In Defense of Health: Thank a Grass Farmer


Most days, a blog idea is brewing in my head, often while at work. In the evening I jot it all down in WordPress and publish a post. Many of my stories are based on my experiences with shopping, cooking, and eating, or from nuggets that I see in the news.

Today I woke up wondering what I was going to write about so I did a little Googling and chose Michael Pollan for my key words. Turns out, he spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Madison a few days ago and The Capital Times posted an account of the event. (To see if Michael Pollan is coming to an area near you, check out his speaking schedule.)

The Capital Timesreported that Pollan came to discuss his book “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.” In the audience were about 200 local farmers wearing t-shirts that said on the back: “In Defense of Farming: Eat Food. Be Healthy. Thank Farmers.” The t-shirts drew the attention of students, who engaged in conversation with the farmers. Here are some of the points of discussion:

  • Many students had never even been to a farm and get most of their information from writers like Pollan.
  • While farmers agree that the move toward “nutritionism” to support processed food is a bad idea, they question his references to farmers depleting their soil of its nutrients and milk of its butterfat.
  • While Pollan emphasizes the importance of buying local food from farmers’ markets, some of the farmers suggested that only “the elite few with the money and time to enjoy the products displayed” can benefit from farmers’ markets. (Check out how the USDA is helping to change this through the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program.)
  • While blaming agriculture for obesity and a host of other ills is popular these days, farmers resent taking the blame.

That’s what I find really sad. If you watch a movie like Food, Inc., there’s a farmer in the beginning of the movie who doesn’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing (supplying more corn to America’s monoculture of corn, which feeds most of the meat we eat). I can’t blame him—that’s his livelihood and the way he grew up. It’s like if someone told me that writing in English all these years was wrong and I need to switch to a different language.

What I find appalling is that the farmers were transported to the Michael Pollan discussion in Madison via buses provided by Vita Plus, a company based in Madison that offers livestock producers “the latest cutting-edge technology, nutrition and management information to help your operation succeed.”

One of the products they offer is the Feedlot Program, which allows cattle to “maximize their genetic potential,” which they claim “should be the focus of every beef producer….Growth, feed efficiency and profitability are all crucial to your operation’s success.”

Their line of feedlot products “coincide with your cattle’s genetic potential, background and stage of production.” They include “a variety of feed additives and medication options to achieve the performance response you desire and provide the end-product the packer and consumer demand.”

Maybe Vita Plus shouldn’t be blamed for our country’s health issues either. After all, they’re just trying to meet consumer demand—a nice, marbled beef steak full of antibiotics and hormones imposed on an animal that’s confined to a feedlot (also a good source of E coli).

Isn’t this a bit like the tobacco industry producing cigarettes even though they knew cigarettes were bad for people? Smokers were addicted, and the companies knew it. Now that the government stopped providing subsidies to tobacco growers, many of them are growing grapes for wine.

People: It’s time to stop turning a blind eye to what’s in the grocery store—feedlot meat raised for “growth, feed efficiency and profitability.” This is not happy food! How much do you think Vita Plus’ Co-Product Balancer Mineral – Urea(a “nutrient-dense protein, mineral, trace mineral and vitamin premix for feedlot rations containing corn co-products such as corn gluten feed, corn distillers grains and condensed corn distillers solubles”) is affecting your health? Cows are meant to eat grass, not corn. And certainly not urea.

Why can’t the government turn corn farmers into grass farmers? That, in itself, might be a start at our soaring healthcare costs in America.

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