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Over the years, my family has gotten steadily better at giving gifts (of course, the only way you can go is up after giving someone a 3 foot tall nutcracker). This year, in addition to a good novel, a hand-me-down Camelback, a pre-opened bag of quinoa, and a healthy dose of chocolate, among other things, I got a copy of Joel Salatin’s Everything I Want to do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front. My sister pick remarkably well: it’s a book that I had forgotten I wanted to read, and one that I’m too cheap to buy for myself and which the Tallahassee Public Library certainly doesn’t have. As I’ve been missing my bees and sugar snap peas in Florida, I’ve started reading it, complete with one very fluffy cat on my lap.
In case it’s been a while since you’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which is an absolute must-read for anyone who eats food), Joel Salatin was the badass farmer in the book who’s leading the way in management-intensive rotational grazing (for those of you who don’t know: this is a fancy term for letting cows, pigs, goats, chickens, etc. eat grass–what they were made to eat, in other words, before we started force-feeding them corn and other animals–and moving them around often enough that they don’t kill an entire pasture. It’s what we do for our cows and poultry at Warren Wilson).
The main point of the book, as far as I can tell, is that all of the things that sound really good–drinking raw milk fresh from the cow, eating beef that is butchered and sold at the same place where it’s been grass fed, employing local young people as farmhands, teaming up with other local food and craft producers to sell a variety of products from one farm, building small houses, using composting toilets–are illegal in America. Many, many small farms have been shut down for violations of such things, and nearly everyone involved in the Good Food Movement has a story to tell about buying expensive raw milk cheese that’s labelled “for use as pet food only” or buying fresh free-range eggs from a farmer under cover of night. I’m not kidding. It’s actually that bad.
Joel Salatin has been at the center of such nonsense for 40 years, and it has made him brilliant, feisty, and little bit paranoid. Still, he’s pretty fabulous. He describes himself as a “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer.” In the introduction, he talk about wanting young folks today to be able to “catch a vision of a righteous food system, a healing agrarianism, a local farm food ministry.” And here’s my favorite quote so far:
“That we’ve become an exercise-machine-only culture, not to mention Nintendo and cyber-creation, is probably setting us up for a collision course with newly virulent industrial-strain pathogens at the very time when we are least able to handle them. We should be rolling in the dirt, gardening, wrestling with some brambles and skinning animals for supper. These are important immune system builders.”
Can I get an “amen”?
This link might work to get you to the essay that was the first seed of the book. It’s worth reading. Keep in mind that Joel is a little bit crazy:
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