Letters, We Get Letters—-

Freddy the Fructarian lives! While I’ve been commenting at NewMexicoFoodHistory blogs, I’ve shared similar opinions on Facebook. It’s been interesting— take, for example, one friend’s reaction to water rationing on the Left Coast:

Background: Over 80% of California’s water goes to agriculture. That includes water for livestock, nut orchards, and cotton and corn production as well as the familiar California table crops. Recently Gov. Brown imposed restrictions only on urban water users. He explained that agriculture had already “taken a hit” over the five years of drought. Many farm tracts in the Central Valley, the heartland of commercial orchards, lie fallow due to the on-going irrigation water crisis. The immediate result, a situation that occurs much quicker than almond hoarding amongst your nut-munching friends, shows up at the unemployment offices in Fresno and Firebaugh. The valley’s farm workers have no fields to tend.lettucalmondsgrapes

In response, one Berkeley friend of mine wants to know why Big Ag is not being rationed along with urban users. “Agriculture sucks up all the water,” she complains. I reply that California grows 50% of the fruits and vegetables that the United States eats. What would she suggest instead? She replies that only 2% of California’s economy is agricultural. I bite my tongue and comment that while ag may produce only 2% of the state’s economy (her stats, not mine), it produces nearly 100% of Indiana’s spinach, lettuce, and kale. “Isn’t that relevant too?” I ask. She responds “Farmers don’t even have water meters!” I attempt to explain ditch and groundwater irrigation. Monitoring consumption is not as simple as nailing a water meter to the side of the barn, I explain. I agree that measuring ag water use is a good idea, but that installing the systems to do so economically impact smaller producers disproportionally to Big Ag, as in, beware of unintended consequences. She does not reply… a friend of a friend does instead. “So what?” he says.

I’m appalled. Of course I realize that drought means ag water use must be curtailed. Corn and cotton can grow elsewhere. Restrict those crops. Feedlot meat production, a big water user and polluter, slurps up a lot. Fatten beef elsewhere if you insist on the process. Even those restrictions, though sensible, will hurt many people. “So what?” as a response to leaving thousands of farmers and their employees without income as well as millions of consumers without a reliable source of fresh food seems a little cold. “So, people will scream,” he responded. “Get used to it,” he continued.

Meanwhile, back at the cow pasture—another friend of a friend sends me a l-o-n-g e-mail pNeandethalroving, via our dentition and fingernail patterns, that humans were not designed to eat meat. “It’s unnatural and unnecessary.” I comment that pandas (meat-eating teeth, bamboo diet), red tail hawks (carnivores with no teeth at all) and Hampshire hogs (jaws full of incisors, molars, and canines ready to eat just about anything) consume equally perverse diets and outdate us on the evolutionary tree. “Not relevant,” he says. “And do you know that grass-fed beef produces more methane than grain fed?” he continues. “Meat-eating adds to the carbon load.” “Surely wildebeests, yaks, zebus, big-horn sheep, musk ox, deer, buffalo, bison, camels and antelope turned out clouds of methane before God even invented the cow,” I respond but—there’s no winning this one.

There’s no hope of discussing veterinary research with the woman who thinks that Rutgers University tortures Holsteins solely to increase dairy profits either. I stumbled over her reactions on-line while searching for bovine research photos. She’s obviously never seen a bloated calf or watched the procedure to try to save it. You have to ram a cannula through the animal’bloats abdominal wall and into it’s rumen to vent the gases that crush its lungs. Veterinary schools developed sterile, controlled fistulas for research cows (literally, a picture window installed in the side of the animal) to study how its complex innards ferment vegetation. They then advise farmers what to feed to keep their herd healthy. The method was originally perfected on humans, not cows. A Doctor Beaumont, back in the 1820s, observed the interior of Alexis St. Martin, who had a fistula leading directly into his stomach, and then wrote the first detailed description of digestion. “But that human gave his permission to be a test subject!” says our outraged animal lover. “The cow never consented!” Well, yes, that’s true but—do you know any talking cows? “It’s medieval torture,” she continues. No, that’s what happens when the cow bloats. In contrast, the inspection portals don’t seem to bother Bossie any more than the hole to his stomach disturbed St. Martin. Alexis got bored while Doc Beaumont spent hours watching him digest things (the good doccannulator lowered meat on a string into the hole) but otherwise seemed comfortable and, unlike the bovines, he could talk.

I conclude from the above, and other interchanges I’ve had recently, that an awful lot of well-meaning people have no idea what’s involved in keeping them fed. They also seem somewhat callous about rural economics as well as intolerant of lifestyles that are not their own. I’m concerned about healthily sustaining people. One size does not fit all. Relentless single-mindedness will not feed the world.

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One thought on “Letters, We Get Letters—-”

  1. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of the biology involved and the plight of the environment and farm workers–as we have discussed before on several occasions, it is not just food and consumption or even field to table (or farm to fork, if you prefer) to consumer. There are many processes, consequences, and much labor involved before and even during and after these stages that is often left behind the scenes.

    Also, It seems like those in Indiana should be asking why “100% of spinach, lettuce and kale” in their stores comes from California. Over the years, I have seen that when people start asking that question–and asking means speaking with the produce manager at your local grocery store–that things do change. A marketing campaign for local food helps tremendously, but as you’ve written here, animal raising is more complicated to explain to consumers. Another illustration of your points on contentiousness and (mis)informed consumers is the counter-marketing blitz of “100% Corn-fed beef” in response to the “100% grass-fed.”

    Like

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