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Joel Salatin on Sustainable Food

Joel Salatin shares his thoughts on a sustainable food system, food-related skills and how we can all contribute to make a difference.

| May 2013

Joel Salatin is a full-time farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. He will be a keynote speaker at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, June 1 and 2. For more information, check out the Mother Earth News Fair website.

Although there are many factors to consider, what is, in your mind, the top way in which building a sustainable/organic food culture would improve the health of our families?

Nutrient-dense foods. Deficient soils produce deficient foods. Whether it's grass-finished beef, grass-fed dairy, pastured poultry, compost-grown tomatoes or open-pollinated vegetables, the taste, texture, and nutrient profile is completely different than the industrial counterpart. Corn is not corn is not corn. Eggs are not eggs are not eggs, as proved empirically by the two-year egg analysis on pastured eggs conducted by Mother Earth News and profiled in my book Folks, This Ain't Normal. Chemical-based agriculture, from fertilizers to pesticides and herbicides, takes a fundamentally mechanical, inert approach to life. Only life can produce life. Machines don't produce food; only bacteria, nematodes, fungi—life—can produce food. The profound nutrient deficiency plaguing our nation, giving rise to unprecedented autism, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity is a direct result of assuming that life is fundamentally mechanical rather than biological. If all the money spent on pharmaceuticals were spent on carbon cycling and in-home preparing, preserving and packaging of food, we would be a far healthier nation.

What is the best thing the average family can do to encourage the development of a sustainable food system?

Get in your kitchen. Become as jazzed and passionate about re-discovering domestic culinary arts as you currently are about the latest belly button piercing in Hollywood celebrity culture. Most people spend far more time with their favorite reality show than with the fuel that gives them the energy to punch the remote button for the TV. Our culture currently extols dependency and victimization as if it's a virtue. We sit around pointing fingers, signing petitions and writing angry emails trying to get "those people" to make changes, as if all would be well if only "those people" would do what is right.  It's so much easier to blame somebody else for our maladies and afflictions than the person we see in the mirror. We write the check to Sierra Club to do our penance for ecology, then hustle the kiddos off in the SUV on a 3-hour drive to the soccer game. Tired after the tournament, we stop at McDonald's for Happy Meals on the way home. But the check to Sierra Club provided guilt assuagement. Here's the point: you can't have an integrity food and farming system without personal involvement. Wouldn't it be nice if I could snap my fingers and make all those bad guys do the right thing? But in the end, those bad guys exist and thrive because we patronize them. The way to stop them is to quit patronizing. You don't need to buy potato chips. Get some whole potatoes from your farmer neighbor and use your own frybaby with pastured pork lard to make your own potato chips—at half the cost, twice the fun, and triple the nutrition. Go for it.

What food-related skills should I try to learn first if I want to improve the health and responsibility of my family’s diet?

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