This week’s reading is by my favourite author, Michael Pollan. I had the pleasure of experiencing his books for the first time this year. It has been a positive impact on my diet nutritionally and deepened my connection with the food I eat. This week I got to read “Omnivore’s Dilemma”. I finished part 2 of this book, focusing on pastoral grass. I read chapters 10-14, they were all enjoyable but my favourite chapter was 11, “The Animals: Practising Complexity”. I learned how to greatly appreciate the unique and rarely acknowledged symbiotic relationships between animals, plants and humans on a farm. Pollan gathers valuable and wise knowledge while personally getting to know polyfarmer, Joel Salatin, a man I’ve admired for a few years ever since I saw his appearance on Food inc. Michael gets to work with Joel on the farm and get intimate with important species that help produce food for humans. Joel helps Michael explain some of the ways buying local food, can allow you to see these important symbiotic relationships for yourself, forming a deeper, personal, and satisfying connection to the food you’re eating.
I really enjoy how Pollans writing uses imagery. He does this by explaining specific details about his surroundings, creating an image in your mind of what he is experiencing. Pollan writes in such a way that introduces his topics by completely engaging and mesmerizing his reader. He creates a scene for his readers; page 186, “When one of his cows moves into a new paddock, she doesn’t just see the color green; she doesn’t even see grass. She sees, out of the corner of her eye, this nice tuft of white clover, the emerald-green one over there with the heart-shaped leaves….the cow opens her meaty wet lips, curls her sandpaper tongue around the bunched clover like a fat rope, and with the pleasing sound of tearing foliage, rips the tender mouthful of leaves from the crown.”
This quote makes natural agriculture systems seem so simple. But as Pollan titled one of the chapters, “practising complexity” it must not all be simple. A successful polyfarm includes a variety of species that have interdependence on one another. Pollan got to witness cattle up close, grazing on all sorts of grass species growing in Joel’s so called, “sunfarm”. The sunfarm is one way(the only way until fuel came along) energy is captured, turning it into food energy for humans. There are a variety of species involved in this chain of events in which solar energy is captured. This chain involves 3 primary species, cattle, grasses, and humans. Joel explains how he captures the sun’s energy through the grass in his pasture. The cows will eat the grass, and stomp their manure back into the soil to (reducing carbon emissions and fertilizing their food source). The humans will move the herd of cattle around the pasture in a cycle, they shouldn’t stay in one spot for too long. They’re always looking for their favourite grasses; so they grass needs a chance to re-establish its own energy before it transfers more to the cow(very important cows have lots of space to graze because overgrazing in one area leads to depletion of root systems because grass energy is constantly being used). Once they have consumed enough energy, then it’s time for the humans to enjoy a meal. Cows have rumens, allowing them to digest cellulose in grass. Humans aren’t capable of digesting cellulose, therefore we get our energy directly from the cow. Throughout this chapter, I really enjoyed acknowledging this chain of events of capturing this sustainable source of sun energy that provides the food I eat.
Pollan introduced me to something I haven’t explored much. He taught me one way that farmers can increase quality of their chicken products, save on cost of production(saving consumers money too), and help save the environment all at once! Having multiple species on a farm allows the organisms to benefit from one another. On page 214, “In nature there is no such thing as a waste problem, since one creatures waste becomes another creatures lunch. What could be more efficient than turning cow pies into eggs?” Nowadays conventional ways of farming leave excess manure that needs to be treated. But on a polyfarm, chickens will enjoy feasting on grubs in the cow manure, which will increase the flavour and nutrient content of the eggs they produce, or the meat they will become. Chickens will also scratch the manure into the ground with their feet as they are eating grubs. This will provide a free fertilizer for the pasture, that will benefit the grass with a plethora of nutrients, allowing it to grow healthily to supply the energy for the cow. I never realized what a wonderful cycle this could be! This weeks reading really made me realize connecting with the animals that you eat, and acknowledging these natural agricultural systems, is a really phenomenal feeling, that I think everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing.