Brown Bag Monday: Farm City

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I found out about the book Farm City by Novella Carpenter through the Sacramento Slow Foods Book Club. I finished it today and I’m looking forward to the book club meeting this Thursday to discuss it. Here are some of the things reading this book made me think about.

As an omnivore it’s just as important to know where your meat comes from and how it was raised as it is to know about where your fruits and vegetables came from and how they were grown. In fact it seems to be more important: “Rearing Cattle Produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars” 2006 United Nations Report.

So while eating a tomato grown in Mexico and trucked to California certainly raises it’s carbon footprint (and ensures it will be bland and tasteless), it’s nothing compared to what goes into the production of the typical one pound of beef in the US as this Time Magizine article mentions in it’s final paragraph (the rest of the article gives hope to what could be possible if we purchase grass fed beef).

I believe that the economy we have created for huge agribusiness meat companies like Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, or Cargill Meat Solutions have ensured we have completely forgotten about the sacrifice these animals have made to feed us. As Novella quotes from Margaret Visser “When the meal includes meat and especially if the animal is ‘known’ to us, death can be dramatic. In order to affect people, such a death must be witnessed by them, and not suffered out of sight as we now arrange matters; attention is deliberately drawn, by means of ritual and ceremony, to the performance of killing. This is what is meant by ‘sacrifice,’ literally, the ‘making sacred’ of an animal consumed for dinner.” I suspect that the vast majority of $1.99/pound Foster Farms chicken has not been treated with the respect that animals sacrifice meant for us – at least I know I’m guilty.

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Compare that to $5.99 per pound grass fed ground beef and I think a few things will happen. First, you may eat more fruits and vegetables (not a terrible thing). Secondly you’ll probably always know the expiration date and when it needs to be cooked or put in the freezer! Last, I bet you’ll find yourself planning more grand recipes for it and cooking it with just a bit more care and attention.

Finally Novella’s book makes me think about the health and welfare of our meat animals during their short lives. If all you think about is the end product in terms of pounds of meat provided, then it makes no difference if your chicken is truly free range, if your pig got to wallow in the mud, or if your cow got to eat grass. After all, the goal of raising any farm animal for meat is to slaughter it, butcher it, sell it, and to do all of this as quickly as possible since it costs money for the farmer to feed and raise these animals.

But if you look deeper and realize that the sow that suckled the pork you ate never got to stand up in her entire life then you might reconsider your food buying choices.

Reading Farm City makes me want to at least get chicken layers so I can get my own fresh eggs out of my back yard. After a few years when my hen isn’t producing anymore, I can kill it quickly and humanely and turn it into some great soup. This seems infinitely better than only buying boneless skinless mass produced chicken breasts that are low in omegas and low in flavor.

That said, as a modern city dweller, I’ve been removed from the killing of what I eat for my entire life except for a couple of fish I caught myself. This makes me wonder how much meat I’d eat if I had to kill it myself. Still I know that I  don’t want to become vegetarian either; talk about a conundrum.

At any rate, I’d highly recommended reading Novella’s book. I realize I probably haven’t even told you what it’s about, but that’s OK, pick it up and read it anyway, then tell me what you think. I’ll leave you with this. “Urban farms have to be added together in order to make a farm. So when I say that I’m an urban ‘farmer,’ I’m depending on other urban farmers, too.”

Finally the wonderful healthy happy farm animals you see in these photos are from Coffee Pot Ranch in Sheridan. We drove up there last Wednesday and chatted with Bob and Shirley for over an hour. I can confirm that they care a great deal about the well-being of the animals they are raising. We’ll be featuring their ranch in our post this Friday. In the meantime you can find their meats at any of the Foot Hill Farmer’s markets. Lolo’s Mom met them at the Roseville Farmer’s market held on Tuesdays in the Fountains shopping center.

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Lolo’s Dad

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8 thoughts on “Brown Bag Monday: Farm City

  1. Sondra and I met Bob awhile back at The Fountains farmer’s market. Really great guy. I love this post and that’s a great question.

    • Glad you liked the post! We had a great time hanging out with Shirley and Bob. Really less of an interview and more just spending quality time with them on their farm.

  2. Farm City is probably my favorite of all the farm memoirs I’ve read. (I can’t get enough of them, it seems.) I love Novella’s personality and writing and I enjoy following her blog as well.

  3. Very interesting post. Myself and my partner try to be environmentally friendly, and the amount of water and other resources going into beef production bothers us a lot (incidentally, if you must eat beef, grass-fed beef, like that from Ireland where I come from, is much more environmentally friendly that the US way ). We don’t have the money to eat organic meat, so we have reduced our redmeat consumption. Not easy though, I love a nice steak! 🙂

  4. Hey guys, one of your biggest fans here from a little-known state called Wyoming; ever heard of it?…just kidding, I know you have, I’m so excited you’ve become so passionate about these topics as have I over the last half-decade; we shall have PLENTY to talk about this summer at our little get-together.

    We watched “Vegucated” last night, a documentary on Netflix (one month free trial so there’s no excuse not to check it out). It is a great movie and very motivating. A slight majority of it is light-hearted, but there’s nightmarish parts that will probably stick with you the rest of your life. Yes, you guessed it, the slaughterhouse and factory farm footage. They were able to get actual footage inside the walls, which is the truly amazing thing about low-budget documentaries. Oprah couldn’t get in, but these people did. We were both near tears watching the treatment of the animals, and I’m not usually a sensitive-Sally when it comes to those things.

    I’ve always looked at what’s right and wrong with society based on how humans evolved, if what we’re doing is consistent with how our primitive ancestors went about things, then I consider it good; If not, then it’s most likely bad. I’ve justified to myself that the consumption of animal foods is natural because our ancestors absolutely relied on it to survive. Through hunting, I’ve taken animals from frolicking in the meadows, to life over, to packing out on my back, to aging in my garage, to the cutting board, to the freezer, to the dinner plate, and I felt so good about it and proud. I felt that I was part of the circle of life and fully understood the whole process. The above mentioned documentary has made me question that whole paradigm. The documentary pointed out that for most of our evolution we stayed isolated to equatorial regions where plant food and resources were available throughout the year. Then, for whatever reason – probably climate change, we ventured north to colder climates where there were no longer plants available in the cold months and thus we adapted by taking animals to sustain during those periods of cold. Great, nice job ancestors, your adaptability is truly amazing. But the era of meat-eating on the anthropological time scale pales in comparison to the original plant-eating era, or so the theory goes. So here we are today when, because of globalization and transportation, we once again have plants available at any time during the year. So you have to ask yourself, “do we really need to be eating animals?” Especially when the health and environmental repercussions are becoming pretty well-understood? So I don’t think the “we’re carnivores, it’s only natural” argument holds much weight when one comes to this realization. If I could get over the cultural hurdles of going Vegan (not just vegetarian, but VEGAN), I’d do it in a second. Or at least that’s how I feel now after watching that damn movie, it’ll probably wear off in a couple months, and I’ll be back to nice, comfy, blissful, steak-eating ignorance.

    Everyone go watch Graham Hill’s short talk on TED, “Why I’m a weekday vegetarian”.

    Looking forward to following your blog!

    • Hey Adam,

      Nice to know you are following us! We will check out Vegucated. It is a very interesting idea you bring up about looking to the past to help us determine how we should behave in the future. That seems to be the foundation of much of the current diet advice, like the paleo diet. One I ascribe to, is “if your Grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, don’t eat it!” Another interesting element to that idea is how humans have evolved to eat new foods since the invention of agriculture. The most cited example is the fact that many humans can digest dairy now (including myself, happily) as we have evolved alongside milk producing animals. I find it fascinating that within the human population now we have people who can digest lactose and those who can not. Its a snapshot in time that seems to show evolution in progress. (But as I write that I can see some of my anthropology professors having a problem with that statement ;)) So a question I grapple with is how do we marry the two: (pre)historical guidance on how we behave with the current demands society has place on our food systems. I certainly don’t have an answer, but I do know one thing for sure, CAFOs are not it. -Lolo’s Mom

      • The answer is to put science and humanity ahead of profit and monetary economics when making public policy decisions (or at least put them on a level playing field), but that’s a-WHOLE-nother blog, wouldn’t want to start swearing on a good-spirited blog such as yours!

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