Monday, March 21, 2011

Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin (Book Review)

I first learned about Joel Salatin from the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. Salatin was one of the farmers featured in the film extolling the virtues of local food.

Fortunately, I had an opportunity to hear him speak earlier this year, and learn more about his Virginia farm and strident beliefs about community-based agriculture.

After his talk, I picked up a copy of his book, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, and I'm pleased to report it's one of the best things I've read so far this year. Call it the book Michael Pollan would have written if he had been a farmer.

Much more than a rallying cry for local food, Salatin illustrates in painstaking detail the everyday bureaucracy and issues with the entrenched industrial food system. He writes about how the system is setup to favor big agribusiness and not the small farmer or the consumer, and the many obstacles small, local farmers face from burdensome regulations. Zoning, wildlife, farm labor and housing, insurance, taxes, and animal diseases (such as avian influenza and mad cow) and the extent to which they are subject to increasing government regulations are all covered in the book.

For example, in a chapter about salmonella, Salatin explains how USDA regulations don't require inspectors to check the inside of eggs, or for things that hurt anyone. Instead, they focus only on "visually observable qualities: exterior shell and interior air space, thickness and blood spots." Sadly, you'll learn about many more farming "regulations" like this if you read this book. That said, you'll also feel hope and empowered to read about the huge strides the local food movement has made through "environmentally responsible, ecologically beneficial, sustainable agriculture."

Bottom line: read this!

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