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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

As we enjoy the traditional holiday season of food-centered celebrations, let’s not only consume, but also reflect on, discuss and consider, what we can do to shape our food future.

We’re presented with two starkly different visions of that future: the industrialized, conglomeratized, globalized, monopolized, plasticized and heavily subsidized vision of Agri-business, and the localized, democratized vision of Agri-culture, in which sustainable farmers and food artisans practice the art and science of cooperating with Mother Nature, rather than always trying to overwhelm her. This is a fight for the control of our dinner, and it’s one of the biggest and most important populist struggles in our society today.

“Agriculture is no longer a way of life,” former agriculture secretary Earl Butz infamously barked at farmers 40 years ago. “It’s a business,” he lectured, callously adding that they should “get big or get out.”

Butz, an agribusiness apostle of full corporatization of our food economy, was wrong, as today’s fast-spreading Good Food movement is showing. It turns out that farming is a good business — literally producing an abundance of goodness — specifically because agriculturists see it as a way of life.

This spirit was recently summed up in one word by Lee Jones, a sustainable farmer in Ohio who was asked what’d he’d be if he weren’t a farmer. He replied, “Disappointed.” To farmers like these, food embodies our full “culture” — a word that is, after all, sculpted right into “agriculture” and is essential to its organic meaning.

Patrick Martins, co-founder of Heritage Foods USA, works with small farmers across the country to bring nearly lost breeds of sustainably raised cows, pigs and turkeys to market. He measures sustainability not just by environmental standards, but also by whether the animals are happy! Asked what makes a turkey happy, Martins said simply: “Room. That’s the biggest thing. It can walk around.”

Space to walk is reasonable, right? Visit one of the massive factory feeding operations of agribusiness, where the vast majority of American turkeys are raised, and you’ll find no such concession to the most basic of creature comforts. Thousands of the large birds are crammed side by side in cages, spending nasty, brutish and short lives with barely enough room to move, much less walk. To true agriculturalists like Martins, these meat factories amount to animal concentration camps. “No living creature should be forced to spend its entire life in a box,” he says.

That’s the icky stuff, but there’s good stuff, too. For starters, if you’re looking for Good Food items — from organic tomatoes to pastured turkey — localharvest.org can help you find them somewhere near your home. Enter your zip code, and this website will search for the small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets and other resources in your area.