The Gospel of Local Food, Part Two: To Label or Not to Label?

A while back I published a post about “pink slime“. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten pink slime just yet…it’s also know as “lean finely textured beef” and it’s pretty much a by-product of the beef processing industry that is mixed into ground beef and sold in some grocery stores as well as used in the school food program. I’m not a fan, but if you don’t mind to eat it, I support your right to do so.

Back when I published my post, I was an advocate of forced labeling to let the consumer know whether or not the product contains lean finely textured beef. After that post, however, I finished reading Joel Salatin’s Folks, This Ain’t Normal. Salatin is a farmer who raises a variety of livestock at Polyface Farms in Virginia. He uses traditional, sustainable methods and he and his family and staff have restored a once nearly ruined farm to rich, beautiful, and productive. His voice in the book is honest and frank, and he makes no bones about his feelings about matters of food and farming. His ideas and discussion brought me from my obsession with “organic” food to a realization that local food-even if it isn’t always 100% organic-needs to be our focus (it also was my inspiration to write my first Gospel of Local Food post).

Salatin points out the prohibitive cost of labeling of all sorts for small farmers and producers. For an industrial farming or meat production operation, the cost of the actual labeling process is pocket change; their concern is the loss of business that they risk when their products are exposed for what they really are. For small farmers, however, labeling could effectively cost enough to put them out of business-even though it would no doubt bring more customers their way. Interesting dilemma.

So, what’s the solution? I like Salatin’s answer.

“When foodies say, ‘Demand this food [product, service, label] at your supermarket,’ I want to respond, ‘Quit going to the supermarket. Go find your farmer instead. Thousands and thousands of farmers are out there to serve you….We’re here and we’re ready to serve you outside this abnormal system.”

Abnormal system. Have you ever thought of it that way? Think of it like this: when your grandparents were children, supermarkets were a new thing. People had their own gardens, their own chickens, their own cows. That was normal. Now, you mention backyard chickens or baking your own bread or making your own cheese, and everyone looks at you like you have two heads. I have to laugh when people talk about the “growing local food movement”. Back in the day that was the only food movement. I say we just get back to the old normal…who’s with me?

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2 thoughts on “The Gospel of Local Food, Part Two: To Label or Not to Label?

  1. I love this! Excellent post. Exactly. I’ve always seen it as a return to what human beings have done for the majority of history. This “abnormal” system is a very recent thing; I hope/wish that one day (probably not in our lifetimes) it will be regarded as merely a historical curiosity, a result of world wars and a technology boom in the early 20th century.

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