Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Omnivore's Dilemma book discussion - Section II (chapters 8 - 10)

Happy Cow?Here are the discussion questions for the second section, Pastoral - Grass. Once again, I've tried to include a question that touched on at least one point in each chapter.

Chapter 8: In "All Flesh is Grass" Pollan again argues that there is a disconnect between the effort to make food versus the cost the consumer pays and that in order to expand organic food into the American food chain, organic growers must sacrifice their ideals. Underlying this is the difference between organic agriculture versus sustainable agriculture. Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? Can we, as consumers, drive growers into making better decisions by focusing our purchases on organic and sustainable?

Chapter 9: This chapter, "Big Organic", knocked me off my feet. In it we learn that organic milk, in many cases, really comes from factory-like farms where the cows are fed organic grain and not given hormones or antibiotics, but for the most part, the conditions are the same. Same thing with free-range chickens, where the "free-range" part seems a farce. Does reading this chapter make you want to focus more on buying local organic food (farm stands, farmer's markets, u-pick) and, more importantly, food where you can talk directly with the grower?

Chapter 10: It seems so obvious and natural (not to mention cheap) that practicing rotational grazing on grasslands eliminates or reduces disease in the grazing animals and the animals, in turn, keep the grasslands healthy. Did this information surprise you? Will you pay more attention to the type of farm your beef comes from? Will you seek out farmers/growers that practice rotational grazing?

Omnivore's DilemmaYou have the month of June to read these chapters and post your comments or bring up new discussion questions. I'll be posting questions on the rest of the chapters in Section II in two weeks.

Again, if I stated anything inaccurately, please feel free to correct me!


Crunchy Chicken said...

If you want to see the questions on this page, click the "Show Original Post" link at the top.

Chapter 8: I definitely will try to have the best of both worlds, organic and sustainable, by choosing wisely. Whether or not my purchases, and those of you out there doing the same, will have enough impact on the growers remains to be seen. What I don't want to happen is the dilution, once again, of an idea. What organic used to mean and what it means today is not only totally different, but totally murky.

I think small farmers (what's left of them) will listen to their consumers. But, it's the Big Organic growers that truly control the market. I was astounded to read (in Chapter 9) that most of the produce sold at Whole Foods comes from two big corporate organic growers in California.

Chapter 9: This chapter totally changed the way I think. I was a vegetarian for many years (15) and only in the last five years did I start eating fish, chicken and beef again. The reason I was vegetarian was for humane and health reasons. Well, I managed to convince myself that organic meant happy, frolicking, healthy critters bounding across wide open fields (except the fish) of marigolds with the sun shining on them. Perhaps it was due, in part, to the marketing and perhaps due to my own enjoyment of eating those happy critters.

Nevertheless, after reading this chapter, I will no longer just look at the words "organic" and "free-range". Before I buy chicken, beef or eggs again I will want way more information.

So, this most likely will result in buying local and from farmer's markets wherein I can grill the grower about their methods. And they will have to show me Polaroids of their ecstatic animals romping in their fields with sunflowers dancing in the background :) Since this is unlikely, I'll probably revert to a more vegetarian diet.

Chapter 10: This information actually did surprise me. In an "of course!" sort of way. I will definitely look into seeing if any local growers practice rotational grazing. If so, then I'll be more willing to purchase beef from them. Even if there are no dancing sunflowers. I did find one so far through Puget Sound Fresh (Skagit River Ranch).

Also, check out the site, Eat Wild, for information on grass-fed animals as well as locating them where you live.

P~ said...

well, I have finished the first section, but I fear I won't be able to finish the second. I wanted to renew my checkout at the library but it's been requested by someone else so I have to return it. I am going to try to get it again though before I go on vacation so that I can read it while I'm there. It's a very interesting read though isn't it. I find myself so often having to go back and reread a section thinking to myself. What? Did it really just say that? I am continually struck by the degree of ignorance we feed ourselves with.

Sally said...

Hi! So glad to be reading this book--sorry I missed Part 1.

Chapter 8: I appreciated Pollan's reintroducing me to plain ol' grass, and I loved Salatin's insistence that Pollan lie down in the stuff, to observe all the variety of plants and critters that occupied his pasture. I gotta say I never really thought about the wonderfully complex chain of sun-plant-animal-microbe on which Salatin bases the operations of his farm. Learning about that tightly synchronized operation (explored further in chapters 10-12) made me question the simplicity of our present designations for "organic" and encouraged me to think much more about sustainable production. I certainly have tried to buy the "sustainable" food when I find it, but I've also wondered how I could really tell? As I found out in chapter 9, "Big Organic" --as well as Big Agriculture-- will fight against the definition of any meaningful standard for consumers. So I believe we will have to seek out small farmers, CSAs, and food coops in order to promote sustainable practices. Maybe if enough people seek out these alternatives, the big operations will get the message?

Chapter 9-- I'd been hearing tales of Big Organic due to Wal-Mart protesters but also and especially due to the E. coli scare spinach scare last summer. Reading Pollan's description of Earthbound Farms was enlightening, to say the least. Is it really true that organic farmers can't make meaningful profits without scaling way up? I was sad to read about Gene Kahn of Cascadian Farms, who eventually gave up two of the three legs of organic farming (keeping chemical-free production but ditching counter-cuisine and alternate modes of distribution). This chapter definitely made me want to search out (in addition to sustainably grown foods) more "three-legged" organic food-- most reliably found at local stands and small markets. I don't think I can buy another package of "free-range" chicken, not with a straight face anyway! Still, I do appreciate Earthbound and Cal-Organic for helping to keep tons of pesticides and petrochemical fertilizers out of the fields. It's better than the conventional method, and wouldn't it be nice if that were the baseline instead of the middle ground?

Chapter 10: It's been nearly 30 years since I've eaten beef or pork (and I've never had rabbit), but I have to say that Salatin's philosophy and practices made me think that if I DID want to eat beef again, I'd definitely go for his kind of animals. In fact, learning about the Salatin farm and all the good ways that ruminants interact with grass (and chickens), I began to question why I needed to be a strict non-red-meat-eater. It's a pretty ingrained habit by now, but if I could find a Salatin-like farm in my area, I might actually change.

Christy said...

Chapter 8 - This can be hard. I want to buy organic for health reasons and I want to support sustainable agriculture for environmental reasons. I often find I can't do both so I will admit I buy the organic over the sustainable. I just don't want my son eating pesticides and GE foods. Many of our local farms admit to spraying pesticides. I guess I will keep going to farmer's markets and asking them if they spray. If enough people ask, maybe they will stop spraying. And I will buy something from anyone who doesn't spray.

Chapter 9- I've known this info for awhile because of they whole Horizon thing. I used to just buy organic milk and chicken at the grocery store, but have since found a local farm that is organic. I get my eggs, chicken and beef from them. I'm going to start getting cheese from them. I've been to the farm a number of times and seen the animals first hand. They are being raised the way we picture organic. I've also been lucky to find at our health food co-op a grass-fed milk.

Chapter 10 - The place I get my meat from does practice rotational grazing and I was able to see their setup and they even demonstrated how they move the fences for me. Here is their webpage in case anyone is in the DE, MD, PA area and looking for a good source of organic, truly free-range meat.

QT said...

Chapter 8: I try to choose organic & sustainable. I think this is easier for me because I live in an agricultural area with a lot of demand for organic. Madison, WI is a very progressive part of the state and most of the local produce sold at the farmer's market is clearly labeled organic if it is.

However, I will choose organic even if it is trucked in from California. I want to limit my exposure to produce that has been sprayed with pesticides.

Chapter 9: The information in this chapter was not a surprise to me, probably because there has been a backlash here against Horizon "organic" dairy and Dean Foods. Again, I am incredibly fortunate to purchase the bulk of my meat from local producers, one who raises chickens on pasture (in tractors) less than a mile from my home. I have seen his operation, and his family does all the processing.

I try to avoid purchasing any meat or eggs at the store, and when purchasing fish I always strive for wild caught. I try to make my carbon emissions do double duty when I visit my family in Seattle and bring back frozen, wild caught salmon and halibut on my flight.

Chapter 10: This was my favorite chapter. The Salatin farm has got to be the dream of so many in the world of agriculture. I looked them up on the web, and they offer year-long "internships" so people cna learn how to farm in this fashion. They are booked through spring of 2009! This knowledge is so in demand, it makes me think perhaps more farmers than we know want to change the way they raise animals but just don't have the knowledge base to practice this style of farming.

Anonymous said...

Chapter 8: It's hard; I have to say I sympathized with the folks behind Earthbound; to be even remotely successful in the food industry you have to play by the crappy government's crappy rules, which does mean sacrificing some ideals. But I still think Big Organic is better than Big Industrial. That said, the smaller and more local, the better.

Chapter 9: I used to be veg too, then I just lapsed because I was lazy, but now I'm definitely eating more veggie again, getting back into tofu and tempeh and creative uses of nuts! After reading this, I am 100% sure I'll never eat beef again unless it's grass-fed. Chickens will be so much harder to figure out, because barely any chicken farmer rotates their broilers daily like Joel Salatin does.

Chapter 10: I just went to a new farmers market that set up shot in the park across the street, and it was great -- I'll definitely be buying all my spinach, carrots, meat (if any) and whatever else I can from there because they're all from farms within my province with business cards that have clearly local addresses and photos of happy animals (not sure if there were sunflowers dancing in the background, but it was good enough for me!). I just think it's important to make the effort. None of us can be as perfect as the Salatins (although even those guys were drinking cans of pop at one point -- boo!), but that's no reason to give up.

Anonymous said...

Chapter 9: This chapter, "Big Organic", knocked me off my feet. In it we learn that organic milk, in many cases, really comes from factory-like farms where the cows are fed organic grain and not given hormones or antibiotics, but for the most part, the conditions are the same. Same thing with free-range chickens, where the "free-range" part seems a farce. Does reading this chapter make you want to focus more on buying local organic food (farm stands, farmer's markets, u-pick) and, more importantly, food where you can talk directly with the grower?

Your Commentary, Ms. Crunchy, is exactly where I was at already in 1969 after working for some months in a "health food factory". Oh the tales I could tell. As a result of that experience I have a great deal of skepticism about many food claims, and herb and supplement claims also.

If you really want to believe in your food, grow it yourself, and let it range around the back yard too.

Just because you talk to the farmer at the market, don't be so sure that the product is as represented.

There are many conscientious producers and there are equally many cretinous thieves.

Organic and free range and so on are high priced items that invite the participation of the dishonest.

I am quite sure that the combined factors of intentional failure to comply with Organic standards and the corporate organized projects to lower standards should be good reasons for consumers to demand much more thorough industry policing.

Many of the readers here are somewhat naive about the problem and I am happy to see that Crunchy and Pollan are addressing this.

Meanwhile, stay tuned because it is only a short time now until a series of organic food fraud scandals hit the news. All of the needed elements for this calamity foretold are in place.