Giving up corporate pork

This week's column is about my recent decision to give up corporate pork.

After I wrote the column, I had the pleasure of attending quite an event and hearing Carlo Petrini speak. There's audio of his remarks and photos at The Carrboro Citizen's new site dedicated to our area's rich agriculture and food traditions. Please take a look at Land & Table and tell me what you think.

Here's the column:

After a long weekend of negotiation between my conscience and my palate, I’ve finalized an internal agreement to give up corporate pork.

I know, I know, it seems impossible given the general pervasiveness of wonderful barbecue — not to mention that we are at the dawn of another grilling season. But based on a long-running concern about the economic and environmental consequences of massive hog operations and after spending a good deal of time of late hanging with farmers and the evangelicals of the Slow Food movement, I’m convinced that the price I’m paying for what’s coming from the packing houses of Smithfield, Hormel and others is far too high.

The amount on the package of those little Boston Butt steaks I’ve mastered may be $1.79 or less a pound, but the cost we’re all paying for everything from exploiting immigrant labor to the loss of small, family farms to the environmental impact of hog lagoons and what flows from the sluices into the Cape Fear and other rivers is dear indeed.

Politics and pollution have long led me to reconsider sending my dollars to the meat-packing industry, but it took walking the land with a farmer to push me into doing something about it.

My epiphany came about a month ago, standing atop a muddy row planted in kale with Stanley Hughes, a farmer still making a go of it on a hundred or so acres of fertile ground near the Orange-Person county line.

Hughes, owner of Pine Knot Farm, has converted most of the land he works from tobacco production to organic sweet potatoes, collards and other crops, along with some hogs, chickens and cattle. He’s performing exactly the kind of economic conversion the state says it wants and preserving family land and a way of life in an environmentally responsible way.

Most of us have forgotten what it’s like to have a deep connection to a piece of land. I got a quick reminder of that when I asked Stanley, whom I knew had grown up in the area, if he was from “around here.” I made a little circle with my hand when I asked the question and was imagining that to mean the general vicinity of Hurdle Mills, NC. Stanley replied “Oh, no,” then pointed to a house a couple hundred yards away. “I’m from over there.”

Driving away about an hour later that exchange stuck with me. Distance is all about perspective, and how distant most of us are from where our food comes from — distant in place and distant from responsibility for the consequences of what and how we eat.

Though there is plenty of talk about respecting our farm traditions, if consumers remain addicted to what Homer Simpson likes to call “cheap meat” all the rhetoric and good wishes in the world won’t help grow the ranks of farmers like Stanley. If we want to respect our land and farm traditions, we’ve got to change habits.

I’m fortunate to have alternatives and there are hopeful signs that a lot of other folks throughout the state will soon see them as well. In reaction to many of the concerns listed above, there is a growing trend in agriculture that is moving against the swift, corporate farm current. In our farmers’ markets we’re seeing more and more meat producers. A local meat club in which you order once-a-month directly from the farmer has also started up.

So, so long Smithfield. (My conscience even rejected a proposed “emergency barbecue clause” during drives to the beach.)

Yup, it costs more, but there’s something immensely satisfying about writing that check directly to a farmer. At least I know where my money’s going. Well, give or take a couple hundred yards or so.

Comments

Inspiring, Kirk

I was talking with a friend last night about how Kentucky invested a big chunk of its tobacco settlement money in retooling for local agriculture, building the markets and networks, etc., in ways that would further exactly what you're talking about.

While NC poured its dollars in to Golden Leaf. While some of the projects are aligned with the vision you describe, many, many more of them aren't. Big missed opportunity.

just at the Carrboro market today

The place was packed. It was financed in large part by a state grant. Ellie Kinnaird told me recently that she doubts they could win state money if they were trying to build it now.
Not hopeful the state will see the light on this soon. I'm afraid if the consumer doesn't step up, we'll continue to lose farms and become more and more a society where all food is factory fresh.
Check out the Petrini speech if you can (link's in the post). It really ties together sustainability, agricultural traditions and eating well.

Global Markets vs. Local Markets

Ellie Kinnaird's comments about the farmers market got me thinking...

Mac Legerton is one of our state's foremost thinkers and leaders on rural issues. Late last year, I heard him speak passionately about how the rural areas of our state are being left behind in the rush to respond to a "global marketplace." He was advocating that rural economic development should move towards creating local, sustainable markets that generate dividends from keeping investments in the community.

He had several examples, but the one that stuck with me was about creating localized food markets, which could sustain farmers (producers) and families (consumers) alike. I guess it's a return to 18th century economics in some ways, but it really may help people struggling with 21st century realities. I hope that he can influence some people to make this happen in places other than Carrboro.

As for pork... I bought some from both Cane Creek Farm and Eco Farm this morning while I was at the Carrboro Farmer's Market. Eco Farm is no more than short walk from my house. As I was unpacking my bags, I too was reflecting on the value of eating locally produced pork. Besides being good for society, it tastes better too!

Got mine

from Cane Creek, too.

Food for Thought

I keep trying. Thanks for encouraging me to keep trying.

I went to the "new" Farmer's Market in Smithfield for the second time. And for the second time - they weren't there!
(makes me wanna holler)

But I'm trying to wean myself off of Wal-Mart and their low, low, poi- prices.

My acre is planted. Next year - bees & chickens.

And if the
"producers" don't quit ******* with my food chain, the year after that I'm getting a goat. They can take me to court to tell me why I can't and I will win.

Can someone help me find a local buy direct meat producer in Johnston?
Sorry, I'm a carnivore and that's the facts.

Say hi to Mr. Hughes for me and tell him that I'm proud of him.

I've met the chickens

who supply my eggs, and while I believe their free-range status has made them happier, a couple of them tried to attack me, so I'm assuming there are still some issues that need addressing.

I think the Slow Food movement/idea is fantastic, but it's got to be promoted more. Once people develop new food procurement sources, word of mouth can boost it quite a bit, but this thing is flying way too far under the radar.

I Know Why They Attacked You

Chickens are my friends.

Hey, I'm a chick; what do you expect? ;)

I'm just glad

there weren't any bees around. What a way to go—"The bees brought him down and the chickens finished him off." :0