Folks, This Ain’t Normal – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Joel Salatin by James2 Comments

Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World Joel Salatin’s most recently published book hit book stands less than a year ago in October of 2012. Like well aged bacon Joel’s writing just gets better and better over time. This book encapsulates Joel’s entire philosophy on culture, food, farming, and everything that connects them. The main thing the book does as the title suggests is demonstrate how many of the things we do today in these arenas are not only unhealthy, but historically abnormal. This book is not a book about a redneck farmer trashing technology and dreaming about the good ole’ days, but rather it’s a book written by an extremely innovative man who has led the way in transforming the farming and food culture into a sustainable model that produces clean nutrient dense food while healing the land.  He’s taken the good from the past, thrown out the bad, and added the innovation of the present to help create this new model – which is constantly upgrading as all innovative models do.

What’s in the book?

Joel proves his thesis through 350 pages of stories and examples. To get the full scope of Joel’s argument which ranges from scientific, economical, political, statistical, ecological, historical, and spiritual standpoints the best thing to do is simply read the book – Joel covers every angle. While reading the book I ended up marking quite a few highlight points as you can see in the picture below. I can’t cover all of these highlights but I’ll touch on a few to give you a sense of what to expect when reading this book.

사본 -photo (1)

A CAT IS A CHICKEN IS A CHICKEN IS MY AUNT

In the above titled chapter Joel tells the story of a farmer friend who hosted a bus load of middle school children on a farm tour. The first two boys off the bus asked, “Where is the salsa tree?”

Folks, this ain’t normal. 

DINO-THE-DINOSAUR-SHAPED NUGGETS

In the above titled chapter Joel comments on people’s disconnect with how to prepare food, and the basic lack on knowledge of what food is. Later in the chapter he comments on how obsessed our culture is with celebrities and how the average person cares more about the latest Hollywood gossip than what’s for dinner. He suggests turning off the T.V. one night a week and taking to the kitchen with locally farmed ingredients and making a meal with your loved ones. The family could actually talk and enjoy the fruits of their labor instead of being bombarded with advertisements and watching people you’ll never meet and who have no interest in your personal life. Joel ends each chapter of the book with a list of 4-5 suggestions to help people start returning to “normalcy.” One of the tips from this chapter is: “Pick a meal, any meal, and fix it completely from unprocessed food. Breakfast is easy: eggs, sausage or bacon, whole fruit, raw milk. Then move onto lunch and dinner.”

PARK, PLANT, AND POWER

This chapter is about the energy debate. Joel makes a great point midway through the chapter about our culture’s obsession with traveling. I admit I like to visit new places, but it is historically abnormal to do as much traveling as we do. Here’s Joel’s take on this:

I’m not opposed to travel and I’m not a hermit, but do we really have to move around as much as we do? I think the reason we need to travel more is because we don’t have anything exciting to do at home anymore. But if we’re gardening, cooking, and cottage-industrying – home can be as exciting as any discretionary destination. We’ve divorced our own homes as the centerpiece of life, and that disunion manifests itself in running elsewhere looking for satisfaction. That takes a lot of energy. What can be more exciting than watching kitchen scraps turn into eggs via a couple of intermediary chickens?

Travel is great for growth, I don’t deny that, but too often in today’s culture the travel never ends. Everybody is working for their next vacation. Waiting for the next chance to “get away.” If we can’t be more satisfied with being home more often there is an important message in this reality that we need to listen to and think about. I too fall into the category of wanting to travel often, but every time I’m traveling there comes a point when I want to go home, then I get home and very soon I’m itching to leave again. I want to return to a home where I can be excited about staying for an extended period, and a home that provides me with new challenges and provides rewards for my efforts. I want my home to be my vacation.  Always working hard to earn the next opportunity to leave home to me seems a sad way to live life.

MOB STOCKING HERBIVOROUS SOLAR CONVERSION

An important point Joel touches on in this chapter is that cheap grain is historically abnormal. In the past it took longer to finish (finish is a term that refers to the time it takes to raise an animal before its ready for slaughter) animals, but with the advent of cheap grain farmers could finish animals in record time. Chickens and Pigs convert grains much more efficiently than cows so the shift from beef being the most widely consumed meat shifted to chickens and pigs. Today chicken is the cheapest meat followed by pork and beef. How did this happen? Animals were pulled off pastures, put in confined tight quarters, and pumped full of drugs. As efficient as this model appears at first glance, when examined closely major holes are revealed. Joel breaks it down as follows:

If any piece of this abnormal model breaks down, it can’t function. If energy became expensive, grain transport to these animal factories would be too expensive. If energy became expensive, the chemical fertilizer would be too expensive and fertility maintenance would revert to long rotations of pasture between cultivation. If drug development can’t keep up with increasingly adapted and virulent pathogens, the animals will get sick and die. These are all very real scenarios and show the fragility of this system that most people think is efficient and expresses a rock-solid model that can feed that world. Nonsense. 

Joel goes on to add:

The only, and I repeat only for emphasis, reason that the current grain-fed beef and dairy factory system works is because petroleum is cheap. Take that out of the equation, and the whole thing collapses. 

Let’s Make a Despicable Farm 

In this chapter Joel takes a closer look at CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations) which are the current model for raising animals. One of the most often asked questions Joel gets when discussing his sustainable farming model is “But is there enough land to produce it this way?”

They see our pigs running around on pasture, in the woods. Chickens are out on the pasture. Cows graze contentedly. Yes, at first blush it seems like this takes more land. But what you don’t see when viewing the picture of that CAFO are the square miles of land required to produce the grain, and the square miles of land required to handle the manure generated by that facility. The CAFO is not a stand alone structure, rising out of the landscape in some sort of  self-contained system. Every day a tractor-trailer drives up with a load of grain from some distant state or even continent and augers it into giant  feed bins attached to the CAFO. Absent that intravenous injection nothing in that facility would live for a day. That production unit is completely dependent on huge tracts of land to grow the food and dispose of the manure. You don’t see the pumps, augers, pipes, trucks, slurry lagoons, slurry spreaders,and trains bringing material in nd hauling material out.That’s not in the picture. 

Joel goes on:

Let’s assume for just a moment that the pastured livestock on our farm ate the same amount of imported feedstuffs as the same number in a CAFO. If that were the case, it would not take one more square yard of land to produce the feedstuffs for them than it would if they were housed in confinement. The consumption is identical. The only difference is where the animals are housed. But the fact is that our animals are spreading their own manure, displacing tons of grain production, and being processed and consumed nearby. 

Hmmm… which one sounds like the healthier more sustainable model? The points Joel raises here are too good not to continue, so I will. He wraps up the point by adding:

It would not take one more acre of land to produce all the animals the world currently consumes if they were all raised like ours at Polyface. This system takes the energy out of the equation. When energy prices really spiked a couple years ago, we performed a cost analysis of gross sales compared to energy used and we were different by a factor of 10. That’s not 10 percent. That’s 1,000 percent, compared to a typical industrial farm. In other words, our fuel costs per dollar in gross sales are only 10 percent of an industrial farm’s fuel costs as a percentage of gross sales. That’s a lot less energy used per dollar in sales. Make no mistake, the efficiencies ascribed to CAFOs can last only as long as energy is cheap. The day energy costs return to normalcy, CAFOs will no longer enjoy “economies of scale.” They will instead be obsolete.

Here are a few pics of CAFOs. (Not included in the book)

Cows

Pigs Chickens
   

 

 

You Get What You Pay For

The percentage of American per capita income spent on food is the lowest of any country in the world. Another downtrend is the portion of the retail dollar that goes into the farmer’s pocket. Forty years ago, it was fifty cents on the dollar, while today it’s a mere eight cents. Joel addresses several points in this chapter but the first one and the one that everybody knows when looking for value is “You get what you pay for.” Joel puts it like this:

This is better food. It tastes better. It’s nutriitionally superior based on mountains of emperical tests. It’s safer from pathogens. We say, “You get what you pay for” when talking about vacations, clothing, houses, and automobiles, but somehow this is not supposed to hold true when it comes to food. 

This is a great point, and if you shop smart when buying clean nutrient dense foods it can actually be cheaper than buying the low quality supermarket stuff. Make a small investment -spend $200 on a freezer – people spend more than that in one night out at the bars.  Buy half a cow or a quarter. That meat is going to be a couple dollars less than the super market price and it’s going to be much healthier and tastier. When you eat healthy food you become healthier as this is the clean fuel your body is designed for, and as a result you end up saving money on medical bills. You also become more productive and the quality of your life improves.  If you treat your car terrible, don’t maintain it, fill it up with tainted fuel you’re going to spend a lot of money getting it repaired. Same goes for your body. The art of economics is not only looking at the short term, but looking at the long term. Spending the same amount of money or likely less per pound of meat now (buying in bulk), and as a result saving money on medical bills in the long term should be a no brainer. But changing habits is hard for most people, even when there’s clearly a better option, and even when it’s more cost effective. Just look at the obesity epidemic for proof of this.

Get Your Hands Grubby

In this chapter I was shocked to learn about new legislation passed and supported by the Obama administration in December of 2010. It’s essentially an inheritance tax. Joel, who has worked and lived on his family farm his entire life will need to pay the government 35% of the farm’s value when his mom passes away. Think about this. When the family purchased the land in 1961 they paid $49,000.  Joel and his family have invested their lives into healing that land and turning it into something productive. Through their work they have increased the value of the land. Now 60 years later with inflated land values the farm is valued at $1.5 million. So if the Salatin family would like to keep the farm they’ve stewarded for the past 60 years (And fully paid for 60 years ago) they will have to pay $525,000 to the government when Joel’s mom passes. This “tax” is over 10 times what they originally paid for the farm, and when Joel dies, his son Dan will have to pay again. This is pure insanity!  This folks is not normal. In fact we should call it what it is – legalized plunder. I think there are very few people who are even aware that such legislation was passed. But considering the amount of legislation passed every year without the knowledge of the public this shouldn’t surprise anyone. For a little perspective on this since 1995 there have been 65,000 new regulations that include 550 federal agencies to enforce them. If we average that out we’re looking at over 3,600 new regulations per year. This is not normal.

I’m From the Government 

This chapter is very important. Joel actually wrote an entire book on this topic which I’ve already reviewed entitled Everything I Want to Do is Illegal. It’s important because the average person has no idea the harm government has caused to small farmers and the local food movement, all in the name of safety. The government has prescribed one size fits all regulations that when put into practice systematically eliminate the small producers ability to sell finished product. They can grow it, but once they try to process it and sell it they enter an entirely new dimension. For specific stories on the absurdity and hypocrisy read the book review I did for Everything I Want to do is Illegal.

The Church of Industrial Foods 

The previous chapter is in fact a kind of set up for what is revealed in this one. Midway through the chapter Joel tells the story of a friend in Florida:

I have a friend in Florida who was raided for selling raw dairy. Mind you, his customers wanted this product, of their own free will. Eventually Florida let him register these products as pet food and he is selling them just fine. Everybody knows they are not going to pets. These raw dairy products are going to people, of course. If it really is a dangerous substance, don’t you think the government would stop it? Why was it hazardous when people were buying it outright, but suddenly it’s fine in this pet food charade? None of this is about food safety; it’s about regulating market access. 

Later in the chapter goes on to tell an equally frustrating story:

I have a friend with an abattoir and one day his employee who was supposed to check the carcass chill room temperature every two hours failed to check it at the 2 p.m. time. The paperwork went across the food police desk with that one box not checked. The food police wanted the entire contents of the room discarded – more than $20,000 worth of meat. The temperature was perfect at the noon check and at the 4 p.m. check. It wasn’t reasonable to assume there had been a spike at the 2 p.m. time. The intervention of a senator finally halted an otherwise heinous reaction. 

This is not normal. This is pure madness. Sadly this madness is the madness that rules the markets when it comes to our food. One thing Joel focuses on is emphasizing the point that every time people push for government regulation the end result is more stories like the ones told above. This is not to say let the streets flow with spoiled milk and rotten meat as many in the big government camp would have you believe, it simply means we as humans have the ability to regulate ourselves and make our own choices when it comes to what we put into our bodies. If we are not intelligent to make these simple choices, why would we be intelligent enough to elect the right people to make these decisions for us? The logic doesn’t hold.

In February of 2010 the Farm-to-consumer Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The lawsuit challenged the federal regulations that ban the transport and sale of raw milk across state lines. In April the FDA filed its response to the lawsuit. Here are a few of the highlights from their official response:

– “There’s is no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular food.”

– “Plantiff’s assertion of a “fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health, which includes what foods they do and do not choose to consume for themselves and their families” is similarly unavailing because plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish.

– There is no “deeply rooted” historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds. 

With its response the government makes its stance on food rights rather clear. If this doesn’t bother you, then, well I’m surprised you’ve made it this far into my book review. Not being able to choose what kind of food you eat is clearly tyrannical to anyone who has a semblance of critical thinking ability. It certainly flies in the face of the notion that we’re a “free people.” There was no guaranteed rights on the topics of food or even drug freedom at the time of the writing of the Constitution because at the time regulating what people put in their bodies had never been done, not even by the most tyrannical of monarchies. The thought of the possibility was so abnormal it never crossed their minds.

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer 

Everyone should read this book, but of course only a minority will. The hope for a book like this is that it reaches people who — think. A large portion of the populace pretty much shut off and stop thinking or never really begin thinking – for this I give full credit to the public education system, another government program with the one size fits all model of success – and by success I mean failure. None of this would be  a problem of course if people were simply given a choice. But you don’t have much of a choice when there’s a gun pointed at your head. This seems like an extreme statement, but when you look at it from first principles it’s the simple truth of our reality. If you home school your kids and are against the idea of  funding such a mind numbing institution as public schooling you don’t have the choice to opt out. Property taxes primarily fund public schools and if you don’t pay your property tax you lose your home. And if you resist when they come to take your home you will be shot and or thrown in cage. Not much of a choice. The same thing goes for food. If you are a small farmer and have neighbors that want to buy milk from you, you will be “breaking the law” by participating in this voluntary exchange and if the food police catches wind of this they will come and raid your farm. They will take your equipment and destroy your product. And if you resist you will be shot down. This has happened countless times and continues to happen today. A great documentary that highlights several of these occurrences is called Farmageddon. There is no logic that can ever defend this kind of heavy handed violence. The only thing we can do is get people who are not aware of what is going on, and are still able to think, and want a better world to understand these things and start making the small changes in their lives to contribute to a normal and healthy culture. As I mentioned before at the end of each chapter Joel gives a list of several practical things you can start doing to make these changes in your own life. No legislation will save us. Only a population that is educated and motivated enough to take it upon themselves to be the change they want to see will make this world a better place to live.

Buy the book via Amazon by clicking HERE (It’s an affiliate link so I get a little kickback if you buy. Thanks!)

 

Joel talking about the book

Comments

  1. Addye Thole

    Informative review. Unfortunately positive change seems to always take more time than it should. But I for one believe that staying positive is a vital component in fighting any worthy cause. So very true that the government’s powerful abuse is disheartening & scary but people united for the right reasons will overcome!!!!! I am grateful for Joel & all of the other folks already so invested with their livelihoods on the line & in the fight for our food freedoms. Thank you James for keeping the information coming as you have. Thank you.

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