The Food Revolution Starts with YOU

Since I became a full time farmer I have developed a much deepened understanding of what it means (as my oupa said) to provide food for the nation.  As I become more connected to what it means to produce food so I become more frustrated with the growing disconnection that we as consumers have from the source of our food. (The other day I realised when I got home that my tomatoes were from Argentina!).

This can be seen in our terror of dirt and the subsequent obsession with cellophane plus cling wrap plus polystyrene packaging (individually wrapped tea bags being my personal worst) which then produce mountains of plastic waste which take up valuable food production space.  Also with the need for identical, unblemished tomatoes,perfectly uniform apples, for this perfect product that mirrors its plastic, factory produced counterpart.  (Did you know that dairies must remove all the fat from the milk and then put it back so that you have exactly 2% for low fat and 3.25% for full cream?).  We expect farms to be equivalent to factories producing identical goods.  The way that consumer demand is met has all the hectic ramifications of massive pollution and harm through corporate owned factory farming, mono cropping, feedlots,

As a cattle farmer my interest is in beef production which leads me to thinking about the implications of the dissociated consumer for what we farm.  Meat, all filled with blood and the unavoidable association with death runs counter to the modern consumers fear of messiness and unhappy endings.  However, it tastes good, is an excellent form of protein and its quite an easy way of efficiently getting your family fed.  In order to tolerate the fact of where the meat comes from, many consumers prefer to disconnect completely and are thus prepared to eat meat that is produced in factory farms and feedlots, pumped with antibiotics, fed maize instead of grass, slaughtered in herculean meat factories processing thousands of carcasses a day and generally treated with great disrespect (see more about this in my sister’s blog PEACE MEAT https://helenakingwill.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/peace-meat/).

For those who are not able to disconnect from the source of their meat there is another (sometimes equally destructive) response and that is to anthropomorphise the animal and project all sorts of human ideas, needs and experiences onto the animals.  We see images of cows enjoying being cuddled and dancing with joy when they discover fresh green grass.  Because these animals experience joy and enjoy nurturing it means they can no longer be eaten and must be “freed”.   Once freed where should they graze? Who will care for them?  Perhaps the state should start a program to rehabilitate cows back into the wild.  Except there is no wild for cows.  They are domestic animals.  Freedom would mean a slow death of starvation.  Their life depends on us farming them.  It is our responsibility to do so ethically with the deepest respect for their quality of life.  (Plants are also shown to respond to music and also seem to feel pain.  This is not evidence that we cannot eat them it simply means that humans are not as unique as we thought.)

It seems as if the energy some people put into saving other species is actually a displacement from the real issue: human suffering.  If feels as though caring for our own species is just too overwhelming and complex to undertake and so we shift our shame and compassion to animals who cannot speak back to at us about our privilege and our complicity in their oppression.

When humans built our first house and stopped being hunter gatherers we needed to farm to feed ourselves.  At that point we interfered with the natural movement of wild animals and prioritised our own nutrition over theirs. The good life made us very good at reproduction and keeping our babies alive and so further reduced the areas to which wild animals can range and forced humans to get involved in their management. (e.g. Springbuck can no longer stampede in their thousands across the veld; we can’t live side by side with lions as they may eat our children, so we must take on the role of keeping their prey under control).

But we are hypocritical and inconsistent in our protection of the animals.  We had hysterics about Cecil the lion – because he had a name (imagine if that level of outrage was leveled at the deaths from violence and poverty that are perpetrated daily in our own neighbourhoods to humans with names).  We are incredibly sentimental about elephants because so much about them resonates with humans from the intelligence in their eyes to their relationship with their children.  Yet when an elephant population gets out of control the damage that is caused will destroy the habitat and food source for many other less human-like animals.(Our preferential conservation of animals that are more like us further proves my theory that this impulse to protect and care for has been misdirected from the human suffering project).

I used to be very anti-hunting.  I couldn’t understand the desire to take another life for the simple thrill of it.  I still don’t.  What I found even more disgusting was when a hunter wanted to kill an animal and not even take the meat, only the trophy so that he could show off his manliness to his friends.  I still find this deeply disturbing.  However, I have encountered another perspective which is more in line with my ethics of an unsentimental respect for all life, human and animal.  That is that professional hunting is the biggest contributor wildlife conservation.  This links into the cow story.  When an animal contributes to the economy of a system it is protected and cared for.  There is a direct correlation between countries in which hunting is supported and regulated and the health and biodiversity of the wildlife.  When it is up to the state to care for the animals for their own sake this can never be as efficient because the first priority of the state must be the humans – and its rare that there is anything left over from this.   Those weird guys with questionable egos who just want to shoot the animal without the meat end up contributing twice – the meat can then be eaten or sold within the local community on top of the large price paid for hunting the animal.  This could of course mean one rich white farmer (but also all the staff s/he employs which is a significant number from the hunt itself, through the processing of the meat to the trophy making) or it could be a large local community.

Cecil was actually part of such an economy which suffers radically when the hunters pull out.  This leads to massive poaching which is not regulated and ultimately leads to many more animal deaths and poverty for the local community.  Hunters want to shoot animals that will look impressive on their walls.  Half starved, inbred animals don’t make the grade.  So its in the interests of game farmers to ensure excellent genetics, nutrition and breeding of their game. This conservation needs to be broader than their individual farms so they can have access to new genes.  This means they must contribute to national wildlife conservation if their business is to succeed.  Of course in any scenario where money is to be made there are those that exploit and harm and have no vision for sustainability.  If there is a fight to pick its with those people not with the industry as a whole.

If we are honestly concerned with the ethical treatment of animals (and humans) then as consumers we must be informed about where our food comes from and what it takes to produce it.  Then we can make decisions based on that knowledge and pay the price.  If we don’t like pesticides poisoning the fish then we also need to accept fruit and veg that is not perfectly formed and coloured.  Our squeamishness and avoidance of the subject of death makes us perfect victims of inaccurate advertising and perpetuation of harmful practises.

To cut out eating meat to save the animals is misguided because many animals are harmed through the farming of vegetables (forests cut down to plant soy, rivers polluted through fertilizer) and through overpopulation of the planet (tell that to the wealthy who have upped the average age a good few decades due to access to healthcare).

There are areas (like the Karoo) in which vegetable farming is not an option (there are still scars on the landscape from failed attempts at growing crops in the semi desert) and where the most efficient way to turn the veld into food is via an animal. The life of a grassfed cow in the Karoo is pretty amazing.

Grassfed beef costs more to produce.  It takes a lot longer to make a cow fat on grass and that adds the costs to management and care for that animal before it pays the rent. A feedlot animal is ready to be slaughtered at around 15 months while our cattle are ready for the butcher only at around age 3 depending on the season (throw in a drought or a long winter and you get nice lean meat!). It is more than worth paying more for the taste and healthy side effects (http://bodyecology.com/articles/the-health-benefits-of-grass-fed-beef gives some of this info). The reality is that most farmers are not able to get a premium for our grassfed beef and so we cannot afford to produce it and so have to depend on feedlots to provide our the income we need to sustain our operation.  Retailers that are selling grassfed beef are often asking a premium but not paying that to the farmer.  This makes raising grassfed beef unsustainable.  The consumer must challenge the retailer about what s/he is paying the farmer.

It is true that we need to reduce our meat consumption because the grassfed industry cannot produce enough meat to feed everyone meat every day.  So here is my new slogan:  EAT MEAT ONCE A WEEK AND MAKE SURE ITS GRASSFED.  Consider the whole animal.  I have recently discovered that there is a movement that is dedicated to this idea (saying many of the things I have said above it turns out!) called the Nose to Tail movement (https://www.yuppiechef.com/spatula/nose-to-tail-need-to-knows-for-meat-lovers/).  If farmers don’t have to produce fillet steak for the whole country to eat daily then we don’t have to resort to the ridiculous factory farming methods.

If we want to find an authentic solution to the destruction of our natural resources we have to let go of the over-simplifed polarities like: Eating meat is bad for the planet but eating vegetables is good for the planet or all hunting is bad.  We need to educate ourselves properly about where our food comes from, question your grocers and butchers about their supply, make it worth their while to provide ethically produced food.  I know this takes more time than most people have, but trust me when I say that eating this kind of food makes you feel better inside and out.

(And before we talk about freeing the cows we need to be sure that our fellow humans are free).

P.S.  You can buy grassfed beef directly from the farmer by emailing us on karoochoice@gmail.com.  You can come and visit, see how we raise the cattle and ask us questions about how we farm.  See this website www.karoorest.com on the Other Offerings tab.

P.S.  Here are some ways to tell if your meat is grassfed: the fat is yellow and not white.  It will probably be slightly tougher than feedlot meat because they actually have to walk for food and water.  Your butcher may not be able to source fat grassfed cows all year round (if he can I would question how authentic his sources are).

P.P.S.  Organic meat is not the same as Grassfed.  It may just mean they your cows are eating organic mielies.  So while they may have an improved taste experience they are still standing in their own poo eating mielies from the trough suffering and from a bad case of acidophilus. Find out the story before you buy.

P.P.S.  We are all about reducing the suffering of the animals.  But we do need to be realistic about what is possible. We can’t go from feedlots where cows are force-fed a diet their bodies can’t digest and being slaughtered daily in their thousands to insisting on only eating meat which has not been transported to an abattoir.  Firstly this cuts out the small farmer who cannot afford to build a registered abattoir on his/her farm or opens the farmer up to all sorts of legislative risks if we slaughter without that facility.

P.P.P.S If you want meat that hasn’t suffered then you can only eat venison that has been professionally hunted (I’m all for you maning up and killing your own meat but not if you’re a bad shot because then you send the suffering quotient through the roof).

Looking forward to your comments!!

The Food Revolution Starts with YOU

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