This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Last weekend I visited my friend Ulla Kjarval and her family's farm Spring Lake Farm (they also have a blog) in Delhi, NY. I met Ulla on Twitter and I've been buying from her farm for my Meatshare meetup group. It was wonderful to get to visit and spend time with them and their wonderful animals.
The animals were hard to spot in the tall grass and their farm really was huge, at over 300 acres. Farmer Ingimundur has been steadily increasing the amount of grass the pigs are eating, so they are mostly grass-fed, which is rare even on similar locavore-catering farms. Because of the amount of grass in their diet, the pork has a delicious savory beefy quality.
Delicious spare ribs
Which is good, because I eat it a lot and so do they. Farmer Ingi says that because of all his contact with paleo/ancestral dieters, he has more fully embraced meat as healthy. He says he has lost considerable weight and has more energy than ever thanks to eating lots of pork belly for breakfast every day. That mirrors the experience Heath from Wooly Pigs, another pig farmer who has gone paleo with amazing results.
One thing I'll miss about NYC is my meatshare group. Small farmers have a lot of trouble marketing their meat and I'm glad we've been able to buy so much from Spring Lake Farm. Both the farm and our group have overcome many challenges and we've learned so much in the process (sometimes the hard way).
That's why next week I'm teaching a workshop in NYC about how to organize your own meatshare. I hope to educate the next generation of bulk meat buyers in NYC.
For the next chapter of my life I'm starting up Chicago Meatshare. And for everyone else I'm still writing that book about meatshare and how to plan one yourself.
After reading James McWilliam's idiotic piece on backyard slaughter, I found myself immersed in reading more about Oakland's effort to allow backyard slaughter. For those of us who are thinking in the long run, towards an economy with greater scarcity of natural resources, being able to have food independence is truly important. True food independence involves both plants and animals. The animals provide the plants with valuable fertilizer, among other things.
Unfortunately, bleeding hearts have hi-jacked the movement and turned it into some kind of plant fetishism, dedicated to growing plants that can provide only a trivial contribution to the diet of a healthy normal human. Sure, spinach is great, but it doesn't have very many calories, you cannot survive on spinach. I've written on this delusion before, in my post The Produce Delusion. Focusing on trivial plant gardening is not food independence and I wonder if the lip service in the government towards it serves to distract people from real issues. Michelle Obama is growing some tomatoes in her back yard, maybe she hopes it will help us forget the massive amounts of subsidies that go towards unhealthy food.
This image from the Oakland anti-slaughter group, was so hilarious I couldn't resist posting it. It's the perfect example of the triviality of most urban gardening. The idea that animals aren't part of any type agriculture is really quite strange. They can't just admit that they don't like the idea of animals getting killed. It's about controlling other people in order to make them comply with their personal preferences.
From the outset, the Planning Department has had its heart set on bundling animal breeding and backyard slaughter into its urban agriculture policy. Its eagerness to be in the limelight alongside bestselling locovore authors singularly obsessed with “knowing their meat” has blinded it to the mandate that Oakland set forth for creating food policy.
To provide low-income people in food deserts with the foods that they most lack access to, which are — according to luminaries such as Michelle Obama and public health advocates the world over — healthful fruits and vegetables.
Unfortuantely, as I outlined in my original Produce Delusion post, giving people access to fruits and vegetables DOES NOT have an impact on preventing obesity. It sure does seem nice though. But I hope the decision makers of Oakland realize that you shouldn't get agriculture advice from people who run animal sanctuaries.
And it's highly amusing that they are using the argument that meat is for the elite.
The people profiled are not continuing the family farm out of economic necessity. Nor are they killing animals because they lack protein in their diet. They are educated, published and politically connected, and they choose to slaughter and eat their backyard animals because of a personal preference to consume a culinary delicacy: locally raised organic meat. Food empowerment this is not.
Um, it's for the elite partially because regulations make it expensive! NYC has slaughterhouses in the city and I'll tell you it's not rich bankers who use them, it's immigrants, many of them low-income. Furthermore, many people in those communities already possess the skills to slaughter animals well. I've often thought of organizing a workshop where immigrants who grew up slaughtering animals could help teach backyard farmers about how to do it right.
Someone commenting on the McWilliams article said it had something to do with serving delicacies in fancy restaurants. Haha, you are not allowed to serve home-slaughtered animals in restaurants.
Anyone know any pro-slaughter groups? I'd love to feature them here. I admire people willing to put up with the crazy urban weirdos in their effort to achieve food independence. Me? I'm heading to the country.
People often ask me why I'm still so rankled by veganism despite having given it up long ago. Unfortunately it's not veganism that gets me fired up, but more troubling political issues at the animal rights heart of the vegan movement. Not long after I stopped being vegan, I got involved with agriculture. I saw the makings of a cold war between the locavores and the animal rights groups and became troubled by it. Animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA pull in substantial amounts of donations and therefore exert some political clout. They get these donations by pretending to go after factory farms, but in reality small farms are also in the crosshairs. They don't admit this much and publicly don't want to admit it because the general public tends to be sympathetic to small farms.
This year, a history professor, James McWilliams, came out with an anti-locavore book called Just Food. Laughably, I saw some "conservative" outlets endorse the book, probably because of the anti-elite sentiment so tragically beloved by Palinites and their ilk. They probably didn't read it, since the ultimate point of that book is that locavores are stupid because really it's not Chilean strawberries, but meat, that is at the root of all problems. Despite not being an economist*, McWilliams frames his arguments as being all about economic rationality. But I saw right through it from the beginning and it's quite obvious from his recent animal rights posts at the Atlantic that his real beef with locavores is their use of animals. Notice that's not on the jacket of his book.
Can one be locavore and disavow all use of domestic animals? Yes, there are a few small farms practicing veganic agriculture (it's telling that one of this method's main advocates has written a book now called Meat: A Benign Extravagance), but they are few and far between. Because they are so unusual, there is little data on how productive they actually are. Much of the fertilizer used on farms comes from animals and if you want low-impact pest control, hunting is a good way to do it. Not to mention the dietary challenge of being vegan and local in very cold climates.
Animal rights groups also rely on videos of cruelty on farms to win converts. These become less effective on people who have actually been to farms. Animal rights groups rely on people being disconnected from farming and from agrarian traditions. But unfortunately for them, these are being revived. Things have been coming to a head recently with animal rights groups attacking backyard chicken-keepers and DIY turkey slaughter. I love it when people show their true colors— that it's not Smithfield farms they are after, but all farms that use animals**. Often the strategy is to divert: when you talk about soy, parrot back that most soy goes into livestock feed. It isn't until activists are cornered that they admit their true agenda, which is to eliminate all domesticated animal use from lab rats to riding horses to pet dogs to the turkey on your table.
It scares me because I feel that agrarian traditions are beset on both sides by conservatives*** who want their right to munch on their McTroglodyte burgers without worrying about what that means and the leftist movement to make such traditions difficult/illegal, either intentionally in the case of animal-rights activists or unintentionally in the case of the average land-alienated urban liberal.
Why should we care? In my view it's because every good farm is so valuable in preserving the health of humans, animals, and the land holistically. What does it take to make people understand this?
I've been interested in following the reaction towards A Vegan No More, a post by a woman who left veganism for health reasons:
While my original choice to be a vegan stemmed from the always noble impulse to do the right thing and be as compassionate as possible, it was a mistake and a choice I should never have made. If I had done my research and actually asked the hard questions from the beginning instead of letting the graphic images of factory farms guide me, I would have saved myself 3 years of misguided efforts as well as the deterioration of my physical and emotional health.
What can we do to prevent this? I think engaging people in producing food is the answer. It's a real threat for animal rightists and they know it.
Danish backyard chickens
*nearly every Animal Rightist on the internet fancies themselves an agricultural economist and parrots the simplistic and de-localized idea that animal agriculture is inefficient.
**This isn't to omit the outright terrorism that animal rightists inflict on scientists
*** I shudder to use that word to describe people who obviously care very little for conserving anything
So I have some awesome things to look forward to!
Next weekend Locavore Hunter Jackson Landers, who taught my hunting class, will be in NYC for a goose-cooking event in my Brooklyn neighborhood! The NYtimes just covered the event, so it might sell out soon!
Then in November there is Pigstock! I've blogged about mangalitsa before and I'm excited to participate in this event where slaughter, butchery, and cooking will be taught! Guess who will be there? Dr. Eades and Sally Fallon! If you are a butcher, farmer, or just want to be an educated consumer, I suggest checking these workshops out!
Also I've blogged a bit about problems with the meat infrastructure in this country. Lack of slaughterhouses, transportation options, and onerous laws mean that good grassfed/pastured meat is more expensive than it really has to be. While I'm excited about infrastructural projects like mobile slaughterhouses, I think this is a problem that needs many solutions. Eating Paleo in NYC has been doing "meat shares" for awhile. We contract directly with farmers to purchase entire animals and distribute them amongst our members. We've sold out every time, but I've found that "cowpool" model doesn't work so well with very large groups. Trying to share an animal equally doesn't work very well because different parts are worth different amounts of money. Our next meat share is mostly composed of paleos, but also of garden variety locavores, so it has its own meatup here:
A major challenge is that the average consumer is used to going to a store and picking out what they want among a selection of cuts. When you invest in a real live animal you are not sure how much the animal will weigh at the slaughter date or in many cases how much of each cut you'll get. In this meatshare we are investing in the purchase of some animals and people will get to purchase cuts. It's a little like gambling, except you won't lose money. The worst thing that happens is that you might not get the cuts you want and then I'll have to try to sell them to someone else, which shouldn't be a problem since I now have a huge chest freezer (TOTALLY WORTH IT) and I might just end up eating it myself...
Once I get a website for the concept up, I hope to add the ability to chose some cuts. I'm also in talks with some awesome local butchers to bypass the slaughterhouse completely and do on-farm slaughter/educational events. Some guy I met at a tech meetup said that this really has limited appeal, but whatev, since slaughter events regularly SELL OUT in NYC. People want the connection and I think it's important to see how hard and messy getting the meat to your table actually is. I've also learned a lot about cooking and buying from attending such events, though I'm still a bit of a meat n00b.
Last night I heard Joel Salatin speak in NYC. I was kind of surprising that he would speak on Easter Sunday. I grew up in Georgia and Easter was a big holiday there, but pretty much everything was open here and lots of people turned out for his lecture.
I only saw the first one, which was about whether or not the local food movement is elitist. Salatin mainly talked about how regulations hinder the development of new local food businesses and make food more expensive. I was familiar with this argument because I did my senior thesis on regulatory obstacles to a healthier local food system and Salatin's book Everything I Want to Do is Illegal was one of my starting points.
You can read his original essay on the subject here. What does this have to do with paleo? Well, the main food regulations affect are animal foods, though produce is becoming more controlled thanks to the spinach, peanut, and tomato food poisoning outbreaks that killed and sickened Americans.
The standard regulatory argument is that risk is risk and every farm should be regulated the same way. I personally disagree with that. Part of the rational behind regulations is that people are victims because they can't make a rational consumption decision due to the structure of our food economy. People wouldn't purchase things made unsafely if they could see the production, but they can't and it's pretty unrealistic to expect most people to closely keep tabs on food factories 1000 miles away. Of course a private certifying agency probably could, but it's equally unrealistic for libertarians to expect the US to drop all food regulations.
Even if you are not libertarian, it's clear that most regulations on food producers are unfair. I went to a big agricultural school sponsored by the government. Much of the technology used on farms is developed by such universities and most of it is geared towards large farms. That's an unfair advantage. So when regulations are written they typical require capital that would be unrealistic for a small farm to own or use. Also, there is rent seeking behavior- manufacturers of this expensive equipment often are the loudest advocates for more regulations. Things are changing- there is a foundation around here that is working on small scale mobile slaughterhouses, but they are facing an uphill battle. The mobile slaughterhouse has to have a separate trailer with an office and bathroom for the USDA inspector. They can't just use the normal bathroom in the farm office, regulations stipulate the inspector has to have their own.
Another subsidy is that large feedlot operations are pretty much allowed to pollute. I don't see why they should be allowed to sully steams they don't own. Small farmers often take great care of their land and the environment in general. Many factory operations also employ illegal workers and the government turns a blind eye, while small farmers struggle with the challenge of having legal workers, which is more than just paying minimum wage, it's often also paying worker's comp and dealing with some draconian state employment laws.
Contrasting with shoppers in the grocery store who really would have a hard time really knowing where their food comes from, people who purchase directly are able to talk to the farmer and often able to visit and work on the farm.
The consequences for all these regulations are stressed farmers who have to haul their cattle hundreds of miles to the nearest USDA slaughterhouse and more expensive meat. One of the reasons poultry tends to be cheaper is that there is an exemption that allows small farmers to slaughter on-farm . Why chickens slaughtered on farm are safe but goat aren't never struck me as logical. The safety of an animal to eat has more to do with the skill of the butcher than the magic of a USDA inspector. I'd certainly rather have animals killed by my own butcher that I know.
Either way, read the book, it's great and will help you understand why small farmers have such a tough time. Salatin also addressed the global agriculture problem. He mentioned how large companies like Monsanto who often claim to be the savior of the third world often don't acknowledge that the green revolution is often the cause of the problems in the first place. He mentioned how the old Thai system was diverse and grew rice alongside fish and vegetables. Replacing this system with rice monoculture created the vitamin deficiencies that the GMO golden rice is supposed to cure.
Another factor is that contrary to popular opinion, small sustainable farmers aren't Luddites. There have been massive increases in the efficiency of many sustainable methods like composting in the past 50 years. Such methods are more sustainable not just from an ecological perspective, but from an economic perspective. In unstable third world countries introducing methods that require imported seeds, pesticides, machines, and oil just isn't appropriate.
Salatin also talked about the choice aspect of the matter. I don't make much money myself, but in the past I had to be on all sorts of expensive medication. Now that I eat a better diet, I don't need those pills and inhalers, which unlike grassfed beef, just masked the symptoms and did nothing to nourish or heal me. Joel Salatin mentioned how tests done at the local ag school showed high levels of CLA, a fat that shows strong anti-cancer properties, and DHA, which is the most prized of the omega-3 fatty acids that promote good health in general.
He said it's a shame that libertarians, free marketers, and conservatives have so often been reactionary against healthy eating, but the tide is turning. I agree. While paleo dieters come in all stripes, a growing segment is people traditionally associated with the right.
Erwan Le Corre, John Durant, and Andrew at the farm
So the Eating Paleo in NYC Meetup Group just did its first meatshare! We met bright and early in the morning to go to Glynwood Farm in Cold Spring, NY to pick up a lamb we ordered several months ago, as well as assorted other meaty goodies. Glynwood has been a farm since the 1700s, but these days its mission isn't just farming, since it is also a non-profit dedicated to improving Hudson Valley sustainable agriculture. Going there was a great opportunity to learn more about agriculture and the benefits of quality meat. Our tour was very diverse: WAPFers, paleos, raw meat eaters, and people just interested in grassfed agriculture!
Farmer Ken Kleinpeter gave us an overview of how livestock agriculture works. Most of the breeds he raises, like the White Park Cattle, are heritage breeds that do well in pasture. He explained that putting the average factory farmed cow out to pasture does not make for quality grass fed meat. He also told us about how government regulations make it difficult for him to bring meat to market. For example, it can be hard for them to book a date at the slaughterhouse they use, which is one of the few available that is certified humane. The really exciting thing to hear was that he is part of a regional task force that is developing mobile slaughter units for large livestock, which is huuuuuuuuuuuuge. It will make it much less stressful and expensive to process a large animal like a buffalo. Personally, I think slaughter regulations are ridiculous and it's too bad they have to jump through hoops for such nonsense as the regulation that the USDA inspector has to has their own office (they are going to have an office trailer). Furthermore, why is it OK to process chickens on-farm without an inspector but not cows? Are cows magically safe (haha) because of the USDA, but not chickens? Guess this is getting into rant territory, but you can read more on the unfortunate regulatory situation here.
The reason he can only sell frozen meat is that that it's expensive to keep meat fresh and distribution channels are slower. The animals are all very valuable on a small farm like Glynwood and the staff there takes great care during the slaughter process to provide as much comfort is possible. Ken also talked about how eating local grassfed animals raised on land that cannot grow anything else is the most sustainable way to eat, far more sustainable than a veggie diet utilizing grains grown in industrial monocultures or vegetables grown far away using lots of pesticides and petroleum fertilizers. The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith is a good primer about this.
Ken said he feels comfortable eating his own meat raw and talked about how much higher the risk is eating meat raw from industrial sources because it is not just farm to fork...it is processed, shipped, handled by the grocery store... and meat from many different animals is mixed together, which means that it's hard to trace any problems that do arise. Pastured meat also is higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, and other beneficial nutrients. Ken believes Americans should eat less meat and even though I'm part of this diet is is really kind of meat-centric, I agree. I personally feel better eating less meat, but meat that is higher quality: pastured and fatty gives me the energy I need without overloading me on protein, which makes me feel sluggish. I'm of the camp that thinks you should eat the amount of protein that your body actually needs, which really isn't much. Ken told us he often has trouble selling the really fatty cuts, but all of us eagerly snapped up fatback for making lard!
In terms of the actual lamb we got, I realized we next time I needed to plan more lbs per person, but I hope everyone enjoys their cuts. My own personal tip, having done a meat CSA before, is not to be afraid if your cut has a weird name. Last month I got pig cheeks and I wasn't really sure what to do with that, but a quick Google search revealed tons of delicious recipes! So I discovered an interesting and cheap cut AND
There are more meatshares in the future! If you are in NYC, vote for what animals you are interested in.
Via The Greenhorns:
I went to their pig event and it was awesome!
Also, Xian Famous Foods in Manhattan has a Lamb Face Salad! I definitely want to learn how to make that!
In the next two weeks, Eating Paleo in NYC is also hoping to do a lamb event. Some of us have gotten together to buy a lamb and we will be touring the farm it came from and hopefully feasting on it if it is back from the slaughterhouse by then.