The Other Pandemic

When I heard that Joe Rogan interviewed farmer/ philosopher Joel Salatin on #1478 Joe Rogan Experience podcast, I had to listen. I’m not a fan of Joe Rogan per se, but Joel Salatin is a farmer I look to for inspiration and understanding. I’ve come to trust his perspective on all things socio-eco-agro-political. You could say he’s my guy.

They talked over many points and ideas. Rogan put up his practical yet not thoroughly researched critiques of Salatin’s ideas and ideals. He gave Salatin a good rubbing for claiming to drink out of the animal drinking troughs on his farm regularly for probiotic exposure. On and on they went, Salatin creating a good picture of our current food production model and how it compares to his farms model. Our current model of animal agriculture falling far short of the idyllic structure he has created. But what struck me was how similar the situation that animals are faced with in our current model was so similar to the situation we find ourselves in as the consumers of that model.

The animals, he claims (we know), are kept in a tight system to maximize efficiency of process, yet it also maximizes the animals level of stress. In fact, all aspects of this production model are built around efficiency- the food inputs are of the least expensive available, read: lowest quality available that will bring the animals to market weight in the allotted time frame. The animals environments are of little significance as the current model of animal agriculture favors warehouses with air standards and bedding standards only clean enough to bring the current crop of animals to market within the acceptable minimums of health and mortality rate. And on and on this dystopian list goes with the word “maximum” only ever applied to its level of efficiency.

This list bothers me. We all know this system exists as such. We all (myself included) bring a good dose of denial with us to the grocer on our weekly shopping trip. But something bothered me more. I could see for the first time that I myself am just another animal in this food system. We all are. Whereby we are consuming the products of this hyper-efficient system (this overly stressed, low nutrient food input of ours, produced to barely pass current health standard regulations, etc.), we become part of that system.

We as consumers also live in a high-stress system. We also suffer from overcrowding. And yes we eat this poor diet, based on minimum RDA recommendations, that produces only marginal health outcomes. Sometimes it seems that in this country, while many of us are reaching close to that “maximum” age expectancy, we really are as a society just limping to the finish.

This system is larger than a food system. It’s time to admit that. This is a uniquely human system. As we created it, we are also within it. As we pretend to deny its existence to continue on our current trajectory, it will plague us on a daily basis. Our health outcomes as a society are only ever going to be as strong as our inputs- and let’s expand health outcomes to include mental/emotional health as well as physical health. We need to revamp our food production system. Our denial is affecting us emotionally as well as physically. This is a pandemic.

Our current coronavirus crisis has easily poked holes in this system. It has pointed out some of its weaknesses. It has pointed at the fact that we cant approach animal processing by humans, with the same regard as we approach the raising of the animals in the first place. Two thousand people packed into a chicken processing plant breathing recycled air and working under stress runs a similar health risk as raising fifteen thousand chickens under stress in a warehouse with barely a ventilation system.

Our human system needs a correction. I need a correction. In a way our system has modeled itself on a spoiled child only concerned with its own consumption, rather than modeling into itself some basic reasoning of what is right and justified. We have created a large system of Nellie Oleson’s, and we always knew that Nellie needed to spend some length of time at the Ingall’s farm. When our meat processing plants were getting shut down due to the covid-19 outbreaks, many consumers, rather than entertaining the conclusion that something is broken, arrived at the conclusion that they needed to get to the grocer and stock up on meat. Let’s correct this. How can we correct this? I’m all ears.

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