Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oprah, Starving Families, Chickens, and California's Prop 2

When my in-laws were here this past weekend they dropped off another supply of back issues of the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman". As usual I began skimming through them from the oldest to the most recent (I especially enjoy reading the old long range weather forecasts and seeing how they fare). In the October 29th issue there was an especially interesting editorial from Laurie Johns of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. She was writing about Oprah, the California Proposition 2 legislation (which passed), food. Since you can't view this article online I'll pull out a few interesting quotes.
"The world's population: 6.7 billion. The number of hungry people in our world today: 923 million. Oprah's daily audience for her TV talk show: 7 million. What it would mean for Oprah to realize that starving children are more important than chickens: priceless."

"Oprah is utterly under the spell of the charismatic, Armani-suit, blow-dry-hairdo-wearing Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) spokesman Wayne Pacelle."

"While Oprah opined plenty about the feelings of chickens, she thought little about the hungry children who seem to be growing in numbers. Look no further than your local food bank to see the need; foreclosures, job losses and a tough economy have tripled and quadrupled the demand at food banks across the nation."

"The simple truth is: Iowa livestock farmers care about their chickens, hogs, cattle, and livestock"

"Pacelle claims he can look in the eye of a chicken and know what it is feeling. I would suggest he visit a local food bank and look in the eye of a hungry child whose mother was turned away because their shelves are bare. Her food stamps can barely cover a meal a day for her family, much less "cage-free" eggs. Choices are hard. Times are tough. Families struggling to make ends meet need food on the table, not politics shoved down their throats."
So, there you go ... those are the highlights from the article. Now, here are my thoughts:

-First of all I don't really care for Oprah and here "religion" or whatever she is about for the moment so please do not take anything I say as a defense of her.

-Secondly, how many of the 923 million hungry people in the world today live in the United States? I'm not trying to be critical, I am just curious about that statistic because I believe that the people in the United States have it pretty good compared to some places...

-Also, what is with the crack on the blow dryer? When I was in grade school all the way through Jr. High I had a blow-dry-hairdo! Does that make me a bad person :)

-Okay, now for the real stuff. If you haven't heard of Prop 2 yet, then check out the link to read all about it. Basically it says that chickens, sows, and veal calves need to be able to stand up and turn around (that is a very simplistic explanation). I am not really sure where I come down on this issue. On one hand I don't really mind the spirit of the law, but on the other hand my political nature mostly opposes silly governmental regulation. I do not think it is a bad thing for a chicken to be able to get up and move around a little bit, but that would change the way factory farming is done ... at least until they find a loop-hole.

-Each side likes to take shots at each other on this issue and I think both are crossing the line a little bit from time to time. I do understand that the lines may be growing at food banks, but I also heard today that in Iowa (I realize this is localized, but the editorial is also in an Iowa publication) giving is actually increasing at local food banks. I guess that the people are realizing there is a need and they are responding. I will tell you one thing, I like that a whole lot more than I like more food stamp funding in the FARM BILL!

-I do not disagree that Iowa livestock farmers care about their livestock. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I don't know of any.

-And lastly... I really do agree with that last quote that I posted above. Families don't need politics shoved down their throats. But, I hope that goes both ways. Just as the large farms don't want government regulations holding them back the small farms or sustainable farms or local farms (whatever you want to call it) should be free to do business as they desire and let the customers decide. Again, I don't know where I fall on everything, but there are plenty of people out there that don't want agricultural subsidy politics shoved down their throat. Or maybe they don't want corn-based ethanol politics shoved down their throat. Or maybe they don't want a confinement building opening up next door politics shoved down their throat.

I totally agree. A human is WAY more important that a chicken! Although I would also argue that a Gospel for Asia chicken is pretty important to a human life ... maybe even more important than egg factory legislation in California?

So, read those quotes and let me know what you think.

11 comments:

Yeoman said...

"I'm not trying to be critical, I am just curious about that statistic because I believe that the people in the United States have it pretty good compared to some places..."

Indeed, while there is real poverty in the United States, something that should make us uncomfortable is the fact that by historic and global standards, almost all Americans are rich. Contemporary Americans of the Middle Class have considerably more disposable income than similarly situated Americans did even 50 years ago, and wealth is so widely distributed that even the poor tend to have items that would be regarded as luxury items elsewhere. I'm not diminishing their real poverty, but it's something we often miss.

As a youth minister, you are well aware that "It's harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle". Given the wealth of the country, that's something that ought to give us pause.

"-Also, what is with the crack on the blow dryer? When I was in grade school all the way through Jr. High I had a blow-dry-hairdo! Does that make me a bad person :)"

Yes. Yes it does.

Okay, no it doesn't. But (as you know) it's a shot at the overly phony chair sitting class that shows up on Opera, or watches it. The Pacelle noted in that quote, if it's the PETA Pacelle I think it is, is an outright kook.

I basically agree with your comments. In one way, those of us who are for a return to a more natural agriculture (which local agriculture would be) are somewhat sympathetic with the aim of Prop 2. On the other hand, we fear it, as people like Pacelle are actually anti-farming, and would stop all farming if they had their way. They're also very anti-nature, which was part of what the blow dryer comment was aimed at. That is, they're so divorced from reality, they hate it, and hate themselves. As part of that, they seek to hate nature and replace it with an imaginary one. Farmers on the agrarian end of things, or small farmers, ought to very much fear these people, as they are far more our enemies than the largest agri business corporation.

Unlike most here, I wouldn't mind some government direction in this area. I think corporations have so overgrown, it'll take government action to return the economy to average individuals. But we should be vary careful about people who back this sort of thing.

Also, in terms of returning people to reality, it would help a lot if the class of people who have time to sit around and watch Opera found something else to do. I don't care for Opera either, to the limited extent I've viewed her, but that's likely because I find it superficial. I need to be cautious about that, as for all I know, she may do some real good, and I'm inclined to discount it. Certainly her efforts to promote education in South Africa are to be commended.

Seth - said...

Perhaps some sort of time or benchmark limited legislation could be applied. So many laws seems like good ideas at the time and become encumbrances down the line when circumstances change.

We'd all love to think that the markets will correct things ... but the power of corporate lobbies virtually eliminate the 'free' in markets ... if such a beast ever could exist.

I've lived near the cattle yards in Greely, CO and I don't see anyone involved in that process caring a whit about those livestock. Absolutely sickening ... and I'm no veg-head.

Anonymous said...

We are feeding 300 million people in the United States. For the US to go to all organic with all small farmers is out of the question. Theres not enough land available. A small farmer is just that SMALL. Did you know that the Morman Church is the largest cattle producer in the country? Ted Turner is close behind in 5th place. Be carefull what you wish for>>>>

ablom said...

I am trying to be critical.

Please do not forget that "O" is a big business. And look how well they have been doing lately. Governments do not have any wealth - they just redistribute it. The money that is going to bail out the banks, the auto industry comes from our pockets.

Peta, too, and the like are big business. They exist by profiting off of our fears. They have a vested interest in having us live a fear based life.

Have you noticed the adds lately" if you could see germs.." or dry skin or what ever. Just buy our product and take care of that fear.

What does this have to do with farming? In particular small as opposed to industrial farms. Small farms where the "executives" have dirt under their fingernails. Everything.

The salvation of our current troubles will come, as all wealth does, from the individual. The "small" farmer who is managing to keep his family and others in real food will accomplish more than someone who has 700 million fear mongered, dollars will ever do. That camel will never fit through the eye of any needle.

Grow some carrots. Raise some beef.
Save the real world.

Anonymous said...

Why are you against alleviating cruelty to animals? Look - if there were less meat slaughtering plants and more crop fields - more people would have what to eat, and furthermore, they would eat healthy food that would alleviate disease as well as hunger. Plant-based diets are one of the keys to diminishing world wide hunger.

And Oprah's doing her bit, as are the good people of the Humane Society who backed Prop 2, which I would have voted for if I lived in California.

Heck, Oprah's done more than most!

Steven said...

I wish I had time to comment on all of this but I've only got time for two small things.

-A small farmer can feed a portion of his community and this is all he needs to be able to do. Just because you can't wrap your head around the idea of having 1/2 a million or more productive small farms doesn't mean it can't happen.

-On the bill in Calif: I think I would have supported it if they took the part out about chickens being able to flap their wings without hitting a neighbor. Ours are loose all the time but often stay close together because they like it.

Ethan Book said...

I figured this post would stir up some comments ... just like the editorial in question stirred up thoughts in my head (all of which I haven't been able to put into words).

anonymous #1: I'm not exactly sure what I'm wishing for in this post, but I do know that the organics feeding the world question should still be up for debate (at least in my opinion). Here is a link to an Epi-Log post I did on the subject. Yes, it is one-sided, but there is some interesting research there.

http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2008/11/feeding-the-wor.html

anonymous #2: I guess I'm not really up to debating whether or not a plant-based diet is more healthy than a balanced diet, and I am not for cruelty to animals. In fact that is why we believed in a pasture based system on our farm. One thing though is that I am a little scared of more government regulation ... I can see truth in what yeoman says about needing some some government "direction" and also a fear of someone who is completely anti-farming. Prop 2 is good if that is all that it is ... it is very bad if it is just the first step (some believe that).

Yeoman said...

"We are feeding 300 million people in the United States. For the US to go to all organic with all small farmers is out of the question"

I would have thought that too, but the author of the Ominvore's Dilemma, who has studied it pretty closely, dismisses that.

In fact, he suggest it could easily be done, with the prime impact of going towards a more ecologically sound, small farm system, being the need to have a lot more small farmers.

Yeoman said...

"Look - if there were less meat slaughtering plants and more crop fields - more people would have what to eat, and furthermore, they would eat healthy food that would alleviate disease as well as hunger. Plant-based diets are one of the keys to diminishing world wide hunger."

Actually, that's well demonstrated to be totally incorrect.

It's already the case that far more land is devoted to marginal crop land, in growing crops, than is necessary. This generates a vast surplus of crops in almost all the industrial world, and plant based byproduct foods which are not at all healthy.

A much more balanced approach, and far more ecologically sound approach, would be to retire vast amounts of crop ground in the semi arid regions and mid west, and put it in grass, to be used for pasturage. Eliminate the feeding at the feedlot, which is unnecessary, and you'll have a much more natural and healthy system.

Yeoman said...

Steven said: "-A small farmer can feed a portion of his community and this is all he needs to be able to do. Just because you can't wrap your head around the idea of having 1/2 a million or more productive small farms doesn't mean it can't happen."

That's absolutely correct.

Non farmers, and even some large scale farmers, have the mistaken idea that "small farmer", or "organic farmer", means "19th Century Farmer".

It doesn't.

In fact, some 19th Century farming practices, to include plowing practices, were very destructive.

Our knowledge has increased on all such things, and frankly, the tools have too. By way of a fairly extreme example, if a person wished, for example, to be a horse using farmer, i.e,. use horse drawn implements, it wouldn't mean that he'd go find a collection of late 19th Century steel abandoned on the farm. Rather, he could use the modern implements (and they're still made), to include grain drills and the like.

This is only an example, of course, but practices, knowledge of science, etc., has improved all the way around, to where a modern small farmer can be much more efficient and productive than one a century ago. Moreover, as they're more hands on, and as they depend on the land for their own survival, they're far more likely to care about the land.

Demetri said...

I believe it is useful to examine the motivations of advocates and follow the money. Animal activists are advocating for better conditions for animals because they believe in the cause and because animals cannot advocate for themselves. They do not stand to profit from the enactment of prop2. Opponents of prop 2 are generally profiting from the confinement and generally abusive methods of the factory farming industry. They oppose prop2 not because they are concerned about animal welfare, but because they are trying to realize every cent of profit which they can from their business. As directors of agribusiness companies, it is their legal duty to do so.

From a health perspective, Americans are eating themselves to death. In large part, this is attributable to people eating too much meat. The argument that there is not enough food to feed everybody is plain wrong. Some people may be too poor to buy food on the open market, but in America, there is enough food for everyone. In undeveloped countries, there are food production issues. Many of these issues stem from US food policy. Because the US is in a position of negotiating power, it demands that undeveloped countries open their markets to US grain imports. When these countries acquiesce to US demands, subsidized US grain floods the country which puts local farmers out of business and makes the local citizens dependant on foreign food imports. As has happened recently, when US grain prices skyrocket (due to fuel, war or other reason) the citizens of these nations are left high and dry without the money to buy food or the infrastructure to produce their own.

I can sympathize with being concerned about government intervention but government forces have already completely modified the personal and commercial landscape of this country. In the farming context, would the giant agribusiness companies exist without the US farm bill or other federal programs? Would interstate food sales occur without the US highway system? I think it is a bit late to be concerned about government intervention; it is here to stay. Why not try to use government tools to promote social justice. Unfortunately, in our countries history, social causes and activities which we wish to promote and government incentives have not always agreed. I think that most people would not be against allowing animals who sacrifice their lives to be made into our Mc cheeseburger or nuggets to have a better life during their limited time on earth.

What I believe this country needs is to remove civil rights from all corporations (including LLC’s and every other fictional entity created by man as a liability shield). Corporations should not have the right to privacy or most importantly, free speech. Eliminating corporation’s right to lobby our government would go a long way to allowing the government to make decisions based upon what is good for natural people. Natural people are what we should be concerned about in this country, not fictional entities. Corporations live forever, never need to eat don’t sleep in the cold and don’t care if their world is horribly polluted because they don’t exist in a real sense. Why should they influence what our government “for the people” does?

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