Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Red Barn, Blue Roof

So something I've been doing since getting back from the farms is eating red meat. I never really did before except out of curiosity and for a while after giving up factory farmed chicken I was pretty much a vegetarian, being too lazy to cook meat for myself. Much better to subsist on pasta and potato chips, right?

In a way I respect vegetarians (I'm stealing off Micheal Pollan right now, I'm sure he doesn't mind because we have a deep soulful connection) because they consider what they eat and what the ramifications of their food choices are on something other than themselves. There are probably vegetarians out there who do it purely for health/beauty reasons but mostly they're sad about the wittle animals (Gross Generalization Alert!) I'm constantly on the fence about this because I wuv animals myself, but there are lots of places in the world where raising meat for food makes a lot more sense than any other kind of farm production.

Okay, but I live in America, land of plenty where I can have food shipped to me all year round that no animals were murdered to produce. Well, what is all the shipping and out of season vegetable/fruit eating doing to the planet at large? Who's exporting their own produce to me? What's the cost of the fuel to our environment? What went into this veggie/fruit production in pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers? If I'm eating processed grains what kind of energy did that take and what about all those poor little mice in the threshers? And the birds?? And the manatees! God, think of the manatees!!!!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that my priority is ultimately with people (I've noticed lately I use the word ultimately a lot). The only reason I give two toots about the planet is because without a planet there are no people. The food choices you make today influence the environment of the future and eating meat under the right circumstances can be the better environmental choice.

Aside from that, grass fed beef if quite tasty. It begins to quench my thirst for blood....blood...

This summer after reading about how horrible corn fed beef was for the environment and how depressingly cruel people are to cattle just to get those McD hamburgers ground out I was pretty curious about these other cows living so dreamily off GRASS/CRAZINESS. So I visited a grass fed beef farm. I've told several people this story and each time it was met with a resounding Meh. Why is it so exciting to me that I went to a place where a bunch of cows are standing around chewing cud?

Well, since I decided not to eat meat without knowing where it came from, actually seeing a place where the meat is being raised is kind of a big deal-I could see how they were living and decide if I was okay with it or not instead of just accepting that grass fed is better, the way I accept organic is better though a lot of places are organic through loop holes rather than practical application.

Also farms are cool. Obviously.

We were greeted at the barn by Veronica, a very small Korean woman with a grip like a vise. She and her husband run the place with their son, raising and selling both sheep and cattle. We drove out to the fields to see the cows. NY state has great clay-ey earth for growing hay (though that makes it challenging for other kinds of produce without a lot of mulching etc.) so Veronica grows all her own hay for the winter months. The rest of the time the cows move from one pasture to another and as their designation implies, eat grass.

We stood on the side of the road and watched them chewing. They watched us back, tearing up the grass and occasionally lowing for attention. They started to wander closer and Veronica yelled, "No, it's not time yet! You stay there!" at which they mooed. As I looked one of the black Angus lifted its head and a stream of mucus drained from its nose. Gross. I asked Veronica if they give the cows antibiotics and she laughed. They don't need it, cows get sick when they're kept in close quarters and force fed corn, which isn't easily processed by their delicately evolved stomachs. So I guess mucus is normal?

After we got bored of staring at the cows and them staring at us we went back to the farm house which was a whole other menagerie. There were half a dozen dogs, a couple sheep, like twenty goats and a gaggle of black (?) ducks wandering the premises without the benefit of a fence between them.

There were chickens somewhere too as evidenced by the somewhat comical bucket of eggs in their foyer.

Dani, my WWOOF hostess who arranged this lovely visit, bought a bunch of beef and helped Veronica brainstorm ideas for self promotion. Dani loves the business aspect of her organic farm, PR I guess you could say. Veronica has a lot of beef and a lot more coming (though grass fed cattle have longer life spans than corn fed generally, about two years before heading to the slaughterhouse as opposed to seven or eight months). Despite this she seemed pretty lackadaisacal (sp?) about the whole thing, casually eating blueberries as she talked about maybe starting a web site or putting up signs along the road. I weirdly admire the kind of impracticality that resists outside influence but I could see Dani getting worked up about how little action the beef farm was taking to sell itself. Finally we left with our beef and that night Dani cooked it up.

My god. It was a revelation.

So here's this amazing web site about how factory farming is affecting the environment, the water we drink, our health. There are a few pictures of CAFOs but it isn't one of those sites that just throws how the animals are suffering in your face. It's pretty easy to distance oneself from the wittle animals especially when they're not super cute and snot mucus all over the place. But you cant distance yourself from the fact that corn fed beef is destroying parts of the planet and by supporting grass fed beef farms you're supporting a sustainable mode of production. Which is awesome. And tasty.

Oh and I forgot she had horses. It's not a very clear picture because she said one of them likes to bite and I didn't catch which. And they were closing in.

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