In which I wonder: are you kidding me?

In which I wonder: are you kidding me?

From all over the place and Originally posted in the Daily Journal, Kankakee, Michigan.

 Can this be? Is somebody somewhere having a huge laugh watching this thing go viral? Or is this truly possible in our alternate American universe?

I would never believe that this was anything but a joke except for one thing. I actually know people struggling to maintain this kind of convoluted relationship between their brain, reality and food. Most of them would never go this far  but they can get pretty riled up in their heated rants against hunting.

Of course, I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t understand that somehow the package of plastic wrapped meat they found at the grocery store was at one time a living, breathing animal. They just choose to press that bit of fact out of their rational everyday thoughts.

For a long time, one of my pet peeves has been misleading marketing. As I’ve grown older and hopefully matured, I find my understanding and beliefs about marketing have deepened and evolved. Having spent much of my adult life working in sales and marketing, boy do I understand the spinning of a message. And the power of an image.

Today, I’m reading Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis. While I’m not finished yet and have much more to say about the book, I couldn’t wait to mention it in relation to this classified ad (hoax or not) because it does much to explain how such ignorance could actually exist in our “smart” modern society.

Successful marketing consists of things like appealing display cases, helpful FAQS, buying guides, recipes and romanticized stories. Since the eating of animals is something we feel squeamish about, marketers know that we will grasp at the flimsiest evidence to either push the whole idea out of our heads completely or to support our belief that what we are doing is OK.

And they are more than happy to make full use of our desire to not know.

Marketers know that a pretty description including very little factual information, or an invented certification seal is usually all it takes to get us to turn a blind eye (whew!) to industry practices that no one would ever feel comfortable performing in their own home.

Marketers also know we no longer have any deep food knowledge with which to judge their products. We have no memory of what makes one cut of beef better than another. We are more than willing to be herded towards the most convenient solution offering the “best” of limited choices, mainly due to our preference to not know the back story.

Meat made at the store, where no animals were harmed…

Friends, pleaseBy far, the unkindest cut of all is willful ignorance.  It’s not cute when you giggle, “Don’t tell me, or I won’t be able to eat it” about your meat and dairy. If you can’t stand the knowledge, then you shouldn’t buy it or eat it. Delegating the dirty work isn’t innocence, and it’s not funny or charming.

I have to quote my meat hero, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of The River Cottage Meat Book fame; no thinking carnivore should be without this Bible in the kitchen.  Hugh says:

“The cruel practices I have mentioned have been increasingly publicized and clearly do not have popular support. Numerous polls and surveys indicate that the vast majority of the public objects to them and would like to see them banned. So surely they soon will be. Won’t they?


Not just yet, it seems. Because the same moral majority of the pollster’s main street becomes the immoral majority, once they get behind the wheels of a shopping cart. They continue to buy the products they are so quick to condemn. So these appalling, abusive practices, it turns out, do have popular support – albeit that the supporters are in denial (it seems that nothing suppresses the exercise of conscience as effectively as the words ‘Buy one, get one free’). But there’s no getting away from it: if you buy something, you support the system that produces it.”


I’m sorry,  I haven’t been much fun lately, but back to the original point. Is it a hoax, or is it genuine? I suppose it doesn’t really matter. It, and the scorn and ridicule it has attracted on the internet has reminded me of our complicated relationship with our food and the natural world.

Looks like a long, hard road ahead Ladies…..

This post is part of Fresh Foods Wednesday, a lively blog hop hosted by our friends at Gastronomical Sovereignty. If you’re looking for tips, recipes, projects and ideas about real food and farming, you need to get over there.


In which we propose 10 cures for the common Snark

In which we propose 10 cures for the common Snark

Snark Dogs loving the sound of their own comments.... what does it say about the future for meaningful, productive communication?

I waver between great hope and great despair when I consider our American future.

Older generations lament the lack of skills possessed by young people. Are they right? Is the fact that young people are commonly poor spellers, slipping between texting shorthand and written English language indicative of lower aspirational fiber?

Are young people being coddled and praised to the point of handicap and lacking in face to face character and loyalty? Or are they being liberated from limitations being placed upon them by society and location and empowered by freedom from frequent slaps to their self esteem?

Or, could it be that older Americans are just judgmental and closed-minded?  Honestly, who knows? Probably both.  And neither.  Human nature is what it is and will manipulate the surrounding data to reflect what it wants to believe about itself much of the time. Confirmation bias is a fact of human thinking.

One grace I do fear is suffering is the capacity for open-minded communication. My suspicion is that humans are no more or less endowed with selflessness, manners, character or intelligence than they ever were. Pining for the morals of yesteryear is quite possibly a misguided nostalgia for an American society that never was. We are just now liberated from the limitations created by having just one traditional media system. Today, everyone is free to let ‘er rip all over the internet, courtesy and manners be damned. No one will know who you are anyway, so why bother with niceties and respect?

Once, in order to get your opinion published in your local newspaper, you had to write a letter to the editor, which had to be selected by some critical process before being selected for print. You had to take the time to actually write or type the letter on actual paper, sign your name boldly to it, address it to the proper party, place a stamp on it and get it to the post office. Of course, it is true that the quality control of the editorial selection process could be as simple as refusing to print any pesky though valid differences of opinion.

Today, blogging and online journals accepting comments remove the filters between brain and Publish that allow time for second thoughts to prevail. And it seems the higher brow the publication, the more cleverly crafted, closed-minded and dismissive the comments. The comments section feels more like a stage for performance art than a place of true communication and considered exchange.

Yes, we see how highly educated you are. And how firmly closed your minds are too.

Recently, I read this article by Nicolette Hahn Niman in The Atlantic about farms needing people to work on them. When I first read the article, I really didn’t give it much deep thought – from my perspective, it’s pretty obvious and right on.

But, apparently not so to many other people. Let me just say, The Atlantic readers are a tough crowd, especially towards a small, sustainable farmer like me.  Someone with a very different basis for evaluating information. If you doubt it, go on to read some of the comments to Hahn Niman’s other articles there. I hope she sticks to her guns and soldiers on; clearly she’s taking a serious ego-flogging.

What floored me was the staggering slew of responses from intellectual Snarks that to me, illustrate a big part of the future challenge to sustainable agriculture.

And oh my, the descriptive drama created to support the learned objections to the article. People being ripped against their will to be thrust back to the 18th century. Khmer Rouge comparisons, a forced return to serfdom, the complete elimination of industrial agriculture, the responsibility to feed the world and obvious snobbery against dirt and physical labor. None of which has any real contact with ideas presented in the actual article.

Speak for yourselves highly-educated-and-want-everyone-to-know-it-people, I find it satisfying to work outside, to care for the land and animals and to cook food I’ve grown myself.  As do many young people who will be discouraged by friends and family for aspiring to such socially disdain-worthy careers. You don’t know it, and few actual farmers will take the time to address it, but your lack of deep knowledge is showing.

I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, but I propose a small social experiment:

1. Drop the snarky, dismissive attitude

2. Google-ing is not authoritative research

3. There’s data somewhere to support just about anything

4. State the simple facts without the cynical drama for effect

5. Critically consider the article and your response to it before going off

6. Spending time on the internet firing off criticism of other people’s work is not the same as making a contribution

7. Make room for doubt in your perspective. America’s most divisive issues are not ones with a simple black or white solution

8. Don’t minimize the efforts of other people. If they aren’t harming anyone, don’t discourage them with all the ways their idea could be better or will fail.  They’re creating something; don’t kill their joy

9. Knowledge comes from everywhere. Don’t dismiss it because the lesson comes from a source you don’t admire

10. Everything is a spectrum; what seems ludicrous today may save your life tomorrow

OK, I’m stepping down now. From my soapbox that is. It’s a beautiful fall day, I’m happy to choose to go outside and get dirty performing all my unsophisticated serf-like manual labor.  Scorn us if you will my learned friends, the Ladies and I can take it.

In which we ponder: how should we feel about the gentrification of meat?

In which we ponder: how should we feel about the gentrification of meat?

Chefs and Foodies elevate lowly cuts like belly, tongue and oxtail to pricy new heights

Gentrification as I understand it means a bunch of people “discover” a declining neighborhood with great architecture.  Coffee shops and upscale cupcakeries are opened, arty folk start hanging out and buying up buildings, prices go up and before you know it, the people who’ve lived there forever are now the ones who don’t really belong.

How does gentrification apply to meat?  It used to be that wealthy people ate the expensive steaks and roasts and slaves, tenant farmers and poor folk made the most they could of what was left. Depending on how enthusiastic and creative your immigrant ancestors were in the kitchen, you either have fond memories of sublime stews and rich saucy dishes or scary ones of being forced to eat shoe leather and like it.

I could not be more thrilled about the newfound enthusiasm for well raised meats and charcuterie.  As a farmer, I am torn between relief that my meat will bring premium prices meaning I can pay my bills (I like paying my bills) and my higher mission that everyone can eat an adequate amount of highly nutritious humanely raised meat and dairy. Prices on cheap well raised cuts like tongue, oxtail and belly now rival those of more expensive cuts of industrial meat.

I have no highly formed theory on this topic; rather just some deeply worrisome gray questions. There will be more to come about this; I can feel it.

in which we ask: boss or bellwether?

in which we ask: boss or bellwether?

Molly (left front) & Bess

Molly,  front & center of course, & her Best Friend Bess


I read this post on a favorite blog of mine, Throwback at Trapper Creek. I enjoyed the post as usual, but I really didn’t think much more of it.  However, it must have been infectious somehow because this morning, as I went about my chores, I found myself thinking hard about bellwether ( a bellwether is a lead animal) cows.

Our first cows were Bess and Molly with their two heifers, Basil and Merry.  When they came to our farm,  we had never known a cow.  Molly was all blustery, showy and beautiful.  She was bossy, loud, photogenic and pretty entertaining most of the time.  Sometimes she was pretty scary too – she has fancy horns and some powerful body language.  We assumed Molly was the Boss cow.

But, as I came to know them better, I realized that it was actually quiet Bess who figured everything out first. Bess didn’t make a big fuss; she just went about her business.  Bess was the one who would watch for me to call for dinner.  Bess always came right away, and when everyone saw her come, they would come too.  That is, once Molly had decided to quit jamming up the works and allow it.

It seems in the world of cows, “Boss” is often just a good show.  While Molly was busy spending her time hogging up the water trough (she’s not even thirsty – geez), bullying and blocking the lower ranking cows and keeping everyone from doing things she was afraid to do,  Bess was spending her time enjoying the summer grass, being a good mother and a good friend.  And let’s not forget the ever-important always being first in line (I’ve never understood the importance of this one, but ask any grade school kid or cow and they’ll tell you – it’s critical). Unlike Molly, Bess wastes no time minding anyone else’s business so she is almost always first for everything important. Know any Mollys?

Since Bess just saw what needed done and did it without any posturing, she was always the first to eat, drink, come in from the rain and to get her choice of bed.  Let’s face it; Bellwethers simply get stuff done. While the rest of us are strutting about looking to be praised for something we did a few days ago, Bellwethers are already finishing up something more.

It was Bess who helped the other cows learn our routine and Bess was the reason Molly would eventually decide to go along with the program.  Amazingly enough, for all her bluster, Molly followed Bess too!  Just don’t ask her to admit it.

Looking around our classrooms and/or places of work, I’m sure we can all spot the “Boss Cow”.   What I was slow to learn is that the Boss Cow isn’t helping anybody get anywhere. She’s a distraction, an obstacle keeping everyone from being simply satisfied and content.  And for some reason, lots of other people believe she’s Boss too.  But the Bellwether isn’t fooled.

I’d love to say I’m a Bellwether, but I fear I’ve actually more often been a Boss Cow.  I really don’t know what pleasure a Boss Cow gets from being one; Bellwethers are happier.

So, I propose three things:

  1. Figure out who’s who: Boss Cow or Bellwether? You might be surprised when you really think about it….
  2. Don’t let the Boss Cow get you off track.  You know what a Boss Cow can’t handle? When you don’t pay them any mind. Give it a try.
  3. Show some appreciation for the Bellwethers you know.  They aren’t the fancy, flashy ones, but they are the ones who make it all happen.  If you’re going to follow someone, follow a Bellwether.

So, if you really want to be the change you’d like to see in the world, be a Bellwether.

Our sweet bellwether leads in the gang. No surprise here: her name is really Success!

In Which We Share A Great Find

In Which We Share A Great Find

As I learn more about farming, it seems all roads lead eventually back to WWII.  I have to confess some sheepish remorse for not caring more about American history when I was in school. Especially now, since the lessons (apparently not learned) of that era seem to be coming right back at us.

Trolling the internet one day, I stumbled upon this amazing online exhibit created by Corey Bernat; Beans are Bullets & Of Course I Can: A Collection of War-Era Food Posters from the Collection of the National Agricultural Library.

Advertisers are plundering these again timely and appealing images to sell us new books and products. We scan them in a quick way and are attracted to their nostalgic wholesome and honest feel, but did we take time to really examine the message?

Can you believe it? America Wastes 40% of All Food Produced Each Year

This skillful and entertaining exhibit identifies the root of our present alignment of government, deceptive advertising practices, industrial food production and farming methods.  That’s the dark part.

There is also an uplifting part where citizens join forces and engage in efforts greater than themselves for the betterment of the nation.

A secret invasion is going on every minute of every day, staged behind every computer and television screen, cell phone, street corner and magazine and we seem determined to avoid knowing about it. The war for our brainspace is 24/7 and we couldn’t seem to care less.

Pitch In And Help

If you don’t think there’s a warfare mentality to American style advertising, search Amazon to see just how many times a military word, strategy or reference is made in the titles of books on marketing and advertising.

There’s no doubt that advertisers have invaded our brain space; but, since we invited them in, we can ask them to leave. The real question is, “ Will we?”

Now, don’t let me finish on a negative note – I’m not really  a conspiracy theory sort of girl.  Rather,  I’m a “Let’s get out there and do something to make things better” one.

What better place to start than planting a garden & putting up some of your own food this summer? You might find you enjoy your quiet evenings in the garden and/or kitchen much more than the ones you spend watching TV.

Give it a try….