America’s cup runneth over. That’s our problem. The bounty of this land is so vast that we have been able gnaw our way across a continent in a mere five centuries without regard for conservation or frugality. We’ve had all we needed and plenty to waste. At least that’s been the theory.
Tangle At the Top of the Food Chain
A century ago we were a nation of farmers. There were hundreds of thousands of family farms scattered across the rich American landscape. We were growing more than we could eat. We could have probably maintained this simple level of prosperity for centuries perhaps thousands of years. Alas, about three billion new people and a handful of technological revolutions have blurred the possibility of this bucolic picture. We don’t live in that simple world anymore. We need look no further than the food we eat to know that this is true.
The food we eat today is more likely to have been produced in a factory than on a farm. This is because of a couple of the aforementioned technological revolutions, namely the agribusiness revolution and the transportation revolution and refrigeration. The food chain has gone from mail, a fine mesh protecting the whole body, to a more solid monolithic chain, more like a cable or a pipeline.
In yesterday’s world food production and consumption were fairly straightforward. The farmers grew all they could eat and took the rest to market where the townspeople would buy their meat or grain or vegetables and take it home and cook it, sit down, say grace and eat. Simple. The delicious peach I ate as a child in Dallas most likely came from as far away as Weatherford and the hybrid nectarine that I munch today is perfectly without fuzz and hasn’t known a tree since it was picked as a near embryo in Chile. It was frozen, thawed, ripened with gas, dyed, polished and in a final flourish of packaging, a plastic stem was attached to it containing an RFID chip. It also tastes like water.
In our post-agricultural world we find that McDonald’s has redesigned the food chain. Beef and potatoes come from gigantic factories where the immigrant workers that we so love to hate gut the beeves and stamp the tater-tots. The hysterics who are heads-aflame about centralized government seem to have no trouble with the idea of centralized food. Which brings us to the simple egg.
The saving grace here is that chickens can’t write. Else we would see diaries that would make Jewish concentration camp chronicles pale. If chickens ever evolve and take over the world, they will remember this chapter of their history as a holocaust. The life of a chicken in today’s factory-farm is bleak if mercifully short.
When I was a young retro-eco-farmer, my wife ordered some baby chicks from a seed catalogue. They arrived in the mail slightly the worse for wear, dehydrated and barely peeping. She had ordered a dozen different breeds of chickens and in a few weeks they were running all over our yard and taking care of chicken business. I became too friendly with the survivors to eat them but we had eggs, oh yes, we had eggs. We were eating all we could stand and giving away all our friends would take and still, we had eggs. These were yardbirds. We didn’t even feed them but for scraps but they gave us all the eggs we needed. If one or all of my chickens had become sick and given tainted eggs it would have affected half a dozen people. But free-range chickens rarely get sick and if they do, they fall to predators or wander off and die. Chickens in concentration camps can’t do that.
For all the culinary wonders and exotic confections provided us by the giant food industry, we find ourselves in a position where all of our eggs are in one basket, so to speak. The recall of half a billion eggs gives a whole new meaning and dimension to the expression, ‘chickens coming home to roost.’ It doesn’t matter what pastoral logo is stamped on the carton, Sunnyvale Farms or Fantasy Acres or Eugenic Dairies or whatever brand name that they use to suggest a local farmer’s loving touch, the eggs in that carton all come from several gigantic, impersonal egg factories. If the Muslim terrorists want to really ruin our day, they could disrupt all the potato salad in the country with a well-placed dirty bomb laced with salmonella.
The Poet’s Eye sees that the lack of diversity in our food sources is a huge weak link in the food chain. We can look for more mega-recalls and sadly, to more epidemics of food-borne illness because we have all of our eggs in one big agribusiness basket. Big Food is a much fatter risk to our American way of life than Big Government.
Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don’t come, you get a tan
From standing in the English rain.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob g’goo goo g’joob.–Lennon