Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Disney Effect

Walt Disney's Disney Corp's effect on the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, cannot be overstated.

Disney et al's part in forming the developing minds of children in America is likely greater than that of their parents. The total number of words communicated to a young mind by repeated watching of "Pocahontas, the Lion King, and Bambi, etc..." are, in most American homes, greater than the total number of words from parent to child.

The result? Besides the addiction to the entertainment content of TV and Film is a nation of maladjusted adults suffering from "Disney bias disorder". We don't live happily ever after. Most of us are a long way from beautiful - and even those possessing physical beauty only have it for a short while. Events and phenomenon do not necessarily resolve perfectly the way they do on the Disney channel. Animals are imbued with human personalities and sensibilities that they simply do not have (think Timothy Treadwell, the poster boy for "Disney Bias Disorder"). As these inconsistencies pile up in our real lives, the effects upon the mental well being of the individuals most at risk becomes apparent... just not to them.

Recently, Sharon Astyk took James E. McWilliams to task on his pointless diatribe to be found here at the New York Times.

Sharon is too kind. While Sharon declines to criticize vegetarians/vegans position on food production saying she "absolutely respects those who make that choice"... well, I do not. This is just another manifestation of the Disney Bias Disorder. Or anti-social personality disorder/borderline personality disorder. Or... something.  I find the condescending lectures I receive from Vegetarian types suffering from Disney's influence to be almost too much to bear (and it doesn't help that in my 50 plus year of living I have NEVER MET a pro-Life Vegetarian... this is not to say that one (or many) does not exist... just that I haven't met one... and, given my experience, if Pro-Life Vegetarians do exist it would seem to me that they are an insubstantial minority of all Vegetarians. I cannot fathom a more despicable hypocrite than a Pro-Abortion Vegetarian. Any person that refuses to eat an animal's flesh on ethical and moral grounds but is willing to countenance the killing of an unborn child is clearly not playing with a full deck. If you are a Pro-Life Vegetarian you have my most sincere apologies. We probably shouldn't spend a lot of time together, but how you live your life is none of my business (and I how I live and what I eat are none of yours). If you are a Pro-Abortion Vegetarian... P**s off. You are reading the wrong blog.

A little history on Vegetarianism in the U.S.: It pretty much did not exist in the U.S. prior to 1971. Yes, there were pockets of "vegetarianism" in certain cultures and religions around the world... but given the history, these were not significant influences on Vegetarianism in the West or the U.S., which I assert, came about more as a result of Mickey Mouse and Donal Duck than Hinduism.

Mr. McWilliams starts out predictably enough using the term "sustainable" in his essay's title (clearly, he wants to align himself with the larger environmental movement). Then comes out swinging:

THE industrial production of animal products is nasty business. From mad cow, E. coli and salmonella to soil erosion, manure runoff and pink slime, factory farming is the epitome of a broken food system.
Never mind that the statistical representation of people sickened to death from these nasties is miniscule when compared to the deaths and illnesses from malnutrition... especially, given the subject under discussion the malnutrition caused by Vegetarianism itself. Mankind developed over the past several million years in the absence of agriculture. That means little or no grains or legumes. But we do need, and in substantial quantities such nutrients as Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron, and Zinc, just to name a few, and these are largely unavailable on vegetarian diet.

McWilliams' continues:

There have been various responses to these horrors, including some recent attempts to improve the industrial system, like the announcement this week that farmers will have to seek prescriptions for sick animals instead of regularly feeding antibiotics to all stock. My personal reaction has been to avoid animal products completely. But most people upset by factory farming have turned instead to meat, dairy and eggs from nonindustrial sources. Indeed, the last decade has seen an exciting surge in grass-fed, free-range, cage-free and pastured options. These alternatives typically come from small organic farms, which practice more humane methods of production. They appeal to consumers not only because they reject the industrial model, but because they appear to be more in tune with natural processes.
"Horrors"? You are welcome to your personal reaction, Mr. McWilliams, but if you wish to admonish others the least you could do is support your contentions. The "announcement" by the U.S. FDA and your "personal reaction" aside... any appeal of "more humane methods of production" needs a great deal more time and space than you give it here.

For all the strengths of these alternatives, however, they’re ultimately a poor substitute for industrial production. Although these smaller systems appear to be environmentally sustainable, considerable evidence suggests otherwise.
Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming. It requires 2 to 20 acres to raise a cow on grass. If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs). A tract of land just larger than France has been carved out of the Brazilian rain forest and turned over to grazing cattle. Nothing about this is sustainable. 
I am going to go out on a limb here... I bet the 60 million American Buffalo that existed before we drove them to extinction emitted methane in the same manner as our current bovine inhabitants, only they were bigger and emitted more... as well as the millions upon millions of Elk and Moose and other large ruminants that roamed North America... and they were all grass fed. We probably have fewer , and a less biomass of, ruminants in North America now than when Columbus landed... but never mind your silly assertion there.... Pastured chickens increase global warming?! Really?! ROFL!!

I keep cattle on my property so that I do not have to "Bush Hog". "Bush hogging" is industrial sized lawn mowing. No cattle? No pasture - and no meat and milk - and no organic farming... but if you want to keep the land in Ag use you will have to "bush hog" - with all of that activities diesel consumption, pollution, and waste. There is this sense that forrest sequesters more carbon than grassland - but that is just not true (feel free to google for yourself... too much data here. The larger point is that the sequestration capacity of forrest versus grass likely favors grass).

Of course, cutting down the rain forrest in Brazil is a bad idea... but what does that have to do with meat consumption outside of Brazil?

Let's move on...

Advocates of small-scale, nonindustrial alternatives say their choice is at least more natural. Again, this is a dubious claim. Many farmers who raise chickens on pasture use industrial breeds that have been bred to do one thing well: fatten quickly in confinement. As a result, they can suffer painful leg injuries after several weeks of living a “natural” life pecking around a large pasture. Free-range pigs are routinely affixed with nose rings to prevent them from rooting, which is one of their most basic instincts. In essence, what we see as natural doesn’t necessarily conform to what is natural from the animals’ perspectives.
I have no idea which advocates said what about "natural"... or how they define that. Cross breeding birds happens in nature and in agriculture... not sure what his point is here, other than that these creatures "suffer"... and again on free range pigs... McWilliams' concern is once again about their comfort... attacking agriculture as "unnatural"?... and vaccines, surgery, abortion, refrigeration, HVAC, anesthesia, etc... ARE natural? Man impacts and manipulates his environment, as do all creatures.

The economics of alternative animal systems are similarly problematic. Subsidies notwithstanding, the unfortunate reality of commodifying animals is that confinement pays. If the production of meat and dairy was somehow decentralized into small free-range operations, common economic sense suggests that it wouldn’t last. These businesses — no matter how virtuous in intention — would gradually seek a larger market share, cutting corners, increasing stocking density and aiming to fatten animals faster than competitors could. Barring the strictest regulations, it wouldn’t take long for production systems to scale back up to where they started.
Clearly Mr. McWilliams has not traveled much in developing countries. Most of these nations' food supplies, outside of the mega-cities, ARE decentralized, non-confinement, and local... and they have been that way since time immemorial. What prompts these other forces are the mega cities. Are we to undo the mega city?

All this said, committed advocates of alternative systems make one undeniably important point about the practice called “rotational grazing” or “holistic farming”: the soil absorbs the nutrients from the animals’ manure, allowing grass and other crops to grow without the addition of synthetic fertilizer. As Michael Pollan writes, “It is doubtful you can build a genuinely sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients.” In other words, raising animals is not only sustainable, but required. 
But rotational grazing works better in theory than in practice. Consider Joel Salatin, the guru of nutrient cycling, who employs chickens to enrich his cows’ grazing lands with nutrients. His plan appears to be impressively eco-correct, until we learn that he feeds his chickens with tens of thousands of pounds a year of imported corn and soy feed. This common practice is an economic necessity. Still, if a farmer isn’t growing his own feed, the nutrients going into the soil have been purloined from another, most likely industrial, farm, thereby undermining the benefits of nutrient cycling.
This just gets weirder and weirder. In agriculture, a farmer either uses industrial fertilizer or animal manures/urine with help from legumes. We do not have enough farm land remaining on earth to allow land to go fallow... and in antiquity, when farmers let a field rest every 7 years, that was the year they put their animals on that parcel. And could Salatin grow his own feed? Of course he could... but why should he? He can trade his meat products onto the market and the contra party farmer supplying the grains can sell his grains on the market - and the nutrient cycle is not broken by this. What breaks the nutrient cycle is the manner in which we humans dispose of our wastes.

I farm organically. I can tell you with absolute certainty that without our animals to cycle the nutrients (with help from yours truly in taking those "nutrients" (manure) and concentrating it where it is needed) organic farming does not work. If that is true, and we did not slaughter and consume our excess males/past prime females the livestock/fertilizer producers would consume all of the food we grew... and what would be the point of agriculture then? Is McWilliams suggesting that 7 Billion people revert to hunter/gathering?

Finally, there is no avoiding the fact that the nutrient cycle is interrupted every time a farmer steps in and slaughters a perfectly healthy manure-generating animal, something that is done before animals live a quarter of their natural lives. When consumers break the nutrient cycle to eat animals, nutrients leave the system of rotationally grazed plots of land (though of course this happens with plant-based systems as well). They land in sewer systems and septic tanks (in the form of human waste) and in landfills and rendering plants (in the form of animal carcasses). 
Farmers could avoid this waste by exploiting animals only for their manure, allowing them to live out the entirety of their lives on the farm, all the while doing their own breeding and growing of feed. But they’d better have a trust fund.

McWilliams uses the logic such that "if 2 is good 4 must be better" to arrive at his first assertion. As I mentioned earlier, if we do not "interrupt" the nutrient cycle of some animals the animals will consume all of the food. The only legitimate point raised in this essay is the handling of human waste. McWilliams is spot on there. I have already covered the absolute necessity of slaughtering animals the very moment their feed to meat ratio has peaked. There is a balancing act in permaculture that McWilliams seems unable or unwilling to grasp.

McWilliams does not deconstruct the meat-agriculture system. The regulations promulgated by the USDA created the Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO's) in the first place. Even in the U.S., ALL CATTLE are grass fed into adulthood. In the nations without these silly, onerous, and outdated regulations (think developing countries) that I have personally visited a butcher shop is also the slaughter yard and the "CAFO". In the U.S., it was the regulatory environment, bought and paid for by the large meat packers, that prevents meat from being raised and processed locally and requiring huge inputs of grain (no doubt with help of certain other special interest groups). Because no small farmer/processor can withstand the economics imposed by the USDA "inspection" regulations (ROFL!! SNICKER!!! (LOLOLOLOLOL!!!! Sorry... that got away from me... I laughed because even with that outrageous regulatory expense, the USDA inspects less than 2% of the meat that makes it to market). You see, I am forced to sell my cattle at an auction. The cattle are then driven by truck to Oklahoma to a CAFO where they are "fattened" (read fed with corn with all of that inputs attendant effects on the environment AND your health), slaughtered, and processed at a USDA compliant (and HUGE) facility with the economies of scale necessary to meet the USDA regulations put into place before the advent of refrigeration.  The meat is then loaded back on a truck and driven back to the grocery store down the street from where the animal was raised. A 1000 mile round trip of a diesel guzzling and road kill... all because of the F&*(^#ing USDA and the portion of the electorate seeking ever greater regulation.

This is a very complicated story... one that absolutely, positively won't have a happy ending. The solution, however, has NOTHING to do with vegetarianism. Vegetarianism requires people to consume huge amounts of grains (and legumes). How's that massive grain consumption working out for our collective health? Millions of animals are killed in the process of farming grains, transporting grains, milling grains, processing grains... these creatures don't seem to count on McWilliams' balance sheet.... nor the health effects on homo sapiens who evolved to consume meat and not grain.

Lastly... while "we" ARE stuck with the industrial food system, you and I as individuals are not. Individuals can "opt out". Over time, nature will put things in proper balance. Some folks will opt out by paying more for organic foods or by seeking out relationships with organic farmers... Some will simply change how they participate in the system by producing as much of their own food as possible... but that will have some substantial political and societal effects... effects that the political type supporting this change has likely not given a great deal of thought to.

I had this to say about Organic Family Farming in my post of June 12, 2009:

A movement toward self-sufficiency has taken hold on the Web - if not in the real world. People visit a plethora of sites to get their fix - and that's ok. You gotta start somewhere.

I try to approach this in a very practical way, and to report back that way, too.

So... if you really want to be "self-sufficient"...

Well, you can't be 100% self-sufficient, and you don't need to be. You can produce most of your own, food, but not all of it, and you don't need to - and you can do it and still have a life and a job.

The first misconception is that you can garden your way to self-sufficiency... egh! wrong, thanks for playing!  You can grow most of your own vegetables - growing spinich, brocolli, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, carrots, etc... sufficient for a family of 4 or 5 is no big deal (preserving it all IS a big deal). Of course, if you tried to subsist off just this you would be dead or pretty sickly pretty soon (if you either have to earn money or farm full time that is... I guess sedentary couch potatoes could get by with just veggies, though their teeth and bones would certainly miss dairy in their diet). That produce is easy for a kitchen garden to produce.

Corn, potatoes, and beans in sufficient quantities to sustain your family is going to take a bit more work. Actually, a lot more, but still doable.

I get nasty emails from vegetarians on a semi regular basis lately. I always point out to them that they kill more animals with their consumption of fossil fuels than I do by feeding my family, but never mind hard facts - we are talking sensitivities here.

You see, I am a card carrying member of PETA... no not that PETA, the other one: People Eating Tasty Animals (and their milk and eggs, and using their manure for fertilizer). Animal protein is an absolute necessity in agrarian cultures with little fossil fuel inputs (try getting Omega-3 in your diet without animal fat), and as I TRY to do everything with as little fossil fuel input as possible (just look at my pictures... does it look like I cut the grass very often? NAFC.) they are necessay here, as well.

(I wonder if vegetarians consider the road kill from truck and trains carrying their grains and vegetables to them, or killed by climate change and pollution caused by operating farm and transport equiment, producing chemical fertilizers, pesticides used on the crops (bugs are animals, too), animals killed by farm equipment (rabbits, birds, snakes, toads, etc... call those fields home), I could go on and on but a "true beleiver" Vegan would not have read it anyway. Am I the only one to notice that, well, let me rephrase... I have NEVER met a vegan that was not pro-abortion. How's that for being STUNNINGLY full of sh*t?)

If you were looking for politically correct self sufficiency, you came to the wrong blog.

But I digress...

Organic Farms need animals for fertilizer and food - simple like that. Not want, should-have-if-possible, or ONLY for the manure (what would you do with all of the excess bulls, billy goats, roosters, and Boar hogs? They would quickly destroy your home and fields, eat every blade of grass, and injure and kill your children (think I exagerate? Leave your children in a field with a bunch of Bulls and Boar Hogs for an afternoon, let me know what you find when you come back), etc...

Let me repeat: Organic farming means animals for traction, for food, and for fertilizer. No animals, no organic farming - and no organic farming means continued factory farming and long distance food transportation, and that means climate change, pollution, etc...

It takes time, effort, and practice to be self-sufficent. You cannot learn it on the web. You could still be a doctor, lawyer, or indian chief - whatever it is you do for a living - and still produce most of your own food at home (if you live in the country or the burbs, that is). You don't need a lawn whatsoever. Every inch around your home can grow something edible. Fruit trees and berry bushes instead of ornamentals. Grapes instead of fences or hedges. Raised beds instead of a front yard. Housing 20 chickens and 2 dairy goats instead of a dog and a cat will give you eggs and milk rather than hookworm and dirty kitty litter, and the chickens and goats have a much better carbon foot print... it ain't even close. (I have a dog and barn cats... but they are working animals).

You would have to have the cooperation of your wife - good luck - and your family. Why do I say "wife" and not "spouse"? Because, there will be damn few single women, or men, moving to the country to start a self sufficient homestead, and even fewer single mothers. Nope, the demographics say it will be married people with children, with Dad providing and mom feeding the family and raising and educating the children - who'd a thunk it?! (Nothing is absolute. We have some lovely gay women neighbors (they describe themselves as "bull dykes" among other things... I love people that can laugh at themselves) running a self sufficient farm, and they are a hoot!)

So why'd I say "good luck"? I live half the year in Boca Raton, FL, where the poor people have a million dollar net worth, and the rich quite a bit more than that, and I should know - I manage their money! I hear their concerns like a priest in the confessional. Any of those guys even TRYS to move his family to a small holding homestead or ditch the landscaping for a productive garden, or try's to downsize the familY'y consumption... and it is off to divorce court for his troubles (I truly wish the "Real" American Housewife were more like Sharon Astyk but that that just ain't the case - America is fascinated by the Reality Show "The Real Housewives of Wherever" precisely because it is, in fact, REALITY). Sorry, but "family law" has left the successful "king of his castle" nothing more than a neutered figurehead, a laboring eunich that, if he so much as steps out of line, will lose his home and life's savings in addition to the family jewels he lost to the marriage/divorce industrial complex by marrying without a prenup agreement.  What is the point of marriage in a society that promotes divorce?  

(I am sure to get some winning emails and comments with that. Funny thing about the "truth", it gets people's piss hot. If I were to speak untruths, no one would care because we all know they simply were not true.)

There is good news, though. The Great Recession AND Peak Oil, in addition to making people poorer and requiring them to be more self sufficient,  is going to demolish the marriage/divorce industrial complex. People (men - I mean, come on, have you ever heard of "GROOM" Magazine?) are already:

  1. Putting off marriage

  2. Not getting married, ever (over 40% of American children are born out of wedlock)

  3. Those that do marry are Engaging a pre-nuptual agreement more often to level the playing field

These were the unintended consequences (along with our SKY HIGH divorce rate and destroyed families) of Gloria Steinem, et al, and their Feminist revolution (one whose putative benefits went to 30 to 50 year old women AND THEN SPLIT WITH THEIR LAWYERS at the direct expense of 0 to 20 year old women (girls) and men (boys).  The Great Recession is going to remove the incentive to divorce that was an unintended consequence in the 1960's and 1970's revisions of family law here in the U.S.   People are going to NEED their family in a world without Medicare, Social Security, and Food Stamps.

Back to Organic Farming... So what does the previous couple of paragraphs diatribe have to do with Small Holding, Homestead, Organic Farming, whatever...?

There was a reason they were called "Family Farms"!!!  Family, as in a husband and wife and their children.  Not that that is necessarily what a family has to look like, but it was themost  successful model for the building blocks of "community" for Millenia prior to the industrial age.

In an agrarian society do you know what women without husbands DO FOR A LIVING??  I'll give you 2 1/2 guesses, and a hint:  It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, professions around.  If Peak Oil means we are going back to an agrarian system and the collapse of industrial society - why is it verbotten to discuss ALL likely outcomes.

Don't like the political commentary with your victory gardens and dairy goats?  My apologies, but it was politics that got us into the mess we are in, politics that writes the nation's laws (including family law) and it is the analysis of those political errors that might lead the way out of it. Besides, this is my blog.

Yours for a better world (by starving out divorce lawyers)


End of June 12 2009 re-Post

Things have changed in the 3 years since that post.

- to be continued.


tweell said...

The civilization=bad theme of Disney (and Cameron's Avatar, although that's a sf copy of Pocahontas) is Rousseau's theme of Natural Humanity and the happy savage glamorized and sold in a new package. Civilization makes us bad, immoral, greedy, etcetera. By leaving civilization, we can become good again. It sells well, doesn't it?

My mother has been a loose vegetarian for over eighty years, and is definitely anti-abortion. She's an ovo-lacto vegetarian and relies heavily on eggs, milk and cheese for protein. Mom did eat liver when pregnant with us kids; she's always been on the anemic side and iron supplements can only do so much. Call her a borderline vegetarian and pragmatic farm girl that raised and sold plenty of stock in her time.

The rule in medieval times was to let a field lie fallow once every 3 years. Less often than that would cause soil nutrient depletion. Yes, this was the field they would put their animals on.

My grandfather did 'hobby' farming, as the machine shop did well enough to take care of the family. He told me that he could keep fields going without using manure (and he was dead set against commercial fertilizers), but he could only harvest a field once every three years. The first 'fallow' year he'd plant beans, then disc them under. The second year he'd plant alfalfa or clover, then disc it under again. The third year he could plant and harvest. If he didn't do one of these 'green fertilizer' applications, he would keep the field fallow for two years instead.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

The world does not have the luxury your grandfather did... tillable land is at a premium and must be planted nearly every year... and that planting needs plenty of commercial fertilizers...

PioneerPreppy said...

Wow Greg that was well done. I wouldn't even know where to start on the comments.

I will say that I think the family court changes from the 60's 70's and 80's were deliberate in the outcome and not UN-inintended as you stated, but perhaps that was a mistype on your part.

I am not sure I totally agree with your assumption that a person can raise livestock while working. I have raised all forms of livestock in my life and honestly with the job I have these days I just cannot see any real livestock raising as becoming anything more than a money pit of calamity. Especially if we are talking about anything small and prey-like chickens and such. I could run some cattle but I really need to update some fences before I do that.

Of course my mother still uses my pasture for her very old horses and some sheep so I do have some stock if the need comes before I am completely ready.

BTW I want to use your quote of no pro life vegetarians. That was a hoot.

Anonymous said...

last I checked there was around 1/2 acre of arriable land per person and the ratio will probably get worse before it gets better.


tweell said...

Agreed. We've been eating oil for generations now, without oil there's no commercial fertilizers. Which says we must either find another source of power or suffer an immense die-off.

Kathy said...

I just had a conversation with a neighbor who was quite nasty when she learned that we are planning to harvest our layers this year and replace them with young stock."We don't eat our pets", was her snotty response. I replied that we don't either but that our chickens were not pets. They're a vital part of our little homestead. They don't have names although they do get a cuddle from time to time. She also questioned how we felt about "stealing" their offspring (eggs) and then beheading them later. I may be wrong but I have never been inclined to think of my birds, lovely as they are, as deep thinkers. They pretty much eat, poop and lay eggs. If they suffer from feelings of loss and grief I missed the signs. The whole self-sufficient thing is nagging at me. We never were and we never will be. I can't feed my family on our three acres but I can do a decent job with the help of beef and dairy raising neighbors, a local wheat CSA and some inputs I would rather not live without. I do love a good olive oil, coffee and Himalayan Pink Salt. I'm also fond of chocolate, really good vinegar and few other imported foods. Preserving our abundance is the key to keeping us fed around here but it's no small undertaking to do the level of canning I do. 700 to jars a year is a chore. I heading to Tampa in the morning to spend some time with my daughter. I go every so often and I'm always delighted to land back in Western Mass. I'm just not a city girl.

Anonymous said...

Growth is not the problem of the next 100 yrs., decline and aging of populations is the new problem (Russia, China, Japan, all of Europe, most of the Muslim world and most of the 3rd world nations). Birth rates are falling so fast that nations are having massive social unrest, with the last large generation of juveniles moving through the system you see the type of things that are happening in Middle East. The United States is keeping a steady growth path which in the long run will be this nation’s salvation. We have not even come close to population limits here yet.

The left always seems to be fighting a battle that is over when the new frontline is opening up. How does a Japanese economy survive when the average age is continuing to increase? China reached peek working age population around 2010 and have not even come close to western living standards and they have already started to turn into an import nation because of natural resource costs. Abortion and the ridiculous push to stop population growth have left most of the developed world with massive debt, no children to pay for programs and in many eastern nations there are problems with the male/female ratios also. This is truly a completely different paradigm than anything we have faced in modern times. How do you pay back debts which are claims on future growth without debt surfs? Oops I mean taxpayers.


Anonymous said...

I don't mean to imply that the 3rd world should be breeding to no ends, just that most of developed world should have tried to keep growth even if only 2.1 births or so.