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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joel Salatin and the healing of the food industry

A few clips from the recent Sojourners interview with Joel Salatin. Joel Salatin was featured in the 2009 documentary Food, Inc., which critically examined the mass production of food in the U.S.

What's the vision behind Polyface farm?
Healing--healing in all dimensions. we want to develop emotionally, environmentally, and economically enhancing agricultural prototypes throughout the world....We want to heal the land, soil, air, water, and, ultimately, the food system....

So there is a disconnect between humans and the earth??
For the first time in civilization, you can actually move into an area, plug your microwave and appliances into energy and not know where it comes from, get food from places and not know where it comes from, hook your pipe up to get water and not know where it comes from, put an outlet pipe in to take your sewage to places you don't know about, and in effect never have a sense of the ecological umbilical cord that connects you to everything that's most important.

How can we revolutionize the food industry?
Wendell Berry says that what's wrong with us creates more gross national product then what's right with us....
If you want to dream out of the box for a minute, here's an idea: If every American for a week refused to eat at a fast-food joint, it would bring concentrated animal feeding operations to their knees...
We have a sick, evil system, and a healing system, and the question is, which one are you going to feed?

What would you say to Christians who believe it is their biblical mandate to have dominion over the earth?
"You're wrong." (laughing) The scriptures are full of admonitions about creation. God knows when every sparrow falls. The Pentateuch is filled with references. Further, in 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul says that whatsoever you eat or drink, whatsoever you do, do it all for the glory of God...He [Paul] took the most mundane, necessary things in life--eating and drinking--as his examples of how much God desires to penetrate into our lives...to the believer, all life must be sacred.

You can hear extended audio here:


Cynthia said...

Haven't seen the movie, but wanted to leave a comment anyway.

The industrial food complex is a difficult problem to solve. When the Industrial Revolution came, it brought with it a lot of good (and obviously bad). People had more access to safe, clean food and were able to store it(refrigeration). Spread of disease slowed due to better sanitation practices. In fact, some diseases we are vaccinated against today were significantly on the decline prior to invention of the particular vaccines b/c of benefits of Industrial Revolution.

The question now is how to get back to natural processes while still maintaining the positive contribution of industry. Personal responsibility (over and above gov't control) is a huge factor.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Theoretically, I agree with you. I would love to see some merger of industrial technology and organic wellness.

The sticking point, I think, is that the industrial age was fundamentally a desire for mastery, progress, greed, and control. The foundation was, essentially, evil. How do we maintain a connection with something that has been started and maintained by vice while still retaining any beneficial elements? That is, if you inherit an old house, can you gut it and make something of the existing structure? Or do you just tear it down and build something more sustainable?

Cynthia said...

The Industrial Revolution was not inherently good or evil, just as the computers we are using to form these responses are not good or evil. The good and evil comes from how groups and individuals acted and reacted in that, or any, particular context. I hope you wouldn't say that Christianity, at it's core, is fundamentally evil b/c, through history, we have seen greedy, selfish, controlling, maniacal people and groups sometimes take center stage.

The fact is that prior to the Industrial Revolution Europe existed in a state of abject poverty. The feudal system, dictatorial monarchies, over-taxation, perpetual wars all reigned supreme prior to industrialization. However, the IR brought actual hope to people. And those greedy entrepeneurs and inventors actually created opportunity for the poorest of men to provide for their families.

There is always room for change and new perspectives in any context. I think that our current mode of industrial operation is due for some progressive change. That much we can agree on.

I came across this article today. It is titled the case for Ebenezer. It feels a little sacreligous, but, for the most part, I agree with the political/economic perspective of the author. It kind of reminds me of some sentiments I have read from this blog(namely exertion of power over people in name of good-will/charity), except it is from libertarian point of view, not a socialistic. I would be interested in your thoughts on it. It is long so I will understand if you don't get to it. http://mises.org/daily/3952

Keep in mind, through this discussion, that I am FOR limited gov't and personal freedom and responsibility.

Bridget said...

Joel Salatin is interesting, because he is farming from an ethical perspective. What he is trying to get across is the message that America's corporate food system blows. Workers are treated horribly and exposed to sickly conditions, animals are violently and egregiously tortured and killed, and plants are genetically modified and sprayed with pesticides/herbicides, etc. Food, which was natural, has become fundamentally unnatural. It's good, but seems almost wrong that someone like Joel who simply feeds animals what they natural eat and lets them be outside would be such an argicultural revolutionary. The whole 'dominion' argument is pretty counterproductive. It is pretty clear God meant for people to tend to the Earth, all the animals were named before Eve was even created, and people ate a vegan diet until after the flood. I just came across this blog and felt like commenting on this article because I don't like the food system being so overlooked.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Thanks for leaving a comment.

Yeah. I think the food industry is indicative of so much of our life in the U.S.: we kind of just ignore the source and become very disconnected from the basics of life. So, there are real spiritual, religious, and ethical issues that we need to address. Much of it seems to start with just caring about some of the basic things in our lives: the food we put into our bodies, the way we spend our time, the relationships we have (or don't have), etc.

I see that you are a student. It appears that you are interested in environmental and religious issues. Very cool. I would be interested to hear more. How is your educational experience thus far?

Bridget said...

Yeah, I am going to Indiana University doing an IMP (Individualized Major) in Environmental Ethics and I also have a major in Religious Studies. I am really enjoying my education for the most part (obviously some classes are better thatn others). Right now I am in a class called Religion and Animals and it is fabulous. We have talked about so many interesting things. Bird symbolism, enstilling empathy and compassion in children for future affinity with nature and compassion for people and animals. We are now getting into animal rights kind of topics. Today we were talking about how in the Victorian era a preacher was trying to encourage compassion for animals, but was totally rejected. 100 years later this message was accepted by people during the time of discourse being over human rights and such. What are your main focuses of study?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Very cool. That sounds like a fascinating class.

My areas of study were business/accounting (undergrad) and then biblical exegesis (grad school/seminary).

Speaking of the Victorian era, I am reading a double biography that studies Winston Churchill and Gandhi, especially as they clashed against each other in the struggle for freedom by colonialized nations/regions. It's been fascinating to see how the colonial mindset though ultimately racist and classist had in its better moments some very redeeming intentions. However, due to various historical developments, ultimately the colonial power (Britain) became oppressive and obsessed with its own power. Winston Churchill's father actually began his early political career with an eye toward reform, but then he sharply changed his course and instituted many hardline policies that hurt the native people's of India.

Initially, though, the British presence in India was viewed positively by both sides. Over time, though, the Brits became domineering and more powerful and more oppressive. This ultimately led to the showdown between Gandhi and Churchill.

Bridget said...

Hm! That is quite interesting. I started reading Gandhi's autobiography a while ago, but I haven't picked it up to continue reading it. Michael Pollan came to speak at IU on Friday, which seems relevant to mention, because of the original post. It was quite interesting. He basically talked about his journey as a writer and how he became fascinated with how humans fit into our environment.

Jonathan Erdman said...


I'm jealous that you were able to see Pollan!

Let us know if something like that comes up again. We (my fiance and I) are only a few hours away from Bloomington, and we would love to hear speakers like Pollan, provided we have the time to make the journey.

Bridget said...

Totally! Wendell Berry is supposed to be coming sometime this or next semester. I will try to keep you updated.