In his column today, Nick Kristof proves he’s a Foodaism believer. Trying to illuminate what is lost when the diversity of the family farm gives way to factory farms and monoculture, he reaches far beyond the true and obvious: our health, our environment, taste, choice—and concludes that it is something much deeper: our very souls.
On a summer visit back to the farm here where I grew up, I think I figured out the central problem with modern industrial agriculture. It’s not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all.
More fundamentally, it has no soul.
The family farm traditionally was the most soulful place imaginable, and that was the case with our own farm on the edge of the Willamette Valley. I can’t say we were efficient: for a time we thought about calling ourselves “Wandering Livestock Ranch,” after our Angus cattle escaped in one direction and our Duroc hogs in another.
Writing from his family homestead in Yamhill, OR, he notes that farms like the one he grew up on are fast disappearing.
The result is food that also lacks soul — but may contain pathogens. In the last two months, there have been two major recalls of ground beef because of possible contamination with drug-resistant salmonella. When factory farms routinely fill animals with antibiotics, the result is superbugs that resist antibiotics.
He acknowledges—correctly—that the benefits of the modern food production system aren’t easily dismissed. Feeding more people more cheaply isn’t all bad. But there has to be a balance, and we’ve clealry moved too far in the wrong direction.
In the second half of the column, he indulges in a long recollection about a chicken he once owned who was raised by a goose. Not quite sure the editor shouldn’t have red-penned that, unless Kristof was angling for a children’s book contract.
But the ultimate point remains:
Recollections like that make me wistful for a healthy rural America composed of diverse family farms, which also offer decent and varied lives for the animals themselves (at least when farm boys aren’t conducting “scientific” experiments). In contrast, a modern industrialized operation is a different world: more than 100,000 hens in cages, their beaks removed, without a rooster, without geese or other animals, spewing out pollution and ending up as so-called food — a calorie factory, without any soul.
There is soul in food, soul in cooking, soul in eating. Adin Steinsaltz, in The Four Petaled Rose, spoke of the intimate connection between spirit and food: what we eat turns to flesh, and flesh houses our spirit, thus food is the stuff of the soul. I read that passage many years ago, it has never left me. It led, a long time afterwards, to this blog.
In the meantime, because it seems dry and serious to just blog Kristoff and Steinsaltz (it also sounds like the name of a really good law firm), let me throw in a recipe from a weekend dinner I made. This was last Thursday. I had a meeting in Brentwood, and stopped at the new place Tavern to check it out. From their very precious and pricey “Larder,” I bought a cylinder of a local goat cheese called, Hyku. I sliced the cheese into a bowl, added a pound or so of chopped farmer’s market heirloom cherry tomatoes, a handful of shredded basil, olive oil, a clove of garlic, salt and pepper. Into that I slid a pound of boiled pasta and a little pasta water. Mixed it up and topped it with more basil. There’s a recipe for this in Georgeanne Brenner’s, “The Food and Flavors of Haute Provence,” that uses fresh goat cheese. Hyku is bit more aged and potent. The steam coming off the pasta smelled like goat, garden and fruit. My son swooned.
Nick Kristoff would have dug it.