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.
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.