What You Can Do to Disrupt Our Broken Food System

Hint: It starts with a beet

book-cover-800This is an excerpt from Wanderlust: A Modern Yogi’s Guide to Discovering Your Best Self, a curation of ideas and practices from master yogis, provocative thinkers, mind-body experts, cutting-edge artists and innovative business leaders. Order your copy at wanderlust.com/wanderlust-book-discover-your-best-self/.



“What can I do?”

It’s perhaps the most common question people ask me when I’m speaking and teaching about farming and the food system today. It’s a simple request filled with angst and hidden perceptions. Often a sigh accompanies the question. In that sigh lives a sense of powerlessness, the kind of a resignation of a single person fighting city hall. When we look at the Monsantos, the Archer Daniels Midlands, the McDonald’s from our little household vantage points, it can surely take the wind out of our sails. “What can I, just little I, do?

But consider this. Whatever exists now is a cumulative manifestation of all the individual decisions made by the majority of the people in the culture for a period of time. For example, when a 1950s mother decided breast feeding was archaic, barbaric, and Neanderthal, that decision set in motion a host of results. Infamil and Similac flew off the shelves. We now see this led to increased risk for asthma. Today many studies link breast cancer risk to a lack of breast feeding. Dependency on formula rather than self-reliance on breast feeding—always available, always the right temperature—catalyzed a nation of disempowerment. We were literally looking outside of oursevles for nourishment—quick, easy, prepackaged nourishment. You could say this grew into fast food and industrial food customers. And this is only one example.

The point is that our decisions are not made in a vacuum. We are all interconnected and, moment by moment, building a future world. The micro affects the macro. When we decide that participating in the soccer league is more important for the children than eating a locally-sourced, home cooked meal around the dinner table, we build a certain kind of farm and food system. When lots of people do that, it changes the face of food, rural economies, farm families, wellness, and familial cohesion. It might even affect our children’s attitudes toward aging parents—sending them to the old folks’ leagues, rather than fixing up the back bedroom for elder care.

“What can I do?” is such a pregnant question that whenever someone asks it, I have a hard time pinning down what she’s really asking. Is she asking for information? Help? Is it a general cry of frustration? Many times, today’s epidemic of domestic culinary ignorance intimidates would-be food connectors from even trying to fix something from scratch. A beet grown in the garden or purchased at the farmer’s  market does not look like the Harvard beets in the microwavable heat-n-eat meal package. When that real, unprocessed beet looks at you, “what can I do?” takes on new meaning.

So what can you do?

You can participate. You can connect. You can get actively involved in the process of turning that beet into Harvard beets. You can turn off the TV. You can cancel the cruise vacation and buy bushels of tomatoes to can or turn into salsa. You can get some pots and grow a pot garden of vegetables. You can put a beehive on the roof of your house, two chickens in the foyer instead of that aquarium or parakeet cage.

Just like today—whatever today looks like—is the manifestation of billions of individual decisions accumulated over time, tomorrow will be too. And if you, I, we don’t start making different decisions we will end up where we’re headed, only it may be worse because we’ll be farther down the wrong road.

I wish I could snap my fingers and things would be different. Farms would grow soil instead of depleting it. Food would be nutrient-dense instead of deficient. People would fall in love again with domestic culinary arts. Domestic larders would supplant the entertainment center as focal points for domestic tranquility and security. But that doesn’t happen when I snap my fingers. That happens when you, you, you, and you—and I—begin making different decisions.

What can we all do? Stop incessant victimhood mentality. Somebody else will not fix things. Somebody else will not make us healthy; somebody else will not make us happy. These things are our responsibility. Not the neighbor’s, not the government’s, not the church’s or civic club’s.

If I don’t know what to do with a beet, I need to find out. Knowing what to do with a beet begins a long chain of events that ends up creating a soil in which earthworms happily procreate.

And that is a good thing.

Want to know what to do with that beet? Check out Sarah Copeland’s delicious roasted root vegetable and farro salad recipe here

Photo by Sasha Juliard. 

Joel Salatin 6Joel Salatin founded Polyface Farms, a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Keep up to date with all-things Polyface on their very active Facebook page, and stay up to date with Joel’s speaking dates here.