Head, Tail, the Whole Damn Fish!

It was somewhat ironic that just a few days before election day I watched all nine episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners on Chris Consentino’s Offal Good blog. (Chris is chef at Incanto in San Francisco’s Noe Valley.)Why Ironic? Well, today–election day–Californian’s will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 2. Prop 2 will provide a modicum of protection for farm animals, including chickens which are often crammed into cages and buildings under inhumane conditions in order to put eggs and meat on our tables. Just watch any number of videos that are out there to find out the real story behind the poultry industry. Prop 2 would give chickens, among other critters, the ability to live humane lives. The thing I liked about Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners presentation is that it did not make any pretense about protecting chickens or any other farm animal just for the sake of protecting it. There is no getting around that fact that we eat meat; all we really want is that the animals that work in the service of humans live decent lives before being killed and fricasseed.

Jamie’s gastrodocumentary takes us through the lives of egg laying chickens as well as meat birds. Not only does it present video of industrial farming nightmares, but it has a live exhibit and demonstrations for all of his “guests.” It is very easy to take the moral high ground in defense of sane farming practices while not experiencing the realities of industrial farming. It is quite another to argue against it without really seeing firsthand the atrocities that occur daily in the world’s industrial farms. And that’s exactly what happened. The guests at Jamie’s dinners were mostly MOR diners that did not take a hard stance one way or the other on the issue of humane farming conditions. However, by the time they left, they understood that inhumane farming is tied directly to “value” pricing and demands by the consumer for ever lower food prices. Someone has to pay for lower food prices, and if it is not the farmer then it is the chicken.

Proposition 2 has been lobbied against very hard by argibusiness. They don’t want their pitiful profits to dwindle further by being forced to reduce bird density. And the fact is that the only real incentive to stay in business is profit. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If the farmer is forced out of business, then the business goes overseas. And so unless the consumer is willing to pay more for their food–here we go again–to compensate the farmer for some of their lost profit due to raising fewer birds per square foot or producing fewer eggs per day, then they go out of business anyway. Fortunately, we’re seeing both retailers and consumers willing to pay more for food in order to allow the changes called for in Prop 2 to happen. But in this economy I wonder how far they can go before the consumer revolts. I mean, Burger King just showed huge profits for a recent quarter–and that tells me more people are eating fast food because it is cheaper.

But this too shall pass, and Prop 2 needs to be about more than just profit. It needs to come from the heart and mind. There is no reason our insatiable appetite for the ever-cheaper whatever should mean any living soul on this planet should suffer for our bellies. We need to readjust our priorities and instead of shelling out over $100 a month for shitty cable viewing, shell out an extra $2 per dozen eggs, or another $1 per pound for chicken meat, to ensure that not only our minds but our wallets ensure a sane farming and food future.

Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners were the environmental activists’ equivalent of chaining yourself to a bulldozer. He should be commended and hopefully rewarded by the fact that at least one state on this side of the pond “gets it.” Hopefully, we all will at some point. Now, Go Vote!!



About Farmer Mike Biltonen

Mike Biltonen is lifelong farmer with a passion for great tasting, sustainably grown food. He also has an opinion and this blog is his soapbox. But mostly he just likes to farm. Enjoy!
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