“A sure sign sir, that we live in a mad mad world is when a person has sane ideas and he comes across as a revolutionary”
-Joe Rogan referring to Joel Salatin
Industrial versus biological agriculture
Charismatic farmer Joel Salatin recently appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast to discuss the philosophy behind his successful business, Polyface Farms, and the current ideology of the modern industrial food system. Salatin first came to widespread attention in the US when he was featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Palatin begins the interview with Rogan by making the revolutionary claim that animals are supposed to move. To anybody who has ever seen a deer run, or a bird fly, this statement seems so obvious that it is not even worth saying. Yet a majority of our entire food system is based around the practice of animal confinement where animals are indoors standing on concrete floors without access to such basic requirements as sunshine, fresh air or green grass. Some call it the industrial food system, and others call it factory farming, either way Salatin describes the primary flaw of that type of agriculture as viewing animals from a mechanical perspective instead of a biological perspective. Raising animals is not the same as building iPhones, and Salatin provides countless examples of why that is.
Nutrient dense and pasture raised
To briefly summarize the Polyface Farm philosophy, Salatin raises his animals outdoors on green grass, and he does this by letting multiple species of animal access a portion of pasture in successive waves. First the cows pass, then the layer chickens, followed by the meat chickens, next come the turkeys, and finally the pigs. All this movement is achieved through a form of intensive management that utilizes simple electric fencing. To highlight the benefits, Salatin describes the high nutrient density of pastured pork versus factory pork. The pork industry had the famous slogan, “pork, the other white meat”, yet the absurdity of this slogan is evident in the fact that pork should be pink and not white. The pink color results from blood flow through the tissues and occurs only when the animals get regular exercise. This pink color also is an indicator of iron in the meat, so the pork industry was attempting to sell their product by boasting of the low nutrient content of their meat. Salatin provided many other examples such as the high folic acid levels of pastured versus factory eggs, and the high riboflavin level of pastured versus factory beef. I find it fascinating that Salatin claims riboflavin has calming effects, we don’t each much pastured beef in the US, and we don’t seem like a very calm society do we? A demonstration of food as medicine perhaps?
Increasingly people are becoming familiar with the food label, “free of antibiotics”, but have you ever wondered why all our food has antibiotics in it to begin with? According to Salatin the excessive use of antibiotics is simply a result of highly crowded animal confinement. The poor air quality in these dirty environments is abrasive to animal lungs, and as a result pathogens are able to invade the animals through their damaged lungs. Rather than viewing animals from a biological perspective the industrial food industry views animal sickness as a mechanical problem. Instead of simply giving the animals access to fresh air they decided to give them a steady diet of drugs to fight off the inevitable pathogen illnesses. Bacteria are not all bad, Salatin explains that giving the animals access to pasture, or even using compostable bedding are simple methods that can be used to let the good micro organisms defeat the bad. In fact, he states that the default mode of nature is for health and not disease. We only perceive this constant battle against disease because we have developed systems that allow pathogens to thrive.
I really hope you can take the time to listen to this podcast because my summary can’t adequately convey the importance of Salatin’s message, which is basically that the industrial system of agriculture is bad for the animals, bad for the planet, and therefore bad for us. He explained his philosophy best by paraphrasing Sir Albert Howard, known as one of the founders of modern organic agriculture: “when you use artificial manure (fertilizers) in the soil it makes artificial plants, which make artificial animals, which then become food that makes artificial people who can only stay alive using artificials”. Howard said that during the 1940s, and that is where we are today isn’t it? We are a society of people heavily dependent on pharmaceuticals.
Old knowledge seems new
From Ayurveda we now have access to knowledge of a preventive medical system that uses food as medicine. These concepts seems new to many of us because we are unfamiliar with them, yet they have existed for thousands of years. I see parallels to this in the paleo food movement, which is now adopting diet and lifestyle practices based on the daily routines of our ancient ancestors. Joel Salatin, who uses the term “Integrity Food” to describe his style of agriculture, is another example of this since he is now seen as a revolutionary farmer in this age of industrial agriculture. The funny thing is that he often borrows his ideas from agriculture books written prior to the 1950s. This has all been done before, in fact it was the only way that it was done before, but our view of the natural world has been so twisted and dominated by profit driven corporations that we think of Salatin as a pioneer. This is exactly what the Rogan quote at the beginning was referring to. We do live in a mad mad world, but fortunately with a little extra effort and education we can still have access to a high quality, and environmentally responsible food supply.
For more about this topic read my earlier post: Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 2, Meat