A farming friend sent me a provocatively written news story that was almost perfectly calculated to rile us both up. As will become clear, my purpose here is not to debate or to dispute that story. But for a brief context, the article’s subheading sums up the ideas: “If we can’t dramatically cut meat consumption then intensive ‘factory farming’ may be comparatively less risky.” The risk referred to is the risk of animal-borne pandemics, and the conclusion is that we’d be at less risk to overall health if we moved animals off pastures and into confinement housing. From my point of view, this entire article and the research study on which it was based were impossibly entangled by misunderstanding and confusion, so much so that it all felt like willful misrepresentation.
Enough with the Outrage
After reading the piece, I continued a discussion with my friend, trying to figure out what, if anything, would be worth saying. We wondered how to react when our intense attachment to organic and regenerative farming comes into contact with other perspectives, particularly ones that seem dangerous. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I do occasionally write a post on something that I feel is seriously wrong with our food and agricultural systems, such as the monopolization of food or the inevitable consequences of unbridled growth. Through our discussion about this article, we both expressed a feeling of outrage-induced exhaustion.
We are surrounded by voices clamoring for our outrage. And in this complicated world of ours, there never is a shortage of fuel for the thrumming indignation engine. Every possible social, political, and economic issue can justify it. With eight billion individual human actors, two hundred nation states, and innumerable organizations (corporations, academic bodies, religious groups, etc.) we always have examples to point out while exclaiming, “Look at this horrible thing they’re doing over there!” Among so many different agendas, power struggles, and historical grievances, any incident will serve as the casus belli for somebody.
But outrage wears us down. Obviously it has a useful purpose in motivating us to action, but for all the times we simply feel the emotions without taking action, or when it just confirms our bad opinions of others and reinforces our self-superiority, it serves no good purpose. During periods in which I’ve steeped in it, when I’ve allowed it to play a role in my life, I’ve never been pleased with the tone my life took.
I don’t want outrage to dominate my life. I don’t enjoy being with people whose primary mode is outrage. So it is worth taking the time to clarify what I’d like to do with our farm’s little corner of the internet, and what I want to achieve with this platform.
Expressing Ideas without Indignation
My primary goal in writing is to help our customers understand what is happening on our farm, what it’s like to be a farmer, and what it takes to bring food from a plan all the way to the plate. This goal provides capacious boundaries, whether I’m showing how we build pasture shelters for chickens or discussing the types of plants our grass fed cattle are eating. Whatever I write about, I hope it can ultimately help connect people to the food they are eating.
The majority of people are many steps removed from farming. Since their daily lives don’t put them in contact with farming’s physical realities (soil, fences, tractors, seeds, and chemicals), and since the workings of the economic and political forces aren’t clear, as a farmer living in the middle of this I probably have some responsibility to speak out.
Some of the food system is deliberately deceptive. Almost all of it is opaque. And there are agendas, many of which are not concerned with our thriving. So there are deeply important topics to discuss, topics which directly impact our health, security, and future prospects. But even when dealing with the weightier issues, I want to steer clear of stridency. Not everything requires a clenched jaw as we grimly trample out the grapes of wrath.
There will always be outside events to be discussed and contextualized. There may occasionally even be some times to pound on the table while decrying something that’s wrong. But there’s enough good, important work happening here to focus on. I want our customers reading this to know what we love about farming. So I hope that my writing can reflect the life of the farm, telling the story behind our food and our work, sharing a little goodness. That’s my goal.