The Local Food Report: where we're headed

Do you remember my friend Drew from last week? The one who wants to raise organic, grass-fed chickens in Truro and sell broilers for meat and use the layers for eggs? Well, today I'd like to introduce you to the man who inspired him.

His name is Joel Salatin and in the farming world, he's kind of a big deal. He's the farmer who Michael Pollan profiled in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, for the chapter about pastured meat, and also the farmer who refused to ship a broiler from where he raised it in the Shenendoah Valley of Virginia to where Pollan lived in Berkeley, California. Pollan wanted to taste the chicken for his book, and Salatin explained that the author was welcome to do so anywhere within a four hour radius of Polyface Farm. Salatin feels very strongly about selling the food he raises only within his local foodshed.

Actually, come to think of it, Salatin feels pretty strongly about most things. He thinks that we're awfully arrogant to think that we can treat the earth the way we do, and to think that it won't have any consequences down the road. There's an old Chinese proverb he likes to quote, something along the lines of if we don't change our direction, we're likely to end up where we're headed. It's as close as he'll come to prophesizing a collapse.

When I met him this fall at Cape Cod Community College, he talked mostly about this arrogance, and the problems he thinks it's caused. He thinks that trying to shortcut nature, particularly when it comes to what we farm and in turn what we eat, is the cause of a lot of our current health problems. He looks at the industrial food system, and the way it has manipulated things like potatoes and corn into chips and soft drinks, and sees a fairly direct link to type two diabetes and obesity. And he looks at recent outbreaks of e. coli and listeria and bovine spongiform encephalopathy and sees a fairly direct link between them and the way we let animals stand around in their own feces eating corn they aren't meant to digest on factory farms. He also sees a connection between our environmental worries—climate change and flooding and drought and all sorts of wacky weather patterns—and the fact that we now use 15 calories of energy to produce a single calorie of food. Food should be a net producer of calories, he says, not a net consumer. Finally, he takes a look at our landscapes and sees a link between suburban sprawl and the Peruvian apples on our tables. If we valued locally grown food, he says, there would be an economic incentive to preserve open space.

It all makes a good amount of sense, I think.

But his best point—and the one he uses to try and tip real skeptics over the edge—is that even if we have decided that we're okay with sucking up oil and getting a bad case of salmonella every once in a while, from a community standpoint, we still aren't safe. The idea of a global foodshed—one in which to feed itself our little town of Wellfleet has to rely on imports from five or ten or fifteen other countries, instead of just Barnstable county or maybe Massachusetts or even New England—isn't safe. What if there's a war, or maybe a transportation glitch? Suddenly, we have nothing to eat.

It's pretty scary, if you think about it. It makes me admire people like Salatin and Drew even more, people who are doing what they can—inspiring or learning or coming up with business plans—to try and change the way things work. I read this quote the other day, from Tolstoy. Everyone thinks of changing the world, he said, but no one thinks of changing himself. It's a good point, and a good reminder that sometimes, it's the small actions that count. Sometimes, even, when the pickled beets are homemade from your garden and the eggs come from down the street, actions as small as making up a plate of beet-pickled deviled eggs can make a difference.


adapted from this recipe published in Gourmet, November 2009

If you don't have any pickled beets on hand, check out the original recipe (through that link up above). It gives a step by step for making the pickling juice. If you do have pickled beets on hand, though, the beets make an excellent double appetizer with the eggs.

12 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
pickling juice from 1 quart pickled beets
1/3 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon sweet, whole-grained mustard like Raye's Fall Harvest blend
2 scallions, minced (roughly 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon white pepper
salt to taste

Find a bowl or container that has a cover and will hold all 12 hard-boiled eggs. Put the eggs in the container, pour the pickling juice over top, and put the eggs in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours. If the pickling juice doesn't quite cover the eggs, spin them every once in a while so that they turn a deep pink color all over.

Pull the container of eggs out of the fridge and pat them dry on a paper towel or old dishcloth. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and, using a spoon and taking care not to rip the whites, scoop the yolks out into a small mixing bowl. Arrange the whites on a serving platter, face up. Beat the mayonnaise, mustard, scallions, and pepper into the egg yolks, and season with salt to taste. Using either a spoon or a cake piping kit, fill the wholes of the whites with the yolk mixture. Serve chilled.


Dave Whitney said...

Excellent post Elspeth! Now I'm sorry I missed Mr. Salatin when APCC invited him here.

Jen (emsun.org) said...

Quite a lovely post!

Unknown said...

Hi Elspeth,

We are putting together a winter market in Marstons Mills and I'd love to talk to you further about it. Please email me at thebestdamngranola@gmail.com and I'll give you all the details.
Looking forward to hearing from you

Alexandra Grabbe said...

Hi, Elspeth. I enjoyed this post. Strange, because the very next day I wrote about the very same thing, but coming at it from a different angle. Sven and I watched Food Inc. Have you seen that film? Everyone should. I was especially shocked by the fact Monsanto owns the patents for 90% of our seed stock and their seeds are genetically modified, so that farmers who want to grow organic soybeans, for instance, have a hard time doing so. Hold-outs get sued when they are unable to prove they have not planted "legal" seed. You can find my post about this here: http://chezsven.blogspot.com/2010/01/look-what-you-missed.html

natalie said...

could one perhaps lightly tap and break the hard boiled eggs' shells before submersion for a splintery crackled pattern of beet juice? I'm certainly going to try

Elspeth said...

Dave, you did miss a good talk, but from what I've gathered many of his talks are along the same lines, so I have a feeling you could also get a good listen somewhere online. He is a fascinating man, I think.

Jen, thank you!

Cyndi, that is incredibly exciting news. I will drop you an email today, so that we can tell everyone else!

Alexandra: Monsanto is pretty scary, you're right. What's even more interesting is the adds they've been airing on NPR recently—about protecting the environment and on and on. Sounds like an attempt at a serious public image makeover to me. It's nice to see some overlap between our posts!

Natalie, I think that might work excellently. I don't really think you can go wrong with plain whites and such a stunner of a pink. Let us know how it goes!

Hope everyone is happy and healthy...

All the best,

Kathy said...

FABULOUS!!! Loved by the whole family!
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Shan said...

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