Celebrity sighting: Joel Salatin at the Paramount


Joel Salatin spoke at the Paramount in C’ville last Saturday morning, and Momma HP and I were there. Here’s the official event description:

Field School of Charlottesville is hosting Joel Salatin for a talk on “Healthy Boys” on Saturday, May 17th at 10:30 a.m. at the Paramount.  Salatin, who is featured in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma as well the documentary film Food, Inc., is a full-time farmer and the owner of Polyface Farm of Augusta County, Virginia.  An outspoken proponent of non-industrial food production, Salatin will provide his thoughts on what we can do to develop healthy boys, through good nutrition, exercise, and raising good food.  Lunch will be provided to all participants following the presentation.  Field School is a 5th-8th Grade middle school for boys “developing well-rounded boys of character and accomplishment.  The event is sponsored by Field Camp, Blue Ridge Swim Club, Ashtanga Yoga, Mudhouse Coffee, and the Local Food Hub.

The bits specific to raising healthy boys weren’t so applicable to us (although Momma HP has a strapping young grandson), but there was plenty of improve-the-food-system and get-outdoors-and-play talk to keep us happy.


My main takeaways

Personal health

Eat real food. He told a vermicomposting story where the worms wouldn’t eat the processed snack food and it survived the composting process intact, and asked us to think about 1) why would we eat something a worm wouldn’t eat, and 2) why we would want to eat food that won’t rot–meaning, there’s nothing alive in it.

Or think of it as fueling your system with real food. We humans are host to about 100 trillion bacteria–in fact, our bodies are only 10% human–and we need to support those bacteria by feeding them quality food. The influence of gut bacteria on your body reaches far beyond digestion. Bacterial health may be related to chronic disease: malnourished digestive bacteria may allow toxins to leak into the bloodstream, causing a low-level inflammation which may lead to many of the chronic diseases prevalent today. Gut health may be linked to neurological health: “leaky gut” may contribute to depression, and gut bacteria may be able to influence our behavior. Salatin also encouraged the audience (who were sitting in a dark room on a beautiful day, I noted to myself) to get outside and play in the dirt, and pet some animals! Expose yourself to a broader range of microbes.

I recommend reading this article by Michael Pollan for a thorough discussion of one’s personal microbiome: Some of My Best Friends Are Germs. It’s a fascinating and important topic about which science is only just starting to learn.


Food system health

Care about what you eat. We, as a society, have abdicated responsibility for our food production. Why do we spend more time worrying over, for example, who should do work on our house than who produces the food that goes into our bodies? Start a garden and grow some produce, buy from your local farmers markets and small groceries, and even visit area farms themselves to see how the food is produced–and, of course, how the animals are treated. Try to eat food that you can look at and tell what it’s made from. Question the origin of those ingredients you can’t pronounce. Be mindful of what you’re consuming.

Here are some suggestions for simple ways to regain some control over your food.


Food’s impact on American healthcare

Americans are spending less on food and more on healthcare than ever before. 

This article shows Americans’ decreasing spending trends on food; this articleand this one discuss the meteoric rise in obesity and its associated healthcare costs in this country. People are buying more cheap, processed, sugary, chemically food and paying for it with their health. Do you think the two are related? If you doubt it, here’s another article.


And then we took our enchiladas out to Lee Park and sat on a bench in the sun. If you have the opportunity to see Salatin speak, go! Even if the topic seems slightly irrelevant, and especially if they give you lunch.

Another day…

…another scary article about foods that are poisoning you. Prevention Magazine asked seven food safety experts to name a food they avoid, and while most answers were nothing shocking, a couple made me think, namely the potatoes and apples.

I try to buy local and organic whenever I can, but if I see a display of local potatoes or apples next to organic, non-local versions, I’ll generally choose from the local pile, even without the organic label. I guess I shouldn’t assume that local produce is organic, and that local always trumps non-local/organic. As if I needed my produce shopping to be more complicated.

I liked the article’s closing, a great refute to the “organic is too expensive” argument:

If you can’t afford organic, be sure to wash and peel them. But Kastel personally refuses to compromise. “I would rather see the trade-off being that I don’t buy that expensive electronic gadget,” he says. “Just a few of these decisions will accommodate an organic diet for a family.”

The list of foods to avoid:

  1. Canned tomatoes
  2. Corn-fed beef (yay Joel Salatin!)
  3. Microwave popcorn
  4. Non-organic potatoes
  5. Farmed salmon
  6. Milk produced with artificial hormones
  7. Conventional apples

The Omnivore’s Dilemma QotD

If you think eating responsibly is too expensive–

The ninety-nine-cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn’t take account of that meal’s true cost–to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves…

…for if quality matters so much more than quantity, then the price of a food may bear little relation to the value of the nutrients in it. If units of omega-3s and beta-carotene and vitamin E are what an egg shopper is really after, then Joel’s $2.20 a dozen pastured eggs actually represent a much better deal than the $0.79 a dozen industrial eggs at the supermarket.

from p. 200-201, Grass: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pasture; and p.269, The Meal: Grass Fed.

In the news

Haute Pasture has been busy preparing for a trip to Asia. While we are slacking on the real posts, here are some headlines:

‘We Support Agriculture’ combats animal rights initiatives in Nebraska: A new political action group, formed by the Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Poultry Industries, Nebraska Pork Producers Association and the Nebraska State Dairy Association, is organizing to protect themselves from regulations, such as the banning of gestation crates.

Kaparot: Jewish leaders want to end animal killing: Some Jewish leaders are calling for the end of the kaparot tradition, in which chickens are ritually slaughtered. Jewish law is strict about the care of animals, and many feel kaparot is abusive.

‘Food, Inc.’ Wins News and Documentary Emmy Award: Good review of the documentary from Audubon Magazine’s blog.

Hoping to learn and post some insights about farm animal rights in Asia over the next couple weeks!

The Ominvore’s Dilemma QotD

(From Slaughter: In a Glass Abattoir, p. 235)

Like fresh air and sunshine, Joel believes transparency is a more powerful disinfectant than any regulation or technology. It is a compelling idea. Imagine if the walls of every slaughterhouse and animal factory were as transparent as Polyface’s–if not open to the air then at least made of glass. So much of what happens behind those walls–the cruelty, the carelessness, the filth–would simply have to stop.

Moral: It’s just another reason to buy meat and dairy products from your local farmer. A farmer who knows that customers could appear at anytime has extra incentive to keep the farm clean and humane.

American Meat movie!

A movie about Polyface Farms and Joel Salatin! With Temple Grandin!

http://www.americanmeatfilm.com/ (We especially enjoyed the pictures of the animals. Not your average farm life!)

American Meat explores the complexities embedded in the highly debated practices of the American meat industry. As the economy drives a contraction of conventional chicken, pork and beef operations, we hear the innovative methods of the charismatic, Virginia-based farmer, Joel Salatin. Joel, who is a leader of the growing niche of people who are opting for animals raised outside and without the use of antibiotics, believes that if more people become sustainable farmers, the movement could fracture centralized commodity production. Conventional farmers argue that small-scale farming can’t expand production enough to adequately meet the demands of the nation. As the dialogue ensues, Salatin signs a deal with fast-food chain Chipotle in a surprising move, with widespread implications for the industry.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knNLZvphhfs&feature=player_embedded

“Know your farmer and just completely opt out of the system.”

Makes me want to give up my “Dilbert-cubicle job.”

More info:





Joel Salatin on community food systems

Haute Pasture was fortunate recently to hear Joel Salatin speak to a small group of supporters of the local-food movement. Joel Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farms, an innovative farm specializing in organic, pasture-based meats and eggs. You may recognize the name Polyface, as it was a featured farm in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Salatin is also a gifted speaker, and travels the country lecturing on topics ranging from technical cattle farming how-tos, to instruction for the lay person on how to be a farm-friendly consumer. On this night, he spoke to us about the importance of sourcing your food locally, and how commercial food production and uneducated consumers are heading down a dark road.

Most people in our society don’t know or care where their food comes from: similar to other modern comforts we take for granted, such as energy, water, and waste disposal, we don’t think about its origin or impact on the environment, we just use it. People don’t cook anymore; they just open a box and put it in the microwave. Numbers are skyrocketing of diseases stemming from diet: diabetes, especially childhood diabetes, heart disease, obesity.

As Salatin pointed out, eating is humans’ most intimate activity. Things you consume are integrated into your body, and directly affect your personal chemistry. How have people become so casual about the terrible things they’re introducing into their internal systems? Modern attitudes about eating reflect modern attitudes about many things: we want it bigger, we want it cheaper, and we want it now! It’s inconvenient to worry about the quality, origin, and nutritious value of your food, right? Advertising is all over the place to tell consumers it’s okay to buy the processed junk found in the grocery store or fast food restaurant. Sadly, the government sends the same message. The USDA (Salatin calls it the US-Duh) encourages farms to grow produce and animals faster, fatter, bigger, and cheaper. They give the impression that they’re looking out for consumers: they allow flu shots in schools, but they also allow soda machines in those same schools. By endorsing factory farms, they teach us that life is just a mechanical thing to be manipulated or dominated. The FDA (or as Salatin calls it–can you guess?–the F-Duh) is an accomplice. They are the food police that dictate that raw milk isn’t safe, but Twinkies and Coke are. President Obama’s Food Czar is a Monsanto man, and now (coincidentally?) we have a Food Modernization Act which does have positive provisions, but places new costly, onerous regulations on mid-sized farmers, when virtually zero outbreaks of tainted food stem from small- and mid-sized farms. The act emphasizes the value of food produced using sound science–why not emphasize nature instead?

If we all turned to community food systems, we could solve many of Americans’ health problems, while benefiting the communities themselves, along with livestock and the environment. We need to educate consumers on the interconnectedness of soil, food, and health. Salatin called it “field to fork” eating. Soil needs to be nurtured, as it hosts an unseen world of  insects, arthropods, and bacteria. Animals who are raised in settings that mimic their natural habitats are the most happy, and impart the chemical advantages of that happiness to us through their meat, eggs, and milk. Communities gain from the revenue generated from production, processing, and retail sales of local food, and consumers can feel secure that they’re getting fresher, safer, more humanely-treated food because local food systems are more transparent than remote agricultural corporations. If a consumer can walk into a local farm, cannery, butchery, or abattoir, those businesses are forced to be transparent in their processes and accountable to customers.

Salatin gave several examples of ways food can be integrated into communities. Italy has gardens and Mexico tethers milk cows along highways, areas which America keeps mowed, wasting petroleum and biomass. A Belgian project gave chickens to families, and not only did the chickens provide the households with fresh eggs, but they helped with yard bug populations, and ate kitchen waste. Prisoners could be turned into farmers: America has twice the number of prisoners as farmers, so why not plant apple and pear trees along highways and let prisoners tend them?

People who are stuck in the rut of making unhealthy, irresponsible food choices may not want to hear Salatin’s message, but it’s an important one, and we, as citizens of Earth, are lucky that he has such a busy speaking schedule. If you’re reading this, then it’s not likely that you’re stuck in that rut, so congratulations, and please continue to support local agriculture!

How farms should be: Polyface, Inc.

You may have heard of the Salatins and Polyface Farms from the farm’s feature in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Building their family farm from scratch, the Salatins formed strong principles regarding how a farm should treat both its denizens and customers. They believe that the earth and animals should be respected, so they allow the livestock free-range access to foods that they would naturally eat in the wild, and they compost and encourage healthy soil. They also respect customers, and do not ship food in order to give consumers the freshest possible food, and therefore the best possible experience.

All animals, including chickens, cows, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs, at Polyface are allowed to eat as much grass as they’d like. Cows are moved to new grazing areas daily, and chickens roll in behind them to enjoy the newly-cropped grass. As the chickens graze and scratch, they break up the manure, cleansing the ground. Pigs root through the fermenting hay and corn bedding in the cows’ shed, aerating it, and turning it into rich compost that is used around the farm. Poultry birds’ diets are supplemented with local grain, and the rabbits are specially bred to thrive on a roughage-only diet.

To get the best sense for how Polyface operates, visit the farm for a special tour, and if you live in the area, be sure to patronize restaurants that purchase Polyface products.