A modern heritage foodstead
I’m sure Ms. Esther Simpson is a lovely lady. Tea with her would be very nice and I’ll bet she has some interesting stories to tell. But that’s not why I’ve been thinking of her for nearly five months.
The reason she has been on my mind since before Thanksgiving is because of her comment on an article titled Is That Really a Heritage Turkey published in the Atlantic November 22, 2011.
The article is “a quick primer on turkey origins, a discussion of the different types of species and, as you shop for the highlight of your Thanksgiving meal, a bit of advice for finding a true heritage turkey.”
The author, Nicolette Hahn Niman, raises true heritage breed turkeys herself and in the article clarifies the complicated past of what we call “heritage breed” turkey today. Anyway, the article is a good read and if you’d like to be sure you’re getting the real deal, is an excellent reference.
But, as always when I’m bowled over by an article in The Atlantic, it’s usually because of the comments. We’ve talked about this before; those Atlantic readers have turned commenting into a form of mean ridiculing sport that I don’t think I’ll ever find acceptable.
Here’s what Ms. Simpson had to add:
Ms. Simpson’s comment wasn’t in the least mean-spirited, but it is a perfect illustration of how smart, well read people are completely blinded by their absolute belief in science and academia compounded by their lack of nuanced connection with nature and agriculture.
Turkeys did not turn themselves into Frankenturkeys incapable of walking or reproducing naturally. Turkey were hardy, healthy, capable birds with actual parenting skills before people decided they wanted birds with massive amounts of white breast meat. Turkey freaks were created by breeders who started fiddling with the dials to satisfy customer demand.
But that fact is apparently either unknown or irrelevant to Ms. Simpson and those like her. According to them, today’s big breasted white battery turkey in its state of man-made misery is apparently NOT eugenics. But helping the turkey return to its former self-sufficient state, that IS eugenics. Heil Hitler and all.
Eugenics is the idea that one can improve the human race by careful selection of those who mate and produce offspring. Eugenics was a popular theory in the early twentieth century but is no longer taken seriously, primarily because of the horrors of the eugenic efforts of the Nazi regime in Germany.
Why is this silly exchange still on my mind? Because it is the perfect example of well-meaning, highly educated people believing that farming is something you can learn from a book and manage from a distance. From her computer screen, Ms. Simpson is in no danger of having to find out how one-dimensional her understanding is.
Again and again we trust ridiculously short-sighted agricultural solutions. Esther Simpson, like most Americans, believes that the hothouse varieties of livestock we have created, requiring lots of special feed, care and midwife assistance are the more important varieties worthy of a future. After all, they are the only farm animals most people know.
Quick: what color are pigs? That’s easy, white or pink, right? Wrong. Pigs come in all colors, shapes and sizes, particularly the heritage breeds that are becoming so popular these days. All pigs, even the sweetest, pinkest Wilburs and Arnolds will become feral if allowed to fend for themselves.
Yet it has been decided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to enforce what they call the Invasive Species Order (ISO). What that means is that because of a feral pig problem, in Michigan, possession of pigs with certain physical characteristics automatically makes you a felon, punishable by jail time and a hefty fine. To be perfectly clear, the DNR has the right to kill properly confined animals on any Michigan farm or private game preserve, arrest the farmer and levy huge fines.
I am in complete disbelief by the actions that have been taken against pig farmers already. And especially by the millions of Esther Simpsons in the world who will never comprehend that heritage breed pigs are under unreasonable, unconstitutional attack. Or she will defend the corporate line that this is all for the public good. Or maybe she doesn’t know about heritage breed pigs at all.
Pastured pigs are being enjoyed by diners everywhere as a delicious improvement over leaner, less tender confinement pork. And the hardier heritage breed pigs are able to live a healthier, more enjoyable life than the standard confinement hog who is selected for uniformity, leanness and fast maturation.
My question is this: Which pig genes are more valuable? The ones capable of reproducing on their own, who still remember how to be good mothers, and are more hardy and self-sufficient? Or the hot-house hogs in need of intensive management, medicated feed, elaborate infrastructures and are forced to endure such unpleasant pig lives? Our lack of concern for protecting biodiversity is the worst sort of arrogance. Sustainable Table will explain why heritage breeds are so very important here.
This is not a matter to be ignored. Farmers are being stripped of their livelihood with NO COMPENSATION for businesses that were perfectly legal before April 1, 2012. It does not matter that their pigs have been properly confined and cared for – it is a species elimination, not a feral pig elimination.
Of course, the Michigan Pork Producers Association is all in favor even though these heritage breed hogs have admittedly caused no outbreaks of disease. You can read their response to the Invasive Species Order here. At the least, very disappointing. And predictable. Read this excellent article to see how successful Big Pork was in whisking this order straight into effect. Disheartening to say the least.
This article from Mother Earth News offers an excellent and detailed explanation of the situation and the contact information for Governor Rich Snyder, who has the ability to rescind the ISO. The article tells the sad story of Dave Tuxbury who after being served a search warrant, killed his entire hog population; pregnant sows, baby piglets and all.
Even if you’re not a Michigan resident, you need to contact Governor Snyder because Pennsylvania, Kansas and New York are all poised to pass similar legislation. This has the potential to become very ugly people. Make yourselves heard on behalf of these farmers; they really need to feel your support.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke
OK people. You know what you need to do. Ready? GO-GO-GO-GO-GO
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!