Saturday, March 20, 2010

Let's All Opt Out!!

Let me ask you a few questions.

How much do you really know about the food you buy at our local grocery stores and serve to your family?

Where did it come from? What is in it? Is it safe? Is it healthy? Is it making you sick? Is it making your children sick?

If it's a vegetable, does it even taste like it is suppose to? Really, think about it. Does that tomato really taste like a tomato?

If it is an egg, what kind of conditions is the hen that laid the egg living in? Does she even know what being a hen entails or is she just a egg laying machine that is kept in a tiny cage among thousands of other hens who never see the light of day and most certainly never gets to leave that cage.

What about that package of frozen chicken breast? Convenient isn't it? But is convenience worth the consequences or risks that come with it? Do you really know how that chicken was processed. My guess is that you don't or else you wouldn't be buying it!

Dan the Man and I went to Ft. Collins yesterday to hear Joel Salatin speak at a program, “Change We Can Eat!” a talk on the emancipation of food, which was hosted by the Front Range Permaculture Institute. Joel is a self-described "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist farmer" who produces high-quality "beyond organic" meats, which are raised using environmentally responsible, ecologically beneficial, sustainable methods. He has written several books which we have read and agree with many of his philosophies and practices. We have based our pastured poultry business on one of his books.

Read more about Joel Salatin here.

Wow, he was fantastic, informative, energizing, knowledgeable, humorous, and encouraging.

There were several things that he discussed, too many for one post. I try to keep these posts short and sweet because I know that we are all "busy" and I don't want to take up too much of your time. The one thing I want to share with you today is what he said about "Opting Out."

Joel says this in the book FOOD, INC: How Industrial Food is Making us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer; And What You Can Do About It edited by Karl Weber "The time has come for people who are ready to challenge the paradigm of factory-produced food and to return to a more natural, wholesome, and sustainable way of eating (and living) to make that declaration to the powers that be, in business and government, that established the existing system and continue to prop it up. It's time to opt out and simply start eating better-right here, right now."

Do you think that there is nothing wrong with our industrialized food system? Watch this clip and tell me there is nothing wrong!

The Truth About Food, Inc.

Joel gives us four easy, do-able ways to opt out of this industrialized food system and to reclaim our food freedom. I'm just going to touch on them for now, but will elaborate on each one in separate upcoming posts.
  • Learn to Cook Again
  • Buy Local
  • Buy What's in Season
  • Plant a Garden
Tell me what is so hard about that list?

If you are interested in this topic, there are several good books that you should read. Here are three of them.
  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  • FOOD, INC: How Industrial Food is Making us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer; And What You Can Do About It edited by Karl Weber
Also you really should watch the movie FOOD, Inc. You can get it from Netflix.

Well, that's all I am going to say for now, but I'll be back with more. Stayed tuned.


  1. Thanks Kathi, keep fighting the good fight! I will too! Anyone who likes this should also read my info on my blog.

    Did you get to talk to Jeff in person? I bet he was really interesting!

  2. Kathi,

    I am so grateful to you for being involved in the reclaiming of our food. I appreciate your healthy, delicious eggs from happy hens so much! You have no idea! If there is anything I can do for you, please let me know. I would love to have you write an article on this for the paper or do a monthly column on how we can find healthy food choices within a reasonable drive of our own community. I really want to do this. Are you interested?

  3. First let me say I am not opposed to buying local. It's an awesome thing to do to help out local businesses, farmers, and ranchers. I'm not opposed to growing a garden. Golly jeepers I can't tell ya how much I love eating fresh food right off the plant. It doesn't even make it to the house half the time. And I love to cook. My momma taught me well and I love to see what I can come up with, and think everyone should do more of it.

    I don't have a problem with growing organic, but I choose to support convention agriculture because I believe in it.

    I believe that national and international agriculture is important. It is impossible to grow every food in all parts of the world and enough to feed everyone in every place. That is the reason for Ag commerce. We ranchers and farmers produce surplus for ourselves so we can provide for those living where they cannot produce what we can.

    Food Inc is on my to-watch list of movies, but from what I have heard, not sure I like the idea of the film.

    The Ag industry should not be criticized for conventional practices because some people get greedy with their practices and some employees are just at work to receive their paycheck.

    I am not criticizing your points to be made in this post Kathi, I just felt the need to express my views on the topic.

  4. Comments left on Facebook I wanted to share:

    Amy said: "Gardening is a tough one here too in Phx. Lentils do grow well; I can harvest enough to make a pot of soup. Besides the farmer's market, tho, I've been thinking about trying Bountiful Baskets Food Co-op They serve UT, ID, AZ, NV, and WA states."

    Greg said: "Bravo!"

    Penny said: "Point Number4 on the list is a bit hard for us up in the mountains! Gardening doesn't work well for me! However patronizing farmer's markets and your garden do work well!"

  5. to ARranchhand: Thanks for your comment. I welcome any comments, even if they disagree with my view. There are always two sides to every story and people need to make decisions for themselves.

    I can't wait for you to see "Food, Inc." Also have you read any of the books that I mentioned? Have you watched any of the clips I've had in any posts concerning this issue of "industrialized food system"?

    Someone brought up the same point that you did (about our role in feeding the world) at the talk we were at. This is a huge and viable concern that we must address. The book "Food, Inc." also addresses this. I will expand on this topic in one of my upcoming posts.

    Thanks again for your comment. ALL comments are most welcome and encouraged!

  6. ARranchhand,
    This is Kathi's husband Dan. I can tell you meant no disrespect by your comment and I mean no disrespect to you as well. I probably wont change your mind but I feel I must comment on your comment.

    First I want to clarify what Joel Salatin meant and what we mean we we say "opt out of the government sanctioned food system". What we mean is that we as citizens should be able to choose from who we buy food (such as local farmers and ranchers)without government restriction from "the food police". For example people who think that they need the government to determine for them what food is safe to eat should be able to go to the supermarket and buy food that has an USDA stamp on it. People who can think for themselves should be able to buy food direct from a farmer/rancher who they trust without the risk of the farmer/rancher facing sanctions from "the food police".

    Please understand my family has been in the ranching business since 1882 and we are not out to put farmers and ranchers out of business. The fact is we are out to preserve the family farm/ranch. Having said that I hope you watch Food Inc. but don't go into it with preconceived notions of what it is about (I know this is hard). The movie is not out to shut down the farmer/rancher. It is exposing The multi-national corporations that are controlling our food system and the effects that has on the consumer as well as the farmers and ranchers. If you watch the movie pay special attention to what the corn farmer says at the very end I would quote it here if I could remember what he said exactly.

    You made the comment "It is impossible to grow every food in all parts of the world and enough to feed everyone in every place" I am not sure if you are saying that we are unable to produce enough food using sustainable agricultural practices but I have heard that argument before however I have never heard any factual evidence to back up that statement. When people hear sustainable practices they think we are saying lets return back to the 1900s. No, what we are saying is let us use today's infrastructure, technology, and research to advance sustainable practices. For example I belong to an email group devoted to making ranching sustainable and profitable. This group consists of some of the most progressive thinkers and experts in the industry. There are several University professors, irrigated pasture specialists, rangeland specialists, Holistic specialists, ranchers and farmers in this group that have developed and are continuing to develop superior grazing management systems.

    Ryan if you would like to discuss this farther contact me on CattleGrower I don't want to hijack my wife's blog.

  7. Blogs are posted to inspire communication and create a dialogue are they not? I hope you don't mind Kathi. Please let me know if you do.

    The government has never told me that I can or cannot make a choice between buying local or buying commercial. They have set standards for food safety (Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points, or HACCP, Food Safety regulation, Humane Slaughter Acts) and require a minimum level of food safety for all commercial products sold. The government never told consumers that those who want to buy local, and in some cases spend more to buy organic, natural, and fresh products that they could not do so. Feel free to buy those things if you have the means to do so or if you feel it is necessary for your family's health. I shouldn't be telling others that they have to switch the sourcing of their food products because I don't agree with the use of antibiotics, conventional management practices or other issues raised in recent times (All of which being approved by federal minimum standards that have been established). I think we might be somewhere on the same page on this, just not in the same paragraph, per say. Sorry, I am really getting away from my point: I have never seen any "food police" telling people they have to buy local food or the have to buy commercial food, nor do I think there is a place for that. People can make their personal decision and there is a place for both Conventional and Organic/Natural practices.

    When I say that we cannot grow food everywhere, I am talking about foods grown in different climate. For example, where do you think all of the fruits and vegetables come from during the winter months? Not their summer growing grounds in New England, but rather farms in California and Florida. Example the recent record cold in Florida has affected the availability of tomatoes across the United States. Just like we can't grow bananas in Arkansas or Oklahoma or Kansas, these must be shipped in from more tropical regions. That is where Ag commerce comes in. We have a wider availability of products throughout the year due to Ag products being traded.

    Do I have info to tell you that people in New York cannot grow enough food to feed themselves? No, but what I do know is that it's very hard to grow corn on concrete.

    Sustainability is the base of any agricultural enterprise. As I wrote in a recent post on Working ranch Magazine's blog, if we farmers/ranchers are not first and foremost sustainable in our management practices, we are out of business. That is the foothold of any well-managed agricultural operation.

    What is that email group about?

  8. Ryan,

    This is Dan again I had to do this in 2 parts because it is too long.

    Kathi agrees that blogs are a place to inspire dialogue and doesn't mind your comments. I need to clarify again on the "food police" these are the various government agencies such as the USDA that controls the sale of food. Their sanctions are a one way street and are only imposed on the seller and not the buyer. These sanctions have been put in place under the guise of food safety and have been corrupted by the strong lobby and money of the multinational food corporations. Many of these "food safety" laws have been implemented to keep the small producer out of the market place.

    For example: States that allow beef to be processed in a state inspected facility (Nebraska is not one of these states however Wyoming is) will allow that beef to be sold within that state however you can not take that meat across the state line and sell it. Beef processed in an USDA plant can be sold anywhere in the United States. How is that related to food safety? We (Open A Bar 2 Ranch, LLC) have beef processed in both state inspected (Wyoming) and USDA plants and I can assure you there is no difference in the processing from a "food safety" stand point. However there is a big difference in: 1) finding an USDA plant to process small amounts of beef and 2) the cost of processing. This interstate commerce law has been implemented strictly to hinder small producers from being competitive in the market place. This is just one example of "food safety" laws that have been corrupted by the political system. You have eluded to the fact that local and organic food in many cases costs more. It would not cost nearly as much if the playing field was more level.

    I can assure you there are "food police" even if they don't go under that name. As I stated this is a one way street they only "patrol" the seller so most consumers are not even aware they exist. Since we have a state inspected poultry processing plant on our farm (I know it is odd Nebraska allows state inspected poultry plants but not beef plants again that is a "food safety" issue) we get visited from an USDA (Federal) inspector 2 to 3 times per year even though we do not fall under federal inspection. If the "food police" made enforcement a two-way street and cracked down on buyers (tell the consumer at the Scottsbluff, NE farmers market that they can't buy that beef that was processed 30 miles away across the state line in Wyoming) as well as sellers we would have an uproar. "You can't tell me I can't buy that!" That is why they don't tell the consumer they can't buy that. Do you know that there are people who seek out and want to buy raw milk and raw milk products (cheese, yogurt, ice cream) and it is totally illegal to sell such products? People have had their product and equipment destroyed by the government and have been jailed for selling raw milk and raw milk products.

  9. I understand what you are saying about not all items can be grown locally and I agree. We are not saying we need to shut down Ag commerce. What I am saying is 2 things: 1) lets get rid of the corrupt laws that have nothing to do with food safety and level the playing field for small producers 2) And to the consumers buy local when you can in my opinion it is healthier and better for local economies. To expand on #1 above food safety laws need to be scaled. What poses a bigger health risk? 1) A beef processing plant that processes 20 beef per week or 2) A beef processing plant that processes 20,000 beef per day.

    You said "Sustainability is the base of any agricultural enterprise. As I wrote in a recent post on Working ranch Magazine's blog, if we farmers/ranchers are not first and foremost sustainable in our management practices, we are out of business. That is the foothold of any well-managed agricultural operation." and you are right. However when the deck is stacked against you it is hard to succeed. This is why so many people in Agriculture exit the industry every year. I have been a commodity corn farmer for the past 7 years and have decided I will not plant corn this year. I am going strictly to forage crops. I have found that the high input chemical farming paradigm this country is now in is unsustainable. New management practices need to be implemented but the multinational corporations are not letting that happen. They help to get subsidies (again through their strong lobby and money) for farmers to verily keep them in business so they will keep buying their products (seed, chemicals, fertilizer) and then tout about how we produce the cheapest food in the world but don't account for all the tax payer money and social costs of the system.

    The email group is a group of specialists put together by a large seed stock producer in Colorado and then he allows his customers to join and hold dialogue with them. It is a very good and informative group to belong to but the drawback is you have to be a customer to belong unless you are a specialist in some field.


  10. Ok, I think the road is getting a little more clear!

    Alright, so I got ya when you are calling the "food police" the inspection services. The federal inspection service allows for all meat products to ship interstate travel when under federal inspection. States that have their own inspection service can only have trade within the states, but no interstate commerce of the state inspected meat products. Texas has such a program. Again it's the minimum requirements set by the federal system, and not all state inspection met those requirements when the law was enacted. Therefore, the ban on interstate commerce of state inspected products. I am definitely a small government person and hate the controlling government that our country is in and headed toward. But the federal inspection law has its good points in disease prevention.

    Dairy Products...I'm not a dairy person, so I won't even step into that ring. I like to remain in the areas that I am knowledgeable about.

    Sustainability includes a shift in management decisions. So your decision to switch from grain crops to a forage crop is part of remaining sustainable. That is exactly what part of remaining a sustainable producer is all about: being able to manage your resources in the most economical and sustainable manner. So many people want to narrow "Sustainable" to a narrow spectrum of production when in reality, sustainability covers so much more. It is an objective that seems to be leaking out of all management practices and needs to be returned.

    The crop subsidies...once again I'm really not a big government person, nor do I have personal experience with these.

    Well, guess I will have to become a professional in my area. I am on my route there. haha

    Thanks for carrying on this conversation. I learn a lot through things like this and it makes me check my knowledge.

  11. I think we are on the same page and close to even being in the same paragraph. I know we both have the same goal of preserving the family farms and ranches we just may differ on how to get there.

    Have you checked out RCALF-USA? It is a grass roots association for the cattle producer. Let me tell you why I belong to RCALF and not the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). My father back in the 1980s was the president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and sat on the executive committee of the National Cattlemen's Association (NCA this was before they changed their name to the NCBA). When he was on that committee he and a rancher from California fought hard to prevent Feeders and Packers from being on the board of the NCA. They did not prevail and that is why the NCBA no longer represents the real interests of the cow/calf producers. Unfortunately most cattle producers who belong to the NCBA do not realize this and are supporting an organization who is working against their interest.

    The reason I bring this up is you might want to check out their website if you haven't already because there is a wealth of information there on a lot of issues that affects our industry. Here is the link:

    To anyone else reading this you don't have to be a cattlemen to support RCALF they also fight for constitutional issues and property rights issues.


  12. That is something I have never understood. Why can the cattle industry not work together more as one unit instead of staying so segregated between cow/calf, stocker, feeder, and packer. You would think we would be more interested in working together to produce a better end-product. Unfortunately, I think it will take more vertical integration of the industry (More like the pork and poultry) but I am not exactly fond of that idea.

    I will take a better look at the R-CALF site.

  13. Ryan, Ryan, Ryan!!!

    I take back what I said we are not even close to being on the same page let alone the same book. LOL. Vertical integration??? Sounds like you are all for corporate farming.

    Let me start with what you first said "That is something I have never understood. Why can the cattle industry not work together more as one unit instead of staying so segregated between cow/calf, stocker, feeder, and packer. You would think we would be more interested in working together to produce a better end-product." In a perfect world this would be great however we do not live in a perfect world. In a perfect world if the packers wanted bigger heavier cattle they would pay the feeders more for them and the feeders would pass that on down all the way to the cow/calf producer. Without getting into a whole other discussion let me say it costs more for the cow/calf producer to produce larger calves. But what happens at the sale barn with the price of different classes of cattle? As the weight goes up the price goes down. Yes the heavier cattle will usually bring more per head but most of the time not by much. And the difference does not make up for the added cost to raise the bigger calf.

    So here is what is happening: What is profitable to one sector of the industry (cow/calf, stocker ect.) is not always profitable to the other sectors. The other issue is that the packers are multinational corporations who are only concerned about their bottom line and they do not care about the cow/calf producer and they think they could do better without them by vertically integrating the industry. This is exactly what has happened in the poultry and pork industry.

    Here is an example of what happened in the pork industry: Here where we live in Nebraska most farmers had hogs on their farms and it was a good portion of their income. Now that the pork industry has been vertically integrated their are no hogs on the family farms they are all in a handful of confinement facilities.

    If vertical integration happens in the beef industry not only will it affect the family ranches but a lot of other sectors of the industry as well. Obviously it will put most stockers & feeders out of business as those sectors will move toward large corporate farming facilities (just as pork has) but also businesses like Livestock Auctions will be put out of business. Since the multinational corporations will own the cattle from birth to plate there will be no need for livestock markets.

    To put it in a nut shell: The beef industry begins as an agricultural model and as the cattle move from one sector to another it transfers into an industrial model. The very large industrial corporations are only interested in money, power and control and corruption creeps in. This money, power, control, and corruption thing goes back in history all the way to biblical times it is human nature. That is why the whole get along thing doesn't work.

    What I have mentioned above is why cattle associations were started. They were to be associations for the cow/calf sector to represent the interests of the members. But The big corporations are very smart about business and came to these associations and said "we are all in this together let us in your association and we will work together". Wrong! They got in there and started pushing their agenda to improve their bottom line with no concern for those upstream.


  14. Whoa! Never said I wanted vertical integration to happen. What I was getting at is that there needs to be more cooperation and communication between the sectors of the cattle industry. I guess vertical integration was the wrong example/word to use.The last thing in the world that I want to see is for the cattle industry to become like the pork and poultry industry for the exact reasons you listed. Have no fear, I'm not that into large Ag corporations. haha. Despite the fact that I am going to an interview for the largest cattle feeding operation in the nation next week. Hmm...