factory farming and human health

The article Factory Farming and Human Health by T. O’Brien, M. Adock, J. Rifkin and B.M. Pickard is an examination of the effects of factory farming on human health in order to make the argument that large-scale farming is a danger to human health. The authors discuss the causes of the negative health effects such as close quarters for animals, exposure to excrement, dirt, a lack of sunlight and poor ventilation. As a result, bacteria is mutating and becoming more dangerous to human and animal health. Animal feed, including how livestock is being fed other animals and animal products that it would not otherwise consume and its role in infection transmission, is also discussed. A major point in the paper is that current hygiene restrictions are not effective because they do not address the root cause of the health problems.

The most pertinent information presented in the article is as followed:

  • The time of year affects the number and types of microbes present.
  • Animals can be more than transmitters of infections like Salmonella. They are not only disease carriers.
  • The acceptable limits for bacteria in food are surprisingly high. 1 in 3 fresh chickens and 41% of frozen birds are contaminated with Salmonella in the UK.
  • The bacterial mutations caused by factory farming are more detrimental to the health of humans and is becoming more prevalent.
  • How we treat the animals that we consume affects human health.

OBrien, T., Adock, M., Rifkin, J., & Pickard, B. M. (2001) Factory farming and human health. The Ecologist, 30-34.

kill-it-and-eat-it locavores give cities indigestion

This article describes how urban farmers who chose to slaughter their own meat are facing new regulations and even bans on home butchering. This is coming after many residents filed complaints that home slaughtering is inhumane and that there are no animal welfare standards in effect. Officials have acknowledged that a growth in urban farming does warrant upgrading the current code, but the merits of keeping versus banning home slaughter is still being debated. However, approximately 20 cities throughout the country have faced new, harsher regulations on keeping and butchering animals. The author goes on to explain that commercial food regulation is a federal issue, while butchering for personal consumption is a city matter. Those who support personal food choice and an individual’s right to produce their own food suggest that burdensome regulations may drive home butchering underground. Policy makers are still trying to figure out how activities such as cooking lobster at home and feeding pet snakes mice would play into proposed restrictions.


the social basis of agro-environmental concern: physical versus social proximity

This article attempts to answer the questions, “Is environmental concern widely diffused throughout society or is it more strongly expressed by particular sub-populations? How has concern changed over time?” This was accomplished by studying the attitudes about agriculture and the environment in relation to an individual’s geographic and social distance from agriculture.

They began by examining the following three concepts:

The economic contingency hypothesis: when economic conditions deteriorate, the most economically vulnerable become less supportive of environmental protection and preservation;

The broadening base hypothesis: anticipates that as environmental problems become more widely known and understood, concern for the environment diffuses widely through-out society and is no longer limited to particular subpopulations;

Environmental deprivation theory: anticipates that environmental concern will be higher among residents with lower environmental quality.

Based on research from 1973-1990, supportive evidence was not found to support either hypothesis or the environmental deprivation theory. Instead, various researchers found that there is a relatively stable level of interest with younger age being most closely tied to increased environmental concern.  However, it was also found that there is a strong relationship between one’s geographic location along the rural-urban continuum and attitudes about agriculture and the environment. Participation in rural recreational activities enhanced this relationship. Environmental concern about land-use for food production is correlated with younger age, urban residence, employment in non-extractive industries, liberalism and more education. Closer proximity to food production is correlated with more concern about it and increased trust in producers.

It is noted that in the Midwest, concern about structural changes to agriculture are affecting environmental quality and community well-being. It is indicated that structural changes, such the consolidation of farming operations, the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the emergence of factory farms, are causing the greatest amount of concern. As these developments are considered unfavorable by most, they are correlated with the emergence of the “Not in My Backyard” (NIMBY) mentality. These issues are also attributed to the increasing amount of conflict surrounding agriculture and land-use, demographic shifts and evolving values related to open space.

We have historically lived in a society with an agrarian belief system which means that there are high levels of support for agrarianism throughout society.  However, a steady decline of farming as an occupation, the relative decline of agriculture as the dominant industry in many rural regions and the changing demographics of rural residents is changing that fact. These values are associated with age (+), education (-) and income (+). Living on or growing up near farms is also positively correlated with an endorsement of these values. The analysis also showed that more urban respondents (living in core urban, suburban, exurban incorporated and rural incorporated places) are less likely to express agrarian support than residents of rural townships places. The same residents are less likely to trust farmers as environmental stewards. However, those who engage in and support rural recreation are more likely to trust farmers as environmental stewards.

The authors conclude that environmental concern is not diffused equally throughout society – a trend  that has existed throughout history.

Sharp, J., & Adua, L. (2009). The Social Basis of Agro-Environmental Concern: Physical versus Social Proximity. Rural Sociology, 74(1), 56-85.

review and analysis of of the benefits, purposes and motivations associated with community gardens in the united states

“The varied purposes and benefits of community gardening make it an ideal interventional strategy for community-based practitioners because myriad goals may be addressed through this approach.”

Community gardening emerged in the United States in the 1890s as, “a means to address urban congestion caused by immigration, economic instability and environmental degradation”. Immigrants, children and the poor were the original targets for the efforts, but economic strife caused by war and the Great Depression resulted in nearly universal participation until later in the century when the industrialization of agriculture resulted in the emergence of convenience foods. It was not until the recession in 2009 that community gardens enjoyed a resurgence (19% increase). This suggests that participation in community gardening activities is correlated with the socio-economic conditions of the time.

Beyond necessity, the five main purpose/concerns that relate to community gardens are:

  • Engaging Youth;
  • Health Benefits (dietary, mental, and physical);
  • Gardener vs. Land Holder Conflicts;
  • Social Capital;
  • Participant Motivations and Perspectives.

Positive outcomes are related to socializing opportunities and experiences. This includes social connections that are formed from accessing resources and developing collaborative efforts with outside organizations like universities, youth programs and health centers. Furthermore, multiple social processes (ex. reciprocity) formed during activities related to community gardening transfer to situations outside of the garden. This strengthens a widespread sense of community. This finding emphasizes that social interactions are imperative to the success and perpetuation of community gardens.

Community gardens have also been identified as a mechanism for individuals and communities to preserve, express and affirm culture. This is accomplished by growing specific foods, designing the gardens to reflect cultural heritage and providing a venue for cultural expression with dances, musical performances and festivals.

Participant motivations include access to fresh and better tasting food, enjoyment of nature, health benefits, opportunities to socialize, to beautify and give back to the community and to support the conservation of green space. Some participate in community gardens as a leisure and/or recreation activity. Others see community gardens as a means for neighborhood beautification and believe that they can serve as a way to revitalize distressed areas. Still, others anecdotally report that community gardens are correlated with a reduction in crime once the garden becomes established. This occurs when garden spaces become identified as safe places for individuals and families – especially those who otherwise lack access to open spaces – come together.

The fight for the right to public land use has given participants an opportunity to participate in local politics for the first time. This often occurred when there was an issue of land-use rights. In many of these cases, this conflict served as a means for instigating organization and mobilization of community members. Oftentimes, these individuals would not otherwise interact.

Finally, it was found that in many areas gardeners choose to donate a portion of their produce, typically to senior citizens, the homeless or poor individuals and families which works to improve food access networks for the community as a whole. This indicates that when people create something, they want to share it with the world.

Draper, C., & Freedman, D. (2010). Review and Analysis of the Benefits, Purposes, and Motivations Associated with Community Gardening in the United States. Journal Of Community Practice, 18(4), 458-492.

bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practices

“Watsonville is a largely Latino community, where many farm workers live – and several students […] have gone there with the intention of teaching Latino youth how to grow food, apparently with nary a trace of irony shown.”

Julie Guthman, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the Department of Community Studies (it is noted that Santa Cruz is often considered “ground zero” of the US alternative food movement) runs a program that provides students with an opportunity to work in a variety of food scarce locations in an alternative food program. Based on the work of the students and her personal research, she is able to inform readers that there is a great discrepancy between the goals and intentions of the student participants and those of the communities that they are attempting to serve. Below is a more in-depth summary of her findings:

Alternative food institutions have tended to cater to relatively well-off consumers, in part because organic food has been positioned as a niche product – even obtaining the moniker of “yuppie chow”. Furthermore, farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) tend to locate or distribute to areas of relative wealth. These places are also generally white spaces in terms of both the demographic that frequent them and the cultural codings that are performed at such markets. The same can be said of schools that attempt to incorporate farm-to-table programs unless they are heavily subsidized by private foundations or the public sectors.

Food deserts are then defined as urban (or rural) environments where few if any venues provide an array of healthful fruits, vegetables, meats and grain products. However, there are some issues with this definition. The quote:

 “To a lesser degree they situate the food desert phenomenon with the neoliberal restructuring of urban space more broadly which through disinvestment and endemic unemployment have relegated the inhabitants of some cities to intense poverty,”

summarizes the issue with this explanation of the current issues with food production in poor, minority communities. She goes on to explain that Blacks who are the target of these efforts appear to reject them (the efforts) because they believe they replicate the very phenomenon being addressed – the effects of white desire to enroll black people in a particular set of food practices.

However, despite historical precedents, the same feelings were not expressed in Latino or more recently Asian communities. It is theorized that this is due to many members of this demographic being undocumented, so they have limited access to government programs.

It is then explained that the origin of the word organic (which is often touted as a championing quality of urban agriculture) is controversial in nature because of its historical roots in use by Nazis influenced by the works of Rudolph Steiner and the nationalist foundations of the British Soil Association. Community gardens are also often associated with the term localism which in itself is considered to be xenophobic in nature and contradicts the black community’s desire to be a part of American modernity and technology. Additionally, many of the catchphrases such as “Dirt First” associated with gardening contradict efforts by many Black Nationalist groups to dissociate the Black community with idioms of dirt and filth. There is also the issue of getting one’s hands dirty and the presumption that everyone is interested in tending the land. This historically contradicts many of the non-white norms in the USA because land was given away to whites at the same time that reconstruction failed in the south, Native lands were seized and Natives killed and the Chinese and Japanese were excluded from land ownership. When coupled with the persistent injustice of white land being tended by non-white workers, the agrarian ideal does not resonate with many non-white groups. Furthermore, for some newly arrived immigrants the concept of community gardens can be considered eugenic in nature because they appear to mirror efforts to reform foodways by the United States. Finally, the mere definition of food desert often elicits the image of many of the impoverished neighborhoods as being beyond repair which has been suggested as containing colonial codings.

The issue of the term teaching kids how to eat has also garnered resentment because it is perceived as trying to instill a particular (white) ideology about eating. It was also found that many kids do not like to garden – they did not like getting their hands, clothes and shoes dirty.  The following quotes were taken from student’s notes from a community study students about their experiences working in Black communities. They summarize many of the feelings about the alternative food efforts:

The person laughed and said she did not know how to cook any of the things we planted.”

Often times girls show up with Jack in the Box for breakfast, eating it while working.  The youths were asked to say what they thought organic means, many used the terms disgusting, gross or dirty.

  • On why a neighborhood resident chooses not to purchase food that has been locally produced:

Because they don’t sell no food! All they got is birdseed…Who the hell are they to tell me how to eat? It’s not food. I need to be able to feed my family.

  • One of the students drew the conclusion that

Insistence on alternatives may well reinforce a sense of exclusion and stigmatization – as if residents of food deserts are not even deserving of what others taken for granted: a Safeway.

To deal with these issues, some alternative markets are adopting different monikers, such as Mandela’s farmers’ market and Growing Power, emphasizing black cuisine and culture to interest the local community, and imploring community members to rectify the historical issue of landholding inequalities and highlighting issues like the toxic nature of many conventional foods. However, it is noted that it often takes selling foods at below market prices or people literally becoming sickened by industrial food for the target market to adopt these food options.

The author concludes that there is a disjunction between what alternative food activists do and what food desert residents seem to want. In order to deal with this, she suggests shifting the focus of activism away from food qualities (local, organic, etc.) and onto injustices that underlie disparities, for example, addressing issues such as urban renewal, living wages, the expansion of entitlement programs and environmental preservation.

Guthman, J. 2008. Bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practice. Cultural Geographies, 4, 431-447.

book summary and analysis: the cry of the kalahari by mark and delia owens

The Cry of the Kalahari is a firsthand account of Mark and Delia Owens’ quest into the unknown wilderness of Botswana’s Deception Valley. They began their life-changing adventure in 1974 and studied the unique desert landscape where they remained until 1980 when they returned to civilization to put their findings to good use. While living in this remote location, which before their expedition had never been officially studied, they experienced trials and tribulations that the average individual will never understand. This included raging grass fires, severe drought coupled with up 150F temperatures, the curiosity of large predators in their natural environment, and inconsistent access to basic necessities. Such difficulties were exacerbated by limited funding from savings and the fact that they had not chosen a specific topic for their research before leaving on their expedition. This made it more challenging to attract attention [and funding] to their cause until compelling evidence was produced.

However, in such a pristine research environment they were able to benefit greatly from their direct observations which ultimately resulted in their acquisition of a plane and the advanced equipment they needed to complete an in-depth study of the landscape. They accomplished this by remaining as unobtrusive as possible and maintaining a respect for the natural balance of the local ecosystem. Using previous knowledge about similar species in comparable systems, they had a point of reference to identify similarities and differences. This task was often less than glamorous, e.g. collecting scat to examine for contents, and sometimes tedious due to the workload associated with accurately logging information for a body of proof and later use. Such information is the foundation of knowledge for use by other individuals and/or organizations for policy recommendations, educational purposes and raising general awareness.

Based on the tone of the writing, maintaining neutrality in order to avoid influencing the findings can be one of the most trying parts of research. This was particularly difficult for Mark and Delia when there was an exceptionally long drought season and the animals they had come to care about were desperate for food and water in order to survive. They could have shared their supplies, but they would have compromised the study, lost much of their credibility and disrupted the natural dynamics of the ecosystem.

When something bad does happen to an individual/group/groups being studied, as with Bones the beloved king of the Kalahari who was shot by sport-hunters only a few hundred meters outside of the wildlife preserve, resentment can ensue because of the relationship developed between the observer and the subject(s). Nevertheless, the Owens had to maintain good relations with the natives and continue collecting data. While most research is not so exuberating, these same principles apply to all research operations because those conducting the study must always be ready for the unexpected, move forward, and focus on the task at hand or that which needs to be completed would surely go unfinished.

Unfortunately, even in modern times with our increasingly solid understanding of the role that the natural world plays in supporting life, immediate economic gain outweighs the long-term benefits of conservation. For instance, in the text, it is discussed how people prospecting for uranium and diamonds were callous and indifferent to the damage that they caused while searching for “treasure,” such as carelessly leaving garbage and speeding across the landscape. It is also noted how wealthy ranchers were freely allowed to shoot anything that they considered threatening to their economic well-being, namely predators and foreigners in search of the thrill of big game hunting routinely killed multiple animals until they found the perfect trophy.   However, in poorer countries where development is still taking place, it is often very difficult to convince the native population that funds should be diverted to conservation/preservation efforts when the basic needs of the citizens are not being met or when nature negatively affects them [i.e. consuming livestock].

As with many research endeavors, it was not until influential interests, in this case the Frankfurt Zoological Society and a prince from the Netherlands, were compelled by the information that the Owens produced that international attention was given to the environmental situation in Deception Valley. This resulted in the funding necessary to complete more extensive studies of both the lions and brown hyenas. The most important improvements were the use of radio collars which provided the opportunity to study the breeding habits of the animals and track their movements during the dry season and airplane to spread the field of research. They found that brown hyenas care for their young communally and that the previous assumption that the animals migrate to an unknown area during the dry season was false. In reality, the animals remain in the same territory, but significantly expand their territory in search of food. Eventually, this information [along with some cajoling from members of the international community] was used to help convince government authorities in Botswana to make efforts towards conservation.

Overall, Cry of the Kalahari provided an excellent overview of the life of biologists and the importance of traveling to and directly observing the subjects of original research as it allows researchers to gather undiluted data. Such efforts are generally not easy and present a slew of challenges to overcome. Matters are complicated by money – whether it is because the funds are lacking or because the sources of funding often expect a particular outcome.   The latter was not necessarily an issue for the Owens but is generally something to consider. Still, they had to deal with the politics of conservation as natural resources in their natural habitat have only recently been given economic value and preservation is still a heavily debated topic. This problem is not exclusive to the developing world.

In order to move proactively into the future and bridge the worlds of economics and environmental balance education and awareness are essential. Mark and Delia Owens give readers a better picture of the complexities of ecosystems that are often forgotten or overlooked, especially with the massive migration of humans to urban centers and the exploding population. Like other animals, we are only thinking about our survival, but books like this remind us to reflect on our own compassion and remember that every part of an ecosystem plays an important role. As the most advanced species on the planet, it is our responsibility to remember our roots and do what we can to protect not only our future but the future of the millions of plants and animals who reside on our big, beautiful blue and green planet.

Owens, M. &. (1985). Cry of the Kalahari. London: Collins.

book review: everything i want to do is illegal by joel salatin

Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal is a satirical, yet very serious first-hand account of how government regulations affect small-scale farmers. The author, Joel Salatin, full-time ecological farmer, part-time public speaker and educational leader, details various encounters he and those like him have had with the food police, politicians, industrial farmers, customers, regulating agencies, bureaucrats, environmentalists and lobbyists throughout his farming experiences in an effort to gain support for his message to allow freedom for traditional food growing and purchasing options. He also encourages readers to embrace and support more ecologically sound farming practices. Unfortunately, as the title states – everything he wants to do is illegal.

Throughout the book, Salatin calls on readers to become better educated about the world, demand freedom of choice and ultimately to make decisions for themselves, rather than allowing government bureaucrats to dictate our choices. He hopes to reach out to those who are willing to try revolutionary ideas to improve our relationship with food and encourage those who have an open mind to consider his proposals. Above all, he wants readers to question the established system and stand up for freedom of choice. He attempts to accomplish his task by detailing his personal experiences, the good, bad and ugly, in subjects such as slaughtering animals, making bacon, selling meat and eggs, labor, taxes and environmental conservation. Some examples include:

  • He may not mill wood on his property for anything other than personal use.
  • There are regulations in place that prohibit the construction of living quarters under 900sq. ft. which inhibits his family’s goal of creating a multi-generational farm where the elders move into the small housing unit to allow for the parents with children to live in the larger farm-house.
  • The butchering of animals for sale of meat is prohibited in a location that does not have walls as the meat may come in contact with nature, despite the fact that the number of bacteria per piece is significantly lower than meat found in grocery stores. When he asks, Would you throw your food out at a picnic if a fly land on it?  The food police replied: That is not the point.

Each different section helps readers to better understand the struggles small farmers face as a result of food fears, cultural perceptions, and government regulations. He emphasizes that the current established system was designed with the industrial agricultural sector in mind and the fact that the regulating system is short-sited and subjective.

The information is presented in a simple yet persuasive manner. Salatin uses compare/contrast, cause/effect, and persuasion through example to develop his arguments. For example:

  • Compare & Contrast: the number of bacteria on his chicken vs. the number of bacteria on chicken purchased in the grocery store, despite his chicken being slaughtered in an a slaughterhouse with no walls;
  • Cause/Effect: due to the increasing number of regulations (that were designed with the industrial sector in mind) for farmers and the very high costs of modern farm technology, very few individuals interested in farming may pursue their dream which further perpetuates our dependence on industrial agriculture;
  • Persuasion through example: his farm uses ‘vats’ lined with sawdust, junk hay, or another form of carbon to collect cow manure and layers this to create warm bedding for cows during the cold months. Throughout this process his farm adds corn. Approximately 2 months before the farms need to be fertilized he lets the pigs into this pasture and they aerate the bedding with their hooves as they search for the delicious fermented corn which creates aerobic compost which can then be used on the fields in the spring. This process prevents extreme amounts of run-off, eliminates the need for oil based fertilizers and adds natural organic value to the land.

However, practically everything in the book comes from his personal experiences or the experiences of his friends and colleagues. He provides very view direct quotes or information from experts. This may be due to the fact that he is one of the leading minds in his field.

That being said, his argument for reducing the bureaucratic red tape that keeps people from locally produced food and encouraging people to demand more freedom of choice is very well-developed. For each subject (each chapter is a topic and there are 23 chapters) he provides an issue and then proposes a seemingly very logical solution. Additionally, I do not have any recommendations for supplemental information; in fact I think that the book provides information on topics that I, and very likely most others, have not previously considered.

Salatin’s biggest strength is writing from experience because it conveys emotion and allows readers to relate to him on a personal level. He provides logical solutions to very real problems to pressing agricultural issues such as the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for fertilizer in order to reduce run-off and reduce the carbon footprint of farms. He also very effectively explains the dire state of our small farms and explains why we need these farms and what we can do to help preserve this important sector of our culture. Throughout the book he shares his less than conventional, but very simple, ideas for improving food access and acknowledges the public’s fear of change and the fact that change may be best introduced in small sections of societies to prove their efficacy.

However, Salatin does not have to factor public opinion into his decision-making process, nor does he have to account for the extremely varied needs of our population (ex. He does not want to have to provide handicapped access in order to sell meat or eggs on his farm and many people consider meat that has been slaughtered in an industrial setting safer than in a ‘crude’ setting such as a traditional farm). Another issue that I had with this book was the presence of Salatin’s opinion of abortion in a book about agriculture. He did present his reasoning for including his thought process for including this section, but his argument is anecdotal at best and was completely out-of-place.

Overall, Salatin accomplishes his goal of sharing his cynical, sometimes idealistic, and mostly noble ideas with his audience to convey his message of freedom of choice – both in our food choices and our everyday lives.

Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal. Joel Salatin. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green, 2007.