(by Michael Ruhlman, guest blogger)
Diane St. Clair left a career in the New York municipal health system for a farm in Vermont where she now raises cows to make and sell butter. Some folks think its among the best butter in the country. I’ve been corresponding by email with her for about a year now about food and writing matters. She’s a good writer and a smart farmer. She came across my rant and wrote me the following email, which I’m reprinting in full, the perspective of someone who makes her living from and coexists with animals:
Saw your food rant today on the small farms blog, which I came upon by accident when googling ‘critique of organic farming.’ It was quite entertaining, along with Bourdain’s counter-rave (talk about someone who needs to be on lithium…but that’s part of the entertainment). I saw no farmer perspectives on this issue. I saw the NYTimes article, lobster in coffin, etc. My immediate response was, another Whole Foods consumer gimmick to make liberal foodies feel ok about their food choices, of course, seen within the context of having just finished Pollan’s book and seeing Whole Foods in a completely jaded way.
Is there a difference between cats, cows, lobsters, geese? I think a lot has to do with culture–we don’t eat horses, they are our pets. Is there any difference in terms of animal behavior between a horse and a cow or a pig–absolutely not. As a former horse owner and a current dairy farmer, I believe they are absolutely the same beast in terms of trainability, personality (cows are nicer), attachment to humans. It’s just that culturally, we accept the ingestion of cows, not horses, and thus treat the former as food animals, with all the bad stuff that implies.
It is ironic to me that the animals we eat, we treat the worst–shouldn’t we treat those animals with the utmost care–feeding them, as we do, to ourselves and our children? I love my baby calves–but if a bull is born, I raise him as humanely as I can–on green grass, in the sun, drinking lots of milk, I try to have him killed on farm (if I am eating him–if he is to be sold, he has to go to a slaughter house–makes no sense) and then I eat him for the next 6 months. The bottom line is that every species on the farm should have a chance to be what they are, do what they do–the cows to eat grass, the pigs to root around, the chickens to dig in the grass and run around, etc. Sure I’ll milk the cows (PETA doesn’t like this) and I’ll eat the pigs and chickens. But they had a good life and did not suffer in the end. It’s all any of us can ask for.
The foie gras thing–it’s a tough one. Should crating veal be illegal? I think it should because you can raise veal that tastes better uncrated. How about chickens–shouldn’t there be industry standards (laws?) about how many hens can be crammed in a cage? I think there should be because you can raise better chickens that way. You can’t get foie gras any other way than it is currently done–that’s the tough part. I guess the day that you eat foie gras you have to balance your karma out by sending a donation to Heifer International or something.
The good thing is that people are talking about food in a new way–thinking about where our food comes from; the fact that cheap food costs us down the line, in terms of the environment and our health; that just because something is labeled organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sustainably produced; and what do we do when our modern sense of ethics–all living things, including grass, have feelings–clashes with age old cultural traditions, ie. eating foie gras.
What did you have for dinner? I had a grass fed lamb chops, grilled, with a curry emulsion, over couscous and a salad from the garden. Couldn’t be better–absolutely no guilt.