at HR 875 and you will see a Monstanto- sponsored direct assault on the garden President and Mrs. Obama just installed. I tried to send a response to a NYT Op-Ed last week assaulting free range hogs, but NYT would not print it.

Science is not objective. The USDA told us for 40 years that feeding dead cows to cows was a wonderful scientific breakthrough, only to give us mad cow. We're still feeding chicken manure and dead chickens by the truckload to cows, all with USDA and land grant university blessing. When Monsanto tried to patent wild rice that has been harvested by the Ojibwa Indian tribe for millenia, from their dug-out canoes floating under the rice canes drooping over native streams, that was evil. To force a Native American tribe to pay royalties to Monsanto to harvest something nature gave them for millenia is not a matter of gamesmanship or preference: it is evil.

When the government agents and attorneys general deny Americans the freedom to drink raw milk for food safety reasons, but applaud feeding Twinkies, Cocoa Puffs, and Mountain Dew as safe--that is not science. It is food prostitution of the worst degree. All of us in the clean food
production sector are feeling the U.S. Cavalry surrounding us: we are trying to preserve native food culture and heal soil. The new Cavalry comes with Sheriff's badges and FDA food Nazis who don't want food grown or purchased that heals land, body, and soul. They want irradiated, amalgamated, reconstituted, adulterated, artificially flavored and preserved, unpronouncable pseudo-food.

Our food represents true security: seed saving, healthy immune systems, healthy local economies. In a word, true independence. A community that can feed itself is ultimately
free, able to withstand the desire to turn people into slaves of global elitists. Yes, I realize this rheotoric now places me squarely in the camp of right wing extremists, according to the just-released Homeland Security assessment. But it's time all the greenies and foodies realized that the Donald Rumsfelds also run the FDA and USDA, wined and dined by Monsanto and company in a common fraternal agenda. The Ron Paul homeschool anti-Iraq war folks are now allying with the liberal greenies and foodies in a common understanding that the powers that
be are not friendly to freedom or security.

Unless, of course, freedom means doing what Monsanto says, and security means Naziism. This is strong language, but there is a domestic terrorist war going on, and the media is largely ignoring it. The terrorists sit in government leadership and corporate boardrooms, using gun toting law enforcement officials to prey on honest Americans seeking better food choices for their children and their 3 trillion member internal community of gastro-intestinal bacteria who are unfamiliar with 90 percent of the pseudo-food currently stocking supermarket shelves that can't even be made in a kitchen or didn't exist prior to 1900.

All our side is asking for is freedom. We are not a threat, any more than Native Americans were a threat to America at the time of Wounded Knee. But they represented a paradigm, a way of life, that left-over Conquistadors found repugnant. So attack and annihilation were the order of the day. The industrial food system is trying right now to either eradicate heritage food and failing that, at least put it on the reservation. Some of us will not go willingly.

This is more than I intended to write, but once I got into it, the juices flowed and I figured this might be my one big shot at someone who actually can actually help save us from our sophistication, hubris, and greed.

--By Joel Salatin


Wendy said...

Below is a GREAT response from a good friend and fellow "foodie" who I sent the article on Va Tech to this morning.......

Wee –

Thank you so much for forwarding this email – I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. As you know I have been a fan of the Salatins and Polyface Farm since my introduction to their food and philosophy while employed at Ellwood Thompson’s.

After joining Ellwood’s and reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, I have followed Joel via his letters on the Polyface website and various media outlets that have covered his farming practices. I applauded his position when he emailed the store manager of Charlottesville Whole Foods (at the time it was Jeff I believe) regarding packaging. It’s a shame that even WF had to be reminded that they were selling eggs, not the design concept of an egg carton. Unfortunately, it is my opinion that John Mackey started WF for the right reasons, but the organization has become a corporate engine – it’s all about the brand, the money, the management team and shareholders’ pockets.

Producers such as Polyface who offer food that’s healthy for the land, the animal, the human – body and soul – that ultimately nourishes all, could partner with local/regional retailers. As Joel has pointed out on many occasions, his model (the right model) doesn’t work if it is corporatized/nationalized. The local/regional concept has to be replicated again, and again. We need a consortium of producers and retailers, whether it be buying clubs, CSA’s, co-ops, traditional retailers, or a mix – local food systems need a distribution method that can be duplicated. (Side note- as you know, I no longer work for Ellwood Thompson’s, I’m not using this as a marketing tool for them here. Their management team could/should borrow Joel’s moral compass.)

That said, I’ll finish with my gratitude to Joel for sharing his knowledge and passion for feeding people the “right” way. I thank him for his unequivocal, brave voice, which he uses to succinctly point out the truth. Please share my sentiments with him if you have a chance and let him know that today, once again, I was reminded there’s a hero in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

If there is ever anything that I can do to support Joel in his efforts to get the word out through the sometime smoke screen-covered venue of free speech – let me know. I’m happy to help with a letter-writing campaign, etc.



Ps – sign me up for eggs and bacon :>

The Fool said...

Thanks for that, Joel. I think the NYT reporters will enjoy the Donald Rumsfeld analogy. I think the Times (without which we might not have heard of Michael Pollan) may be ready to hear this. But a lot of people haven't made the paradigm shift yet. (Ie., I recently wrote CSPI canceling my membership over their lobbying for field-to-market bar codes for produce. They didn't get it.)

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