In May, I went to Iowa, primarily to learn more about so-called conventional agriculture, those thousand-acre farms growing corn and soybeans, planted, tended and harvested largely by machine. (We have plenty of the other type — what’s variously called traditional, or alternative, or non-conventional — in the Northeast.) But thanks to an auspicious combination of topsoil, climate, topography and weather, Iowa is among the best locales for farming in North America, and I saw a wide range of practices.
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(Photo Credit: Quentin Origami via Flickr)
If you’re not already anti-factory-farming, this will do it: The Humane Society just released an undercover investigation (watch the video if you can stomach it, or scroll down the link to find the full report) into the obscene abuses of female breeding pigs and piglets by Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest (and probably most profitable) producer of pork. The video leaves me pretty much speechless.(More links here, at Vegan.com.)
I’m usually not one to cry “boycott,” but if you, like Paula Deen, are a Smithfield supporter – in fact, if you’re still eating industrially raised pork (or chicken or beef or fish for that matter) – get real. Any industry (and Smithfield is hardly alone, though it does seem to be performing most egregiously) that operates with such infuriating disregard for the welfare of their animals deserves all the trouble we can muster.
Check out this James McWillams article called Why Free-Range Meat Isn’t Much Better Than Factory-Farmed. McWilliams says that “when it comes to farming methods and harm, free range is better,” but “better does not mean acceptable.” He goes on to suggest that it is nearly as harmful and morally dubious to kill a factory-farmed animal as it is to kill one that was not raised in confinement (follow his logic from start to finish and see what you think.)
As far as I know, McWilliams is a vegan. If he wants to personally and/or publicly object to raising animals for food that we don’t need, I have no problem with that. I understand and appreciate that a notable contrarian like McWilliams needs to be careful about flat-out telling people what to do, but in a way I’d have a lot more respect for this article if it were called Be A Vegan. By working to discredit free-range farming, he is in practice giving us all an excuse to buy into a system of industrial livestock production that he admits is worse. McWilliams may be right that none of it is perfect, but if it’s truly a more moral and less harmful system that he’s after, wouldn’t his time (and ours) be a lot better spent rallying against what’s worse (and ubiquitous) than picking on what’s better (and small)?
I’d really love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Please post them in the comments section below.
(Photo Credit: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project via Flickr)
Food and Water Watch just released this amazing interactive factory farm map of the United States, which is fascinating and terrifying at the same time – I can’t stop clicking through it. Below “the fold” are some eye-opening numbers that come attached to the map. I’ve been doing some digging of my own, but it’s (quite literally) tons of, shall we say, waste to wade through.
Take the map for a spin, and if you find anything interesting, or surpising, or frightening, or hopeful – please post it in the comments section.
Beef ranchers are complaining that the domestic market is “withering,” and therefore the quality of meat will decline.
This, of course, assumes that we’re not smart enough to buy better beef. From many perspectives – that of the person who wants only organic beef; that of one who wants only local beef; that of one who wants grass-fed beef, or “natural” beef, or humanely raised beef, or all of the above – the price of “normal” (that is, industrially-raised) beef is already too low. Suppose one wanted higher quality beef, and were willing to pay for it? Suppose one were willing to eat less beef in order to keep one’s food budget more-or-less stable? Wouldn’t a decline in industrially raised beef be OK? And who cares if it becomes even “worse?” It’s already produced with almost no concern for quality.
By Barry Estabrook
All’s Fair: Cloned Cow Wins Iowa 4-H Competition
One of my favorite events at our rural county’s annual agricultural fair is when the youthful 4-H club members show their prized cattle. Well-scrubbed teenagers clad in white shoes, white pants, and white shirts proudly lead their well-groomed bovines into the arena where they are judged and ribbons awarded. You almost expect to see a pipe-puffing Normal Rockwell peering from behind his easel on the sidelines.
I don’t think I would have gotten the same warm, nostalgic feeling at Iowa State Fair a few weeks ago. Tyler Faber, age 17, took home the blue ribbon in the “Big Steer” category for a 1,320-pound behemoth named Doc. The beefy steer, it turned out, was a clone.
By Edward Schneider
Look at the pictures above, of the chicken house at Flying Pigs Farm in upstate New York.
Now read this.
Do you see why those who have recently been deriding “locavores” as cranks are missing the point? It isn’t always about carbon footprint or ideology: it is often just about plain good food.