18 January 2008

Food and feedlots

Hard earth beneath snow, roads plowed and driveways shoveled, etched black lines down to the ground, soft white to the sides. Five below on a January night.

What are these politics of food? It’s daunting to look out my back door. I live near the edge of town. There’s a new subdivision to the north of me, and once I’m past that it’s corn and beans. And as a non-farmer it’s hard even to ask questions about farming practices.

There’s been controversy in our county recently because there was a proposal a few months ago to reduce the acreage needed for a feedlot, to eliminate setbacks for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and to increase the number of animal units allowed in some of these things. (Animal units are a way to have equilalency between animals of different sizes. For example, if a zoning ordinance allows 1500 AUs in a feedlot, it means you could have 1000 holstein cows, or 1200 saddle horse, or 7500 sheep, or 600,000 broilers. [AU = Number of animals times average weight divided by 1000.])

There was a small group of residents who worked really hard for a month to organize meetings and get facts straight and fight against an ordinance that would benefit very few people and lead to further degradation of our local natural resources, and they were up against real odds and they balanced this with jobs and kids getting sick and holidays and weather and everything else that happens in a busy life.

But most of us still go to the grocery store and buy a “smart-pak” of pork chops and take them home and eat them and talk about water quality during dinner and never think that we’re the ones to blame, that our unwillingness to get more involved with the issues surrounding food production is the problem. “It’s too big an issue,” we think, or “I can’t make a difference.” We’re it. There’s nothing between us and the deep blue space of eternity. We have to make choices and decisions and be involved with food and agriculture. Whether we take an active role or not, we’re involved because we eat.

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