Friday, 22 July 2011
There's what in my chicken?!
I just recently finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. I read In Defense of Food, which he wrote afterwards, last year, and loved it. Dilemma didn't grab me quite as quickly, but once it did, I couldn't put it down. In a nutshell, it's about where our food comes from, what it's really made of, and what it goes through to get to our tables. It forces you to take an uncomfortably hard look at just what exactly you're eating, and feeding your family, and calls out the ridiculously unsustainable mentality of industrial agriculture.
And now I find myself observing that phenomenon (is there a name for it?) where you learn about something, and then you suddenly start seeing it pop up everywhere. Two of the blogs I regularly follow, SouleMama and Cold Antler Farm (look for the "American Meat" video post) have mentioned Polyface Farm this week- the "beyond organic" farm Pollan visits in the middle of the book to explore the alternative to Big Industrial food production- where birds, pigs, cows and rabbits are raised in a symphonic dance with the land. Not only do Polyface's animals not deplete the farm's land, but, by careful management, they actually sustain its health and are naturally restoring it from desiccation. It's an inspiring read, folks, if you're at all interested in why there's bleach in your chicken and a federally acceptable level of feces in your beef.
Don't get the impression that I'm an organic purist. The unfortunate fact is that, as much as I'd like to get all our meat from the hormone-free butcher and all my produce from local organic farmers, financially it's just not possible, for us and for most other families out there I'm sure. It's a balancing act. I've found this list of the "Dirty Dozen" to be helpful in prioritizing what produce to spend the extra money on for the organic label, and what foods aren't worth it. Peaches, for example, are loaded with pesticides and worth buying organic, whereas avocados are pretty safe to buy conventionally (probably because we don't eat the skin).
Something that's taking up more and more space in my dreams for the future is growing our own food. As I've started to research it more and learn from those out there who are already doing it, I've realized it requires very little land to keep bees, chickens, rabbits, and to grow a garden capable of significantly supplementing a small family's summer groceries. It's got to be the best way to actually know what's in your food- if you're up for it. Of course that means there's more involved in going away than just locking your front door, and it means caring for those animals every single day and explaining to your children what's going to happen to them eventually (if you're raising meat animals), but I'm starting to feel like that is all a small price to pay (and maybe not even a price at all) for living closer to the land and nourishing our souls as we nourish our bodies.