Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 6: Why not just go organic?


"Why not just go organic?" I've been hearing this line for nearly a week now. I also hear, "Wouldn't it be easier to just be a vegetarian for a year?"

The simpler question to answer is the later. I don't want to be vegetarian. Its not that I find it all that tough. I went through a veggie-phase for a couple of years back in the early 90s. But for me, it was just a phase and not a sustainable lifestyle. I like meat, and I think that I'm supposed to eat a little bit every now and again. But like most folks, I've taken meat eating too far, sometimes eating three meals based around meat every day. In my opinion (and not a judgement on my carnivore friends), that's excessive consumption. I could forgo a year of meat eating, but what would be gained? What knowledge would I walk away with after a year experimenting with 100 ways to eat tofu, or beans, or nuts.

My vegetarianism might result in a temporary reduction of dead chickens, maybe a quarter of a cow, and just that part of the pig that is made out of bacon. My family would still eat meat. Meat would still be cooked in my home. I'd set myself up for more work by preparing two meals a night - one veggie and one not. No thanks. For me, this is about connecting to my food source on an intimate level and helping my sons do the same. Yes, I'll still need to know those 100 ways to eat tofu, beans, and nuts because I doubt I'll enjoy immediate success in filling the fridge. I'm temporarily limited by my skill and lack of gear, but I'm always regulated by the laws and seasons. Its not legal or realistic to hunt or fish on personal demand, and its not sustainable.

Now, the organic question. That one was tougher to answer, but is becoming clear the more I read about organic farming as an industry. I'm not talking about the quaint folks we meet at the our local farmers markets. I'm referring to industrialized organic farms that cater to supermarkets and big box stores like Costco.

At first blush, I might argue that I can't afford to purchase organic foods, especially meats. Organic chicken cost 2 to 3 times the amount of a typical store bought bird. It takes two chickens to feed my family per meal. That is $25 to $30 just in meat costs for a single meal. Add the organic potatoes, organic broccoli, organic mixed baby greens, and an organic salad dressing, and I'm shelling out $40 or more every time we sit down at the table.

So, I did say at first blush I thought organic foods were too expensive. But I'm rapidly learning that hunting and fishing are also very expensive. Mostly, its the acquisition of gear, reading materials, proper clothing, ammo, and licenses. I imagine if I enjoy this year and continue on as a hunter and fisher, the start-up cost will eventually pay for itself. But right now, that is a big IF.

The real reason I'm not ready to jump on the organic train is that I think the concept of organic is misleading. Actually, I think its a crock-of-poo, but misleading sounds nicer. A store bought, organically raised chicken lives every bit as miserable and filthy a life as the typical factory-farmed bird. The big difference is that the organic bird eats a diet of organic corn and soybeans and no antibiotics. But both birds live an overcrowded existence marred by diseases, unsanitary conditions, and a rather cruel ending.

The "free-range" label is bullshit too. For the most part, free range means that there is a narrow strip of turf available through a small exit. The exit remains shut until the chickens are five-weeks old. Slaughtering occurs at seven weeks. Most chickens fail to learn how to use the door and go outside during the two-week window of opportunity. Free-range birds may enjoy two-weeks of fresh air and pasture, so long as they are brave and bright enough to follow the light. Its important to know that chickens are not the smartest of birds. The free-range chicken's brightest moment may be when you open the oven door to check its temperature.

I used to read the egg cartons and make sure I purchased organic eggs or eggs from free-range birds. Now, I keep a small flock of six girls and opt out of the organic chicken lie. I know there are a few small farms in my area that produce the idyllic concepts of free-range and organic birds. You know, where the birds are actually scratching up a pasture, picking at seeds, insects, and grubs, and cooped only at night for safety from predators. If chicken cravings overtake and cannot be satisfied through grouse, quail, or duck, I'll seek out these farmers and their quintessential birds. Or maybe I'll raise a few birds for eating.

Tomorrow is a big day, target practice. It seems that Santa could not wait until Christmas to give me my new bow. More on that later.

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