#EatBuyGrow Talks Feb 19 Melbourne
In 1969 Ravi Shankar, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Santana, Grateful Dead, the Who, Creedence, Hendrix and a whole bunch of other legends played at Woodstock. I got to thinking about Woodstock sitting in the crowd at the #EatBuyGrow talks put on by the Regrarians last week. It wasn’t just the paisley revival or availability of kombucha that got me on this Woodstock trip.
How I arrived at Woodstock was in two ways- the first was the speakers are the rock-stars of the food sovereignty movement- Joel Salatin, Darren Doherty, Tammi Jonas, David Holmgren, Matt Wilkinson and Costa Georgiadis among other notables- and secondly the room felt like a tide of something- a wave of change set to burst out of Collingwood Town Hall to soak the soil of the nation. The movement is small- while a couple hundred of us were packed elbow to elbow in to the hall to watch the vision quest unfurl- most people would have been down at the supermarket shopping for pre-washed lettuce and hepatitis berries- but it is a start. I spotted a shearer and a cheese maker and Jonathon from 3CR’s Food Fight in the audience: Heretics + organic ham= Game on. The speakers were so great that I don’t doubt this thing is gonna catch on.
Regrarian Lisa Heenan smashed it out of the park by announcing, ‘There’s two things I’m addicted to: raw milk and sex.’ Then Joel Salatin, Mr egg-mobile-crop-rotation farmer and author of Folks This Aint Normal, took the stage. If you don’t know Salatin he is all of the synonyms for heretic: dissident, dissenter, non conformist, unorthodox thinker, apostate, freethinker, iconoclast, schismatic and renegade. Salatin is one of the great orators of our time. There is something about the way he tells a story that gets his point across and last Thursday his point was that the industrial food complex is built on some pretty shitty orthodoxies. He made this point by talking us through the various crackpot theories that once dominated human thought such as the earth is flat, ‘the spirit of whooping cough’, slavery, ‘breastfeeding is bad’ and bloodletting and then urged us to consider recent farming methods, ‘[T]he agricultural experts and the most accredited academic agricultural teachers around the world, especially the developed world, told us we need to be more efficient at growing beef and so, “Let’s take dead cows and grind them up and feed them to cattle!” and so farmers like me were taken to free steak dinners to teach us this new scientific orthodoxy.’ In classic Salatin style he cracks a joke, ‘You get status if you learn how to say Bovine spongiform encephalopathy.’ Then his microphone stand folds in on itself and Darren Doherty wanders over to fix it and cracks a joke about ‘Brewer’s droop’. (Maybe when you spend a lot of time pondering ecological destruction you crack more jokes)
Salatin points out other accepted norms , ‘Now there is a lot of orthodoxy around genetically modified organisms, that this is going to be the way to feed the world. We have an orthodoxy around chemical agriculture.’ Salatin goes on to list ‘a few cultural orthodoxies that I see in the techno-sophisticated West and dare to question them.’ He talks about how there is a prevailing belief bandied about by Big Ag and politicians that nature is sick; that if a cow is sick it is ‘pharmaceutically disadvantaged’; how there is no such thing as an ‘animal-less ecosystem’ and yet the mainstream farming method of our day is segregation, ‘We put all the animals in factory houses and then grow all our feed stuff with chemical petroleum based fertilisers!’ Salatin goes on to critique the idea in farming that animals don’t move which manifests as confining animals indoors on concrete floors. He suggests farming around the idea that animals move and need portable infrastructure like fencing, water and shelter. ‘You see how the pattern drives the function drives the form.’ Plant customs don’t escape Salatin’s attention either, ‘Another orthodoxy of our day is that annuals are more important than perennials.’ He points out that all of the grains that are subsidised in the US are annuals, ‘It gives you pause when you realise that the entire orthodoxy of the policy is to subsidise things that actually destroy the soil.’ He slays agricultural systems based on petroleum where carbon ends up in landfills or burnt, ‘The natural pattern is carbon centric- that is the ultimate way we build soil.’
Salatin asks, ‘Does it matter if we have happy pigs?’ He talks about how in the US scientists are trying to genetically engineer pigs that don’t have the porcine stress gene- instead of ensuring the pigs aren’t stressed by letting them ‘express their pigness’- the orthodoxy is to alter the pig instead of the farming practice. Salatin cautions, ‘A culture that wants to honour the Tomness of Tom and the Maryness of Mary has to start by honouring the pigness of the pig…If the orthodoxy says that the pigness of the pig doesn’t matter then it is very easy for the culture to run rampant over the individual desire, expression, interests of individuals within its society like people who don’t want to vaccinate their children from measles* or people who want to- imagine this- drink milk!’
Salatin explores the fault in practices like, ‘Efficiency requires mono speciation,’ and ’Home kitchens are unnecessary’ and makes fun of paranoid people who fear compost piles, ‘Complexity runs regulators into spasms of fear.’ He points out ,‘The orthodoxy is that a really productive, efficient farm is supposed to stink up the neighbourhood and pollute everybody’s groundwater.’ He discusses, the disconnect that occurs when people ‘spend more time researching the latest dysfunction in the Kardashian household’ than actually understanding their food. ‘50% of our customers don’t know that a chicken has bones!’
Salatin is preaching to the converted; when he says, ‘I think compost piles are sexy,’ everybody claps. He ends by describing how the less informed people are the more they fear the food system and rely upon the bureaucrats to protect them from the ‘bogeyman of raw milk’ and ‘the bogeyman of fresh fruit.’ He describes a warped system where ‘Coca cola is safe but raw milk is not safe.’ I’m on the same page as Salatin but the way he frames the discussion is enlivened and interesting, and makes me optimistic because he has the moxie to convert the people pushing their trolleys around Woolworths. He says, ‘What we need right now to create some sanity in this is to carve out a place of unregulated, direct, farm to table food transactions.’ A shortened food chain is an accountable one.
*[Author Disclaimer: I LOVE PEOPLE WHO VACCINATE THEIR CHILDREN FOR MEASLES]