What type of meat do you eat? Depressed, tailless bacon machines?

Cover image retrieved from URL: http://www.vionfood.de/en/company/sustainability/animal-welfare/vion-happy-pigs/

Pollan M. 2006. The Omnivores Dilemma. The Penguin Press, New York (NY). p 186-273.

Would you rather eat pastured food or industrial food? This is a loaded question because it requires you to consider if you would rather eat:

  • Cows fed on their naturally evolved diet of grass or those who are force fed corn and antibiotics?
  • Chickens who spend their life outside on the grass or those that are kept in cages in their own filth?
  • A happy pig with its tail or a depressed, tailless bacon machine?
  • An animal that gets to fulfill its natural desires or one that is treated like a commodity?
  • “Clean meat” (p 242) or factory meat?

Of course many people would choose pastured food with happy and healthy animals, but the truth is that the majority of the meat we eat is industrial meat. Sounds appetizing right?

Pollan does an excellent job of describing the pasture and grass farming process from his week on Polyface farm. Everything on the farm is interconnected from the grass, the animals, the slaughter, the market, and the meal.

We start with the grass because “the well-being of the farm depends more than anything else on the well-being of its grass” (p 187). This makes sense because grass, a primary producer, captures energy from the sun and converts it into a usable form for the rest of the farm. Grass is a key part that powers the entire food chain (p 188). Daily work on Polyface farm revolves around maintaining the health of its grass, which requires a wealth of knowledge about the grass itself and of the local environmental conditions. Intensive management and monitoring of grass health and growth is also required and animals are moved to fresh grass daily to give the grazed grass a chance to recover. The best thing about Polyface farm is that when the pasture (grass) is healthy, the animals are also happy and healthy because they live off of the “salad bar” (p 186) of grass instead of corn and a mixture of antibiotics and vitamins that is designed by the “current state of knowledge that animal science permits” (p 196).

Moving on to the animals, literally. Every animal on the farm is portable and is moved frequently if not daily. The success of the farm depends first on the grass, but second on the mobility of its animals. There is movable electric fencing for the cows, a portable veal calf barn, a portable chicken coop for laying hens, and even a portable shade mobile to protect the animals from the intense afternoon sun (p 206). This requires intensive work because the farm is an “ecological system”(p 213) where everything is connected; therefore you cannot move one thing without changing everything else. As a result the animals on Polyface farm are happy and healthy compared to the industrial food animals. They live outside on the grass, feeding on their naturally evolved diets and experiencing their “innate distinctive desires” (p 215). These animals are treated like animals and can naturally work together to keep the farm healthy.

Even slaughtering the chickens is done on the farm and their discarded parts are used as compost to fuel the grass in the following years. The other animals would also be slaughtered on the farm is regulations permitted. Polyface believes is slaughtering their own animals for “economical, ecological, political, ethical, and even spiritual” (p 227) reasons. We are exposed to the chicken slaughtering process in great detail, until the chickens change “from looking like dead animals to looking like food” (p 233). People often do not consider this process because they are disconnected from it to the point that a dead chicken in the grocery store looks like food instead of what it really is. Maybe if more of this process was done on smaller scale farms instead of behind closed factory doors more people would be more connected to their food. They may even care about the welfare of the animals they are eating.

Polyface farm sells to a small, but sustainable market of personal relationships and a small number of stores. Some people travel large distances in order to buy meat from Polyface because it is fresh and “clean meat” (p 242), from “happy animals” (p 242), and they can trust the farmer more than conventional stores. They have put a lot of time and effort into where they buy their food unlike many people. I agree that it is odd that most people put more thought into what they wear that day, or what house they will buy than where their food and nourishment comes from. Better yet, how their food was treated before it became food. I have done a lot of research into animal welfare, animal testing, pesticide use, and sustainable practices and it has changed what I eat and even what I wear in many ways. I wont drink many teas for the pesticides, use makeup products for animal testing, and barely eat meat because of the industrial food process and its effects on the animals and the environment.

Pollan finishes his week with a final meal on the farm. Polyface farm believes in the welfare and health of its animals and the environment and this belief results in better tasting and more nutritious food. “It only makes evolutionary sense that pastured meats, the nutritional profile of which closely resembles that of wild game, would be better for us” (p 267) than industrial meats whose diet revolves around corn.

I found the life of a grass farmer intriguing and laughed at Pollan’s frequent mention of intense work without any caffeine or alcohol. After learning the many benefits of pasture farming for the environments, I wondered why anyone would decide to eat an industrial cow over a pastured one? Simple, people do not know or understand the difference.

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