Yesterday in Starbucks, I overheard a couple of women talk about changing their diets. The new year would be different. They deserved better. Complete overhaul.
I could relate to them. Omnivore’s Dilamma was a wake-up call for me, making plain a lot of things I’ve always chosen to ignore. In short terms, every element of the American eating experience has been severed from its natural context. What isn’t obviously contrived (those Pop-Tarts) is just masked by a sheen of agro-industrial pretense (that “farm-fresh” steak). Now that I know, there’s no going back. But here’s the tricky part: what now? If everything’s broken, where do I possibly start picking up the pieces? I already decided to give up “covert corn” (an increasingly thorny undertaking). Still, I feel like making the change on a case-by-case basis (no corn, no conventional produce, no caged animals) will make me a pessimistic, helpless puddle of doubt. Eating better should be liberating, not confining.
But I already know the answer. So do you. It’s the kind of truth so innate, so stupidly simple, looking anywhere for it will leave you empty-handed. Luckily, Pollan was good enough to spell it out in his book. He described a progressive (actually, regressive) farmer that grew produce and livestock the way nature intended. The reason this farmer’s chickens tasted so good, Pollan explained, was simply because they were allowed to be chickens. They weren’t egg machines, they weren’t meat factories – they were little clucky birds, given free range to “fully express their physiological distinctiveness”.
How simple is that? It’s the golden rule – treat others how you would want to be treated. I’d want to be treated with respect – treated as a human at the very least – why not treat chickens like chickens? Why feed cows corn (and other cows!) when all they want is cow food? Because it’s cheaper? Because it’s more practical? I sincerely hope our society isn’t so callous as to permanently adopt this rationale. Abuse isn’t just immoral, it’s reciprocal. The exhaust of disrespecting the natural world will poison our health, our morality, and our future. Plus, happy chickens taste better.
I’m personally psyched for the change. So far, I bought happy-chicken eggs and happy-cow milk. Both were noticeably more flavorful than their melancholy alternatives (a mixture, I’m sure, of tangible differences and my own psychological ease), and the the French Toast they helped to make was delicious. But more than that, the French Toast was French Toast, as it would want to be treated. Cosmic as it may seem, that’s important to me now.
Food shouldn’t be tainted by the poisons of industry, nor should it be complicated by corrective restrictions. Instead, it should reflect the health and happiness of the environment from which it came – an embodiment of the simple respect of the natural world. According to that farmer from before, the potential for such respect is pretty strong:
“One of the greatest assets of a farm is the sheer ecstasy of life.”