How much attention do you pay to what you put in your body, and do you think it has any impact on your happiness? Joel Salatin, an American farmer, food activist, and author of Folks, this Ain’t Normal, explains how getting back to the land and creating a stronger connection with our food can make us happier.
Q: How has our relationship with food and the land on which it’s produced become dysfunctional?
A: As a culture, we’ve abdicated historical visceral relationships with food and instead placed our faith in opaque, corporate global entities and the government to produce, prepare, package, and preserve our food. The average food item now travels 1,500 miles between field and fork. Such a disconnected system, historically abnormal in the extreme, can never create the accountability that creates integrity. As a result, we’re routinely eating food you can’t pronounce, food you can’t make in your kitchen, food that won’t rot, and food that is totally foreign to our 3 trillion internal bacterial community of beings. That is aberrant fuel for our bodies.
Q: What kind of impact do you think that dysfunction has, in terms of both physical and mental health?
A: That dysfunction manifests itself in many ways: obesity, childhood leukemia, cancer, heart disease, Type II diabetes. The U.S. now leads the world in these chronic debilitating diseases. Ultimately, a culture can be no more mentally, spiritually, and physically healthy than the health of its food. And food vitality is directly related to soil health. No culture has eroded more soil quicker, or created more desert quicker, than the U.S. The shortfall is currently being made up in mountainous health-care costs and lucrative pharmaceutical industries. If all that money were pumped into nutrient density and integrity food, quality of life would go up even though direct daily food costs would be higher than today.
Q: Do you think there’s a connection between living closer to the land and being happy?
A: The therapeutic effect of gardening and livestock on mental health patients has been documented for a long time. Tomatoes and cows are always glad to see you, never complain, and reward tender loving care with unconditional gratitude production. All of us yearn to be needed and appreciated. While people may be fickle in that department, nature never is. Furthermore, self-worth, self-awareness, and self-actualization depend on visceral collaborative efforts. Being able to smell, touch, see, and embrace the work of our hands is far different than creating things in cyber-space in a Dilbert cubicle for a global agenda where, at the end of the day, we zap our work into the electronic ether. While I’m far from suggesting everyone should be a farmer, I would say that if everyone knew one, really had a relationship with one, it would feed the inner yearning for an anchor in nature’s reality. And that feeds happiness, knowing ourselves and our investment in our ecological womb.
Q: What makes you happy when it comes to food?
A: I’m happy when I know that this life, be it carrot or pig, that is giving its life to become flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones, has enjoyed a sacred place of respect and honor during its life. Creating sacredness in farming and dining, knowing that I am healing the land one bite at a time, bring joy and blessing.
Q: Do you have any advice for people who want to eat naturally again?
A: If limited to two ideas, they would be these: get in your kitchen, and grow something, even vicariously. To reacquaint ourselves with exciting domestic culinary arts is the first way to deny patronage to the food processes and nutrition adulterers. Nobody has to patronize industrial, mechanical food. Purchase whole and unprocessed foods, in season, and rebuild your larder from the kitchen out. Secondly, grow something — anything. A potted patio garden, honey bees on the condominium roof, or two chickens in a parakeet cage to eat kitchen scraps and lay eggs in return — all of these things involve you in the food system. Beyond that, turn off the TV, cancel the Disney vacation and Caribbean cruise, and spend this year’s recreational time and money budget going on a local food treasure hunt. Wonderful farmers are everywhere: find them and support them.