A List that Sums Things Up Nicely

Hi Readers! Just got this interesting letter from a Florida gal named Linda Wightman, who blogs at Lift Up Your Hearts. I haven’t seen the book she describes, but I thought her list of things that are going wrong in society was as tight as it was right. So here it is!

The Parallels Between a Free-Range Farmer’s Book & Free-Range Kids, by Linda Wightman

As I was reading Joel Salatin’s book, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front, I was repeatedly struck by the similarities between his struggles on a “family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm” and many of the stories I’ve read here at Free-Range Kids.

You have to wonder why our society is so opposed to such an elegant, inexpensive, healthy and environmentally responsible food source — an old-fashioned one — just as you have to wonder why we have become afraid to allow children to ride their bikes around the block without adult supervision, an old-fashioned childhood. The logic is startlingly similar behind a system that deems a steak wholesome if it’s sold at the supermarket, but far too dangerous to eat if you buy it from your neighbor, and a system that tells parents their children are safer inside watching TV all day than playing in their own backyards.

At root, I believe the problems are these:

*The tendency to value safety above all other considerations

*An inability or unwillingness to make cost/benefit calculations

*The sincere, but mistaken, desire to replace individual, family, and community responsibility with regulations and legal requirements

*An irrational belief in the achievability of 100% safety if only we follow a certain set of rules

*Acting as if worst-case scenarios were commonplace

*And all of the above leading to a situation in which we, our families, and our nation are actually in more danger, not less.

As Salatin himself put it, “On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose…. When faith in our freedom gives way to fear of our freedom, silencing the minority view becomes the operative protocol.”

37 Responses

  1. nice comparison. i think it holds. love salatin.

  2. I feel like cutting and pasting this on every “OMG, my neighbors let their kids play outside unsupervised!” thread I ever read from now on.

    That is exactly how I feel, but I have never been able to word it as well.

  3. Oy. Great, but scary, parallels. FYI, you can get a bit of Salatin from Michael Pollan’s works – watching Food, Inc or reading Omnivore’s Dilemma.

  4. I SO agree with the third one. Anytime anything bad happens, someone immediately cries for regulations to prevent it ever happening again. Instead, let’s have more personal responsibility and if you want to cry for something, cry for public awareness and education about whatever topic you hold dear.

  5. I agree with free range kids, and support local farming in some cases, but think that this blog entry made a good point that local farming isn’t always the best use of land (which is exactly what item 2 is discussing): http://budiansky.blogspot.com/2010/09/sustainable-sentiments.html
    Anyway, a bit off-topic, but I think that if you are going to use cost/benefit analysis as an argument, then you have to be realistic about it and open to things that might go against your instinct – and that applies in both situations.

  6. Yeah, as my brother says, rules are not meant to prevent accidents: they only determine who pays when something happens.

  7. Great list and much more succinct than I could ever be! I will be sharing this with as many people as I can. Now if we can find a way for those observations to get into parenting skill lists we might make some progress in bringing sanity back to child-rearing….

  8. I have an allotment. I am growing as much vegetable matter as I can using mostly heritage seeds. This means I can save the seeds of plants grown this year to plant next year. I have tomato seeds pea seeds and various squash seeds already.

  9. One another thing on the topic, not said in the conclusion, we trust some corporate big box food manufacturer more than the growing/cooking skills of our neighbor

    Never mind that he probably doesn’t cut production costs to make profit on the expene of our health, and doesn’t dope the food with chemical additives required by standards

  10. Lola (via her brother) touches on what I think is one of the major roots of these problems: money. By money, I mean who makes it, and how can they make more of it. If it’s “too dangerous” for kids to play outside, they’re going to be stuck inside. If they’re going to be inside, they’ll need things to play with. So parents are primed with messages that inside is better, and then they are primed to receive advertising/marketing to buy stuff for their kids. New parents are scared silly about the dangers inherent in their homes/cars/etc. and are primed to spend tons of cash on “safety” devices. Products are replacing common sense.

    Big Agriculture has the deep pockets to spend on propaganda and lobbying efforts at all levels of government to severely tip the scales of commerce in their favor. The problems Linda Wightman listed did not come about simply out of the misplaced well-intentions of a few people looking out for the greater good. I think that happens at times, maybe at first, but that impulse to protect through regulation is often exploited by those looking to profit.

  11. “You have to wonder why our society is so opposed to such an elegant, inexpensive, healthy and environmentally responsible food source.”

    I don’t think our society is OPPOSED to it per say; our society just realizes it’s not a realistic way to feed the masses. Because it’s actually NOT inexpensive; local, “organic” produce is actually much more expensive on avergae than commercial produce. It’s especially not inexpensive if you’re poor. And it requires much more land on average than commercial methods, so feeding billions of people worldwide that way would exhaust a huge amount of land – more than we can afford to exhaust (which is why I’ve always wondered about the “environmentally responsible” claim of non-commercial farming methods). Such methods are fine if you live in the middle-class of a prosperous nation and don’t much mind the starving masses of the world. After all, this is how much of the third world has traditionally farmed (local, organic, and slow), and it hasn’t helped them much. But if you’d rather see the poor massess of the world get enough food, then you have to start recognizing the virtues of economies of scale and of technology that extracts maximum product from minimum land and can transport food nationally and even internationally.

    That said, I think there are some good parallels here.

  12. This list is outstanding. The person who said they’re tempted to cut-paste this entire list for every “OMG! my neighbors let their kid play outside unsupervised” thread they see from now on (actually COPY-PASTE is really what you’re doing, ha ha, but anyway), I so agree. I am of like mind that way.

    The way I always put it goes like this: you can’t make the world 100% safe, and I wouldn’t want to even if I could, because who wants to live in a world that sterile & dull?

    Nope, not going to. I’m working on fencing in our yard so our kids can play outside–yes, UNSUPERVISED, it’s for their benefit and also mine, because the only way to keep them from getting into everything is to either (a) have them watch TV all day (b) intimidate them so much they sit in a corner and tremble in fear–none of those which I agree with at all–or (c) turn them loose outside, into a reasonably-safe yard complete with mud, grass, trees, sticks, a puppy, a playhouse, and tricycles.

    And frankly, I like the outdoors somewhat too, but I don’t want to have to be out there with them the whole time.

  13. I read about Joel in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”! I didn’t know he had his own book out! I am going to buy it right away!

    For anyone interested – “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan is a fantastic read as well!

  14. @sky

    Those claims may hold for farmed organic vs. non-organic. If i’m not mistaken here we speak about picking from the tree in your garden. This is superior to picking from the tree in every possible way, And the farming industry dangerizes our tree as ‘it is not controlled by us therefore is unsafe’

  15. Error fix – Is superior to farmed production, not to itself 🙂

  16. I am a h-u-g-e fan of Salatin’s and have read that book and a few others he’s written (can’t wait to read his newest book). There certainly are parallels and I’m glad others are seeing them, too.

    I also second the recommendation for The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.

    I strongly disagree with Sky’s comments about more sustainable food production being unrealistic on a larger scale. Hand-wringing about how hard it is keeps up from making any change, let alone the large changes that are needed for global sustainability. Focusing so much on the difficulties sets us backward, not forwards. There are people all over the US and the world waking up to the significant downsides of centralized, globalized, industrial food production and they are making effective changes, on ample budgets as well as on shoestring budgets. The first step is looking for creative ways to make it happen, not waiting to win the lottery.

    Be the solution you want to see, eh?

  17. Salatin is a great guy and I recommend that essay to others often.

    Currently in the US it is basically illegal to do small scale farming without being bothered.

    Absurd “food safety” laws are lobbied for by big Agribusiness who knows that this sort of regulation will squash small producers, but the costs can be born by the giants, or just have exceptions for their operations codified in the law. For example, if you have a backyard flock of chickens, under NAIS they all need to have serial numbers and be registered and any time the chicken leaves your property for 2 seconds by crossing the property line to get a bug, you have to file an incidence report with the federal government.

    But if you are Tyson chicken, you just get a “flock id” and skip all that.

    Someone said “local farming isn’t always the best use of land”. This sort of propaganda I find to be such a load a crapola. Never a criticism of developers coming in or factories but someone starts gardening in their backyard and suddenly we have to look at the big picture of what is best for society, which is of course highly efficient petroleum based mega corp industrial GMO farming, after all nothing else has a chance to save humanity from starvation. It’s all a bunch of corporate bull.

  18. The point is not “Is Joel Salatin correct or are the mega-companies right?” Nor even “Will this really work on a global level?” The point is that Joel Salatin should have the right to grow his food how he wants to and his neighbors should have the right to decide to trust him and eat his food as well. Or the right to not trust him and eat whatever they do trust. Even if he has the most hair-brained scheme for farming in the world, he should be allowed to practice it for himself and not be forced to do what he thinks is wrong or unhealthy.

  19. I disagree completely about sustainable farming only being accessible to the middle class of a prosperous nation. I am, by choice, most definitely not middle class and yet I eat sustainable as much as possible (I can’t grow things to save my life and our farmer’s market is only open 7 months of the year) and organic for the rest. Yes, we can afford less food since moving to sustainable but there are very few people in the western world with a regular supply of food who couldn’t stand to consume less food at every single meal. I get the same amount of meals from $5 worth of chicken under both methods, we simply eat less sustainable chicken per meal.

    People seem to be scratching their heads and looking for some magical answer to the obesity problem in the western world (and don’t try to convince me that there is no obesity problem as you would have an easier time convincing me that the sky is green). Cheap (in both price and preparation time) food is the major cause of the obesity problem. It seems that if people can afford twice the amount of food, they actually consume twice the amount of food. Go figure. Refrigerators and cabinets full of food for the picking, constant snacks, nightly desserts, huge plates of food and eating out regularly are all a result of this economies of scale, technology and world-wide distribution. The fact is that we could get by with smaller food production outputs if the western world was forced to pay more for it’s food and, therefore, consumed less.

  20. We buy our eggs from local farmers. And other produce. It’s better than the mass factory farm stuff, even though it doesn’t always look as pretty. We buy the store-stuff, too. I’m amazed, though, at how many people think it’s strange to eat eggs from a local farm. They aren’t white. Sometimes they have poo on them. You just wash it off. The eggshell is one of nature’s most perfect germ barriers. It’s really, really hard to infect an egg with something (as we’ve all recently learned).

    I see the parallels. I think it’s all tied to the powers-that-be wanting us to all be brainwashed into thinking that we need, need, NEED them overseeing every little corner of our lives. If they weren’t inspecting restaurants for us we’d be afraid to eat there. If they weren’t regulating this and that we’d be afraid to eat the produce and drink the tap water. If they weren’t watching our kids and our teachers and our clergy and encouraging us to do the same, there’d be kidnappings and child torture centers on every corner.

    They shame the vast majority of the Western population into adopting these concepts as normal, and year after year, less of us think for ourselves and just swallow that message on how to live.

    Humans lived for many millennia without this nonsense (or maybe they just had it in different forms). Humans butchered their own pigs and raised farm animals and had babies at home and let their kids plow the land and ride horses and jump from the barn into haystacks, and the human race survived.

    I seriously wonder sometimes if we are diverging into two very different, separate cultures — those who understand reason, and see this modern silliness for what it is, and those who believe it all, and blindly, vehemently defend it, even when confronted with facts and real statistics. “Statistics mean nothing where the safety of my child is concerned!” And ironically they make their child obese, unhealthy physically and emotionally, and harm them more by their “protection” than the world would have ever harmed them with a few bruises and scrapes.

    It’s so sad. Will it come to the point where a whole section of the US splits off to become the “Free Range States of America”, and leaves the “Nanny States of America” to wither away?

  21. The sad part is, I think as a society we *think* we make cost/benefit analyses. We think that the cost of putting security cameras all over school campuses, or requiring all parents to have background checks to enter the school provides a safety benefit that is worth the cost. But most of the time, the cost/benefit we look at is the immediate one.

    As we become such an instant-gratification culture that focuses on the immediate, we fail to see or even look for the unseen or future costs to our decisions. We fail to see how a law that’s meant to protect the most innocent among us (sex offender laws… on first glance SEEMS worth the cost) actually ends up hurting our children in other ways.

    We think we are making an educated decision, examining the costs and benefits of keeping our children indoors, by our sides, and we fail to see beyond the immediate to the long-term damage we create.

    We push our lawmakers to do the same thing… “Fix this problem, legislate that issue…” and they, in the rush to look like they’re getting things done, don’t evaluate the long-term and unseen effect. They pass laws with unintended consequences and costs, and eventually create economic bubbles that burst, or end up having unfunded mandates, or driving the nation deeper into debt.

    As a society, we need to work harder at not being so driven by headlines and sound bites. We need to understand the full impact of the decisions we make, and teach ourselves and our children about the benefits of delayed gratification. Only then will we be able to make TRUE cost-benefit analyses.

  22. I was just having a discussion about how factory production of food is bad for our health. Subsistence and local farming may not be “efficient” but its certainly nourishing. Factory farming has seriously detrimemtal effects on the environment, the animals and ultimately, our health. Doesn’t mean that I don’t crave a corn dog now and then. But just like I want my kid to be free range, I want my food to be too.

  23. I love this list and have filed it under “Free Range Society” in my documents folder.

    I would also like to suggest to all of you fans of Omnivore’s Dilemma and particularly to you Sky…and older, but wholly relevant, book: Ishmael.

    @Karli…you are so right. All the cost-benefit calculation looks at short-term gains, often in public relations more than actual health or safety, and completely disregards long-term implications of new “safety regulations.”

  24. @Sky: Please – go educate yourself on what exactly you are advocating. My local lawmakers gave me the same load of crap when I pushed for less “big agriculture” – ‘if we don’t have mass farming, who will feed the masses???’

    It’s a load of crap and it doesn’t begin to discuss how the farmers themselves feel – being dependent on the government to even make a profit on their crops…

    …not even eating the food they raise because it doesn’t taste good (corn) and has to be processed before it is edible…

    …their inability by copyright laws to save their own seeds (because once a seed has been patented by a big company, they control all aspects of it)…

    …these big companies running little farmers and processors out of business by suing them and keeping the litigation going until the small guy is bankrupt from fighting…

    …the propaganda food companies put out saying that it’s less sanitary to buy food from a local butcher vs. from them – even though it’s been shown through independent tests that small butchers are cleaner than slaughter houses…

    …the giant feed lots where they have acres of cows in confinement which pee and poop and contaminate our drinking water and kill off local plants and wildlife…

    …the fact that they’re feeding these animals corn which fattens them faster than grass – heedless to the fact that by feeding them corn they are more prone to diseases that are harmful to them and to us…

    …the fact that by miraculous “processing” of food, fast food joints are cheaper than making your own damned sandwich and people who CAN’T afford to make their own sandwiches (thanks to the high cost of anyone outside of these corporations growing food on their own) are dying because of it…

    I can continue on and on. The simple fact is that big food business is a political business – remember Oprah being sued for talking about the beef industry? Their only problem was that she was rich enough to beat them down. Anyone else – “veggie libel laws” – you talk bad about the food, they can actually sue you for it. Sound like the type of people you want to be supporting? Not I, said the Nicole.

    And yes… parallels made by the blog article are spot on.

  25. Here’s an interesting take on food nostalgia by Rachel Lauden:

  26. Thanks, everyone, for the comments! It’s fun, and thought provoking, to read them.

    @Sky — you’re right, I probably should have used the word “economical,” rather than “inexpensive,” as the latter is not a word that comes immediately to mind when comparing the price of a steak on sale at the supermarket and grass-fed beef at a farmer’s market! But as Karli pointed out, it’s hard to compare costs accurately when there are so many hidden ones — and hidden subsidies. One has to ask, “Cheap at what price?”

    I must also add that although small, family farms are certainly “old-fashioned,” I’m not sure Salatin would like that description. He is amazingly innovative in his approaches.

    But the big issue, as Heather Daley said, is not which method of farming — or child rearing — is best, but one of trust and freedom, of how we can act in the ways we think right and allow others the same privilege.

  27. Hello–I had a lovely hop, skip and jump to this blog from an old post on one of my favorites, On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess, over on Science Blogs. I was thrilled to stumble upon this community of rational, skeptical human beings–until I read this post. The organic movement is, indeed, “old-fashioned.” I simply do not understand why so many consumers insist on limiting agriculture to “old-fashioned,” pre-Industrial Revolution management. Modern agriculture has advanced alongside every other sector of the economy, and it’s the only sector where technologies that improve production efficiency and sustainability are routinely decried by the public. I am a staunch supporter of the local food movement, and the milk I drink comes from a production system that, in 2007, had reduced its carbon footprint to 37% of what it was in 1944–that would be the modern dairy industry. No other industry has reduced its carbon footprint so much, in so little time.

    (Capper, et al., J Anim Sci 2009:87 http://wsu.academia.edu/JudeCapper/Papers/116657/The-environmental-impact-of-dairy-production–1944-compared-with-2007)

  28. Love that book!!!

    Great list, too.

  29. “I was thrilled to stumble upon this community of rational, skeptical human beings–until I read this post.”

    The implication that this post is made by an irrational gullible person is an ad hominem argument.

    “The organic movement is, indeed, “old-fashioned.””

    I suppose “old fashioned” is meant in a derogatory manner, in which case this is another ad hominem or namecalling style argument.

    “I simply do not understand why so many consumers insist on limiting agriculture to “old-fashioned,” pre-Industrial Revolution management.”

    Since no one here has said that agriculture should be limited to pre industrial management that is a strong man.

    It’s also a false implication that Saladin’s farming methods are pre industrial, old fashioned or archaic. You have failed to do your basic research here, sorry.

    I’m sorry but if you believe you are a scientific rationalist you are sadly mistaken. Your argument is filled with logical fallacies. Better luck next time.

  30. Oops, sorry, “strong man” should have been “straw man”, an argument where you claim your opponent is advocating something he is not. A strong man is a circus performer who performs amazing feats of strength.

  31. I left a comment a few days ago that’s still awaiting moderation (probably due to some links posted). Could you please approve it, Lenore?

  32. Trying to repost – links removed:

    My personal point of view is that so many of the restrictions that gradually have been implemented, have come to be accepted, not out a concern for our safety, but out of the institutional fear of being sued.
    To support this hypothesis, there is (at least anecdotal) evidence sue-happy cultures have seen a clearer change, than the ones with fewer civil lawsuits.
    And this goes for both our obsession with children’s safety AND food safety.

    In Italy, where I spent 10 years of my children’s childhood, there is a law against “abandoning minors”. This law is used as an excuse for telling parents they cannot even leave 9-11-13-year olds at home alone for an hour – “because if ‘something’ happens, you’ve broken the law and they’ll take you to court. I’ve tried to ask in several parenting forums if this means that you have to have complete supervision of your kids until they’re 18 (and can you then even go to the bathroom? or have them play in another room?), and though most parents who answer will say that, no, of course it doesn’t mean that, they’ll quickly add “but if something should happen, you’re responsible legally”).
    The results of this fear of lawsuits and “being reported”, has been that some schools refuse to release even middle- and high school students, because they’re minors and someone has to accompany them from school.

    There have also been examples of people being reported for leaving their 9-year-old at home while doing their grocery shopping.

    Hand-in-hand with this development has been the gradual restrictions related to food-safety.
    In most child-care institutions (crèches) they’ll refuse to accept expressed breast milk from the mother, because they can’t guarantee it is safe unless it’s prepared on the grounds or has gone through industrial safety controls. (This was the case in the “nido” my eldest daughter attended)
    You can’t bring anything homemade to potlucks or end-of school parties, something that felt especially absurd in Tuscany where the level of home-cooking usually far exceeds North-American restaurants.
    As a consequence, I never brought a birthday cake to my children’s child care, which may be safer from a food-safety perspective, but at the same time really, really sad.

    If someone should want the references that were in the links I removed, just write me directly.

  33. @Hege — Wow. That’s really depressing. I thought this was an American problem; it’s sad to hear what has happened in Italy. Crèches that won’t accept expressed breast milk? The babies are supposed to starve all day? Makes me think the crèche owner owns a lot of stock in a formula company.

    I had heard about the ban on homemade snacks here, but I never thought it would happen in a place like Italy. The world has truly gone nuts.

  34. “An irrational belief in the achievability of 100% safety if only we follow a certain set of rules.”

    I think that this is actually the key issue–the belief that “100% safety” actually exists and is an achievable end. Obviously if 100% safety can be had, then we should work to do it.

    However, anyone with experience in reality outside academia and civil service should recognize that 100% safety *cannot* be achieved. And it’s amazing how much more you can do when you accept that risk exists and can be managed without being eliminated.

    If we waited for things to be 100% safe before doing them, then America wouldn’t exist.

  35. so true! thanks for the nice read!

  36. american restaurants usually serve foods that are high in protein and also in saturated fats ‘

  37. i hate things why cant u give me a simple sum

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