the ypsilanti omnivore society

If, like me, you haven’t read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” yet, take a few minutes and listen to him being interviewed on NPR’s “Science Friday.” It’s brilliant stuff… Linette and I happened upon a repeat of the interview the day after Thanksgiving, as we made our way back to Michigan from Kentucky, and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Linette and I, at the time, were debating the question of meat, and how much of it we wanted to eat in the new year.

Linette was suggesting that we consider an immediate return to veganism (with an exception for certain Chinese dishes that we consider to be either culturally significant or important within her family), and I was proposing more of a phased approach toward that same end. Specifically, I was suggesting that we stop eating meat in our home unless it’s organically fed, chemical-free, and locally raised by someone we’ve come to know and, hopefully, like. An added benefit of working within this framework, I thought, would be that we’d eat considerably less (due to the likely increased cost per serving).

I was a vegan for about half a decade, and a regular vegetarian for about as long after that, once I slipped and started eating dairy products. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I probably know that I should stop eating bacon and all the rest of it, and revert back to the old Mark, but, in the last decade or so my priorities have changed a bit. While I still don’t like the idea of eating animals, I no longer see it as absolutely immoral. I guess, as I’ve come to see the raising of animals more in a historic perspective, it’s occurred to me that what I find really distasteful isn’t so much the consumption of meat, but the factory farming infrastructure that has grown up around it… At any rate, for the purposes of our discussion today, I’ve decided, at least for the time being, that limited meat consumption is acceptable.

So, here, finally, is my point… I would like to know if anyone else in the area feels the same way, and, if so, if they would like to explore the possibility of shopping for, and purchasing, meat in some kind of cooperative setting. At the very least, I’m thinking that a few of us who care about such things could go out and visit farms and report back with our insights. And, if that goes well, perhaps we could even purchase as a group in order to keep costs and such low. So, that’s my big thought for the day. Do with it what you will.

[This is cross-posted at the Downtown Ypsi site… And the terrifying image up top comes from the Surreal Coconut’s meat cyborg project, which is one of the first things that pops up when you do a Google image search for “meat.” (In other words, it’s not something that I just happened to have around.)]

note: I had planned to post something about meat well before the big news broke today that soy turns people gay.

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40 Comments

  1. mark
    Posted December 12, 2006 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    OK, maybe that image doesn’t really work with the post, but I really like the hands made of meat.

  2. mandawalker79
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    hey mark. you’ve been tagged! check out my most recent post to see what the heck i’m talking about. :) caliblog.com

  3. ChelseaL
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Although I don’t think too many educated people would agree with that soy hypothesis (especially given that homosexuality almost certainly predated the widespread dietary use of soy in this country and the numbers don’t seem to be changing), I can sort of see where it came from: I think soy products can be used to relieve some of the symptoms of menopause — which would support some kind of hormone theory.

    To be sure, this kind of thinking is nothing new. Some day when you’ve run out of things to look up, you might want to check out the history of the graham cracker (and also cornflakes and granola, although they’re less interesting).

  4. mark
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Soy, I believe has been shown to boost estrogen levels, so, yeah, I guess there’s some really thin connection with the truth there, but I think we can all agree that this is bullshit.

    And, yes, I know the anti-masturbatory history of the graham cracker. I guess we’ve always had insane people with us here on the earth.

    I’m checking Caliblog now, Amanda. I hope it’s something good.

  5. Mike
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Mark,

    I’m really excited to see this. I should be done with the book in a day or two now, and this might be the one book more than any other that’s actually inspired me to make a real change in my lifestyle. A buyer’s club would be great (that’s actually how the small farmer featured in his book sells a lot of chicken). While I’ve been pretty conscious about my food for a while, this book made me shift my thinking quite far. Petroleum grown organic milk from the other side of the country may not be good for me in the long run (now I’m drinking Calder’s from the Co-op in the cool glass bottles). “Free range,” vegetarian-fed chicken is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Meat is a lot better for you when the animals get to eat something besides corn.

    You really should read this book, Mark. We might need to renew the library copy so my wife can read it, but it’s definitely worth it.

  6. ol' e cross
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I

  7. Ted Glass
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Concerning the travel too and from the farm and how much gas is used, I think that’s a big part of why the collective approach would be preferable. Ideally, you would just have one truck full of meat coming into into town each fall and distributing it at a central location.

    Freezer Beef, by the way, was my nickname back in high school.

  8. ol' e cross
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Freezer Beef! Is that you? From Central High?! It’s me, Hot Sausage! How long’s it been? 5, 10, 20, 30 years?

    The Pinckney farm I referred to has a Web site, with complete with info on animal treatment and bulk order forms: http://www.tmzfarm.com

    Apparently, True Value in Pinckney is one of their pick-up places. I wonder if a local business would consider offering some freezer room one or two days a month … maybe something in proximity to the farm markets.

  9. Jennyfurann
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    My husband and I have also had this discussion. Both of us believe in the ethical treatment of animals we intend to consume. We also believe in the quality and health benefits of all natural products (not treated with hormones, etc). I think a buying group that represents this end is a great idea!

    There was an email on the Normal Park list serv this fall that talked about a local(ish) all natural beef. This fall they were accepting new customers. Here’s the website that was passed on . Might be worth looking into.

  10. Jennyfurann
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    http://www.naturalfarmed.com
    Ahem. Try the website again, without tags this time…

  11. mandawalker79
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    my mom went in with a friend and bought a cow. (they each got one half the meat). she went to the farm before hand had a look around and actually picked out the cow they wanted. now she has enough beef for like 2 years and she knows exactly where it came from. i’ll see if i can get some info from her for you.
    peace -manda

  12. sfifeadams
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Pollan’s book definitely sent me in two directions–away from vegetarianism, and toward localism. I was a true vegetarian for about a year, then started eating fish about twice a month and have kept that up for several years. But after reading Pollan, I decided that I’ll be willing to eat poultry again if I know it came from a sustainable local farm. You might want to check out the meat sold at Arbor Farms on Stadium in Ann Arbor–mostly locally and sustainably raised.

  13. UBU
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Boy, I guess I’m lucky Big Mac’s are culturally significant or important within my family!

  14. schutzman
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read Pollan’s book, so I’m not sure what his angle is, but I think it’s impossible to support the current population of meat eaters without factory farming.

    A tiny percentage might opt for locally raised meat, but in the big picture that system could never provide the amount of product that’s currently consumed by earth’s population, due to the fact that the number of people has increased dramatically since the industrial revolution, and they ingest much more meat per capita than they did prior to 1900 (For which we largely have Armour and Hormel to thank, who pioneered the use of refrigerated box cars).

    Local farms might say that the livestock is ‘sustainably raised’, but that’s only because they’re providing products for an infinitely small portion of the public.

    If you really want to eat meat, and you don’t want to impact any ecosystems, then Soylent Green is the only good option.

  15. mark
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Globally speaking, meat is terribly inefficient. I foget the equation, but it takes something like 16 pounds of grain to produce one of meat. So, Brett’s exactly right. The only way it can work on a big scale is if we all eat drastically less.

    I’ve written to both the farms mentioned thus far and I will update the post as their responses come in.

  16. schutzman
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    …and nobody has suggested the idea of local bloggers forming a hunting club, which I think is excellent, as wackiness is guaranteed to ensue.

    Who would be the first to “Pull a Cheney?”

  17. mark
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Do you mean “pull a Dick Cheney” or “pull a Mary Cheney”? The first involves shooting a friend in the face. The second involves spermless conception.

    So much fucked up stuff has happened over the course of the past six years that I didn’t even remember, until you just mentioned it, that our Vice President, who was rumored to have been drinking at the time, SHOT A MAN IN THE FACE and then refused to see the police investigating the incident. In any other administration that would be a remarkable event. Here, it’s not even in the top 20.

  18. schutzman
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I meant Dick.

  19. mark
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Well there certainly isn’t any dick in the Mary Cheney story.

  20. ol' e cross
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Badda-bing!

  21. ol' e cross
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    So Mr. Shutzman raised, what appears to me, to be a good point: that which is touted as “sustainable” is only good for a small percent of the population. Let’s move to veggies. Do we really think we can grow enough local veggies to feed the 5 million folks in SE Michigan? How about LA, NY? Is there anything that can feed us billions besides factory farms and Soylent Green?

    Because McDonalds and corporate farming are easy targets, I’ve got plenty of info to tell me they’re bad. But I haven’t found a book/documentary that critically analyzes if it’s even possible to feed the world with locally grown items. (Any suggestions for reading?)

    A few years ago, I was all jacked up on bio-deisel and other energies, until I found out it would barely make a dent in our oil consumption (I think I posted about it on this blog).

    I subcribed to Mother Earth for a good long time, but finally realized all the eco-hippies profiled were just chewing up previously undeveloped mountainsides with their mudhay homes in an totally unsustainable (for the rest of the world) feel-good exercise.

    I don’t just want folks telling me why the current system sucks; I want cynically criticized info on how a new system will work, not just work for my peace-o-mind/self-image, but will work if billions buy into it.

    I want to believe, someone help me in my unbelief.

    As a side note, in the interest of saving ecosystems by eliminating an utterly useless product that destroys ecosystems, we should start by purging ourselves of the tobacky farms that I believe Mr. Schutzman and myself share a particular affection for. (I did try growing my own tobacco one summer, but a neighbor’s tree fell on it and ruined my crop.)

  22. ol' e cross
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    A parting thought. It would seem that all of us lucky ones with big ass lawns could turn them into farms and grow everything we need. But, for harvest to last through winter involves canning, which involves gas and/or electric. We all know bulk equals efficiency. Are five million folks, individually burning fuel to can in their own homes, really going to use less resourses than one giant hyper-efficient factory canning for them? I don’t know. I want to know, but no one is publishing about it.

    Until then, I’ll err on the side of local consumption and continue to do what seems best. I’m just wish I had the data to tell me it actually is.

  23. mark
    Posted December 13, 2006 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    I seem to recall having read a study several years ago that estimated the number of people that the planet could realistically support. I don

  24. Mike
    Posted December 14, 2006 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    I’m glad this is such a long thread. 15 hours later, it’s nice to come back to a strong discussion.

    OEC: Not sure how far he went for the hogs and shrooms. He had moved to California at that point, and I would guess probably an hour or two. Considering, though, that some Californians (and Americans) drive an hour or two on the weekends to go hiking in the great outdoors, wouldn’t it be more efficient to kill a pig or pick some fungi while you’re there?

    In terms of apples, for one thing, plenty of people burn unnecessary fuel to drive out to Whole Foods, or wherever they go. I certainly don’t live within walking distance to any grocery store that most people go to (most people don’t go to the coop). And I know that plenty of people from outlying areas drive into Ann Arbor to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. (Also, a semi consumes more fuel per mile than even a Hummer. That’s conjecture, and I really hope it’s true.)

    But let’s go further. We all know that produce seems cheaper when it’s been trucked in to the shelves at Kroger instead of bought organic at the coop, but that there are hidden costs in the damage to the environment and our healths. Maybe there are hidden discounts in having a connection to our food chain.

    And yeah, we do eat a lot of meat.

    Well, goodnight. Anyone want to start a book club?

  25. ChelseaL
    Posted December 14, 2006 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    M,

    I can’t believe you knew that! (Though I suppose Battle Creek must not be far from you.)

    As a person with an anxiety disorder, I’m a little sympathetic to this crackpot. I, too, have been guilty of “adding up” things that really didn’t. (Especially last summer, when I put together a number of disparate elements and concluded that I was about to die of something horrible. But scientists draw erroneous conclusions, too. I think we all do.)

    I’m often reminded of a wonderful moment on The Odd Couple: Felix, terrified of flying, agrees to take a plane to Houston for an important photo shoot if Oscar will accompany him. Before takeoff, Felix looks out the window nervously and tries to read a technician’s lips: “I…much fear trouble…in the…fusilage, Frederick.”
    (To which Oscar growls, “I much fear there’s some nut on the plane trying to read my lips.”)

  26. mark
    Posted December 14, 2006 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    I heard back from one of the farms. I’ll try to post something tonight.

    And thank you, Chelsea, for assuming that I knew about the anti-masturbatory powers of the graham cracker because I lived near Battle Creek, and not because I have encyclopedic knowledge of all things masturbatory.

    And thanks for sharing the Odd Couple moment. It made me laugh.

  27. mark
    Posted December 14, 2006 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    As for book clubs, my friend Jim and I kind of ran one for a while, which was centered around progressive politics. It went pretty well, but we eventually lost steam. It’s hard to keep those kinds of initiatives up. We probably made it through about half a dozen books. If you search the MM.com archive under “Progressive Book Club,” you’ll find stuff about it… But, yeah, I might be interested in doing something again. It’s good to have a reason to make myself read something other than news on the internet.

  28. mark
    Posted December 14, 2006 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    OK, here’s the note from Kevin at TMZ Farm:

    Mark,

    You are right in every way.

    Our livestock are free ranging, no hormones, no steroids, no antibiotics, no
    feed supplements and no feed lot fattening.

    We are located in Pinckney and you may stop by anytime.

  29. Hillary
    Posted December 14, 2006 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    mark: Based on this,

    http://markmaynard.com/index.php/2004/01/18/title_383
    http://markmaynard.com/index.php/2005/01/
    http://markmaynard.com/index.php/2006/01/

    I predict that next New Year, you’ll be obsessed with sex, and the year after that, you will threaten to quit blogging.

  30. schutzman
    Posted December 15, 2006 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    Oh, Snap!

  31. Hillary
    Posted December 15, 2006 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Ol’ E Cross: I reason that buying from local farms now keeps them in business until farming is more profitable than building houses.

    We have been canning for a few years. It is of a higher quality and cheaper than canned food, and I know the farmer who grew it. This was the first year that I also made chili and spaghetti sauce with meat in a pressure canner. It solves the problem of freezer space, and pressure cooked beef is delicious.

    Did you know that pressure cookers use 1/3rd of the energy required for conventional cooking? Leek and potato soup cooks in 4 minutes at high pressure. Risotto takes 7-9 minutes with only 3 to 5 minutes of stirring. Beans are speed-soaked in minutes. Cheesecakes fluff up in the pressure cooker like souffles in 15 minutes. I got one for Christmas last year and use it all the time.

  32. mark
    Posted December 15, 2006 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I don’t like to rush into things, Hillary. : )

    And I think I have been making somewhat steady progress. This year, for instance, was our first with a CSA.

    So, make fun if you will, but I’m of the opinion that thinking about it and struggling with it is better than just giving up and deciding never to change.

    (Hopefully, that doesn’t come across as too offensive.)

  33. ol' e cross
    Posted December 15, 2006 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    There’s improvements and then there’s cures, i.e., reducing impact vs. sustainability. If a few of us buy our meat from Pinckney and hunt while hiking, it’ll reduce the impact on the system; that’s a good thing. I just doubt there’s enough meat in them woods to satisfy our national appetite. And, I want to do the right thing, not just feel like I’m doing the right thing as I drive my Hummer 30 miles past six Krogers to buy organic at Whole Foods.

    Hillary, thanks for reminding me about the pressure cooker. It’s time I get one. I had an ugly incident with one as a teen that left me, the kitchen ceiling and walls covered with scalding stew, but I think I’m finally ready climb back on that horse.

  34. Hillary
    Posted December 15, 2006 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    mark: It’s just an observation, so I didn’t mean to poke fun. (well, maybe a little for making us all think you went to an organic farm 3 years ago.) I’ve never tried to keep a New Years resolution. I always wait until I’m sick or fat before I think about changing bad habits. How did the CSA work out for you?

  35. Hillary
    Posted December 15, 2006 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Ol’ E Cross: The first thing my dad remembered about pressure cookers is “the time Mom put a turkey on the ceiling”. Cookers are much better now; mine has 3 safety mechanisms. Consider getting one or two cookbooks by Lorna Sass. They contain cooking charts for everything so you can convert your favorite recipes.

  36. murph
    Posted December 15, 2006 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    OEC – as far as improvements vs. sustainability go, I think that eating local may not be completely sufficient for sustainability, but sustaining local farms and farmers is definitely necessary for sustainability.

    We bought from the same CSA as Mark; this was our second season with them. My lament is that they’ll deliver as far as the A2 Farmers’ Market, which doesn’t seem enough closer than the farm to Ypsi to make it worth it – if I’m going to drive, I’d rather end up at the farm, rather than fighting my way through football traffic and battalions of urban assault strollers.

    Actually, I’d previously proposed to Mark that we get 4-6 households together to buy from the CSA next year. Even if that doesn’t make enough shares to get an Ypsi drop point, it’ll be enough to make it easy to rotate through pickups at the farm. Who’s interested?

  37. egpenet
    Posted December 15, 2006 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Downtown Ypsilanti, Friday PM …

    I’m sitting on my side porch steps at 11:00PM having my third cigarette and talking to my sister in Seattle who is without power.

    Not twn feet away is a fat and juicy locally-fed Opossum eating the remnants of bir seed fallen from my side yard bird feeders. There are five or six fat little ‘possums in my neighborhood, three or four large rabbits, lots of squirrels, some skunks, a raccoon family or two, lots of doves (sorry Jennifer), pidgeons and other brown flying critters (house finches), plus other “game.”

    If Matt would turn a blind eye to the ordinance against discharging firearms in the city, I could eat fresh, locally-fed, organic meat all winter.

    When I moved here, I bought all my meat at Knight’s meat market downtown. If soy didn’t have the consistency of feces I’d probably eat more of it, but it feels like … well … feels terrible in my mouth. It’s like … not well-made cheese.

    NPR Science Friday was covering the bad organisms in produce and meat this afternoon. I imagine that my little ‘possums aren’t much better in the raw state, but once cleaned and properly cooked … a yummy treat!

    By the way, there ARE a lot of muskrats along the banks of the Huron. And there is a whole passle of ducks and geese down there as I write. And geese are always flying overhead. I wish Matt would reconsider. I’d clean my old side-by-each, buy a box of shells and fill up the old freezer with critter carcasses.

    Beats poaching deer in Ann Arbor.

    Good night.

  38. ideaoforder
    Posted December 17, 2006 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s not entirely clear where in this discussion we passed over Mark’s initial suggestion of returning to a vegan diet. There seems to be a lot of good evidence (LaPlace, Singer, Robbins) that we could sustain the Earth’s current population on a wholly plant-based diet–but if and only if we stop using the majority of our crops to feed factory-farmed animals. In almost all circumstances, meat equals bad energy conversion.

    Considering the amount of energy a cow will provide to those who eventually eat it, considering even the most efficient uses of cow byproducts (leather, urea in soap products, etc), compared with the amount of food and water, i.e. energy, that go into rearing the cow, we get a big loss. This is also true economically. It’s quite expensive to raise a cow, though not so bad when heavily subsidized by the gov’t (Lyman, Marcus). A burger at McDo should cost 2 to 3 times what it does. Luckily our tax dollars are keeping it cheap–tax dollars that could go into education or to subsidize small organic farms.

    Now, some of this is circumvented by buying locally raised grass-fed meat. But, as has been rightly pointed out, this isn’t globally sustainable. And even small local producers are probably benefiting from gov’t money. And considering the amount of land required to sustain a cow without any longterm negative impact to the local ecosystem (i.e. enough grass to feed the cow only your grass, sufficient water in rain-collected reservoirs, etc), it’s much more energy efficient to grow plants.

    To the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t require anymore petroleum to procure veggies than meat, so there isn’t any net energy loss associated with cutting meat out of your diet. So, it seems to me that it’s far more energy efficient to be vegan, while also buying locally as much as possible.

    This is just one little step, of course. Eating fewer processed foods and/or foods that are processed locally is better. Biking to the grocery store. Carpooling, etc.

    But none of these things is really impacted by your choice to consume meat. So eliminating meat from your diet should ensure–whether this is a mere improvement or actually sustainable–that you consume less energy.

    In fairness, this might also be possible by carpooling to the forest to hunt (or eating your local feral beasties). But the question remains here as well as to whether that would be globally sustainable (if everyone on your block also wants to eat the opossum, for instance, that’s not a very good long term survival strategy–and there probably aren’t enough beasties, as OEC pointed out).

    So it seems to me that it would be much less fuss and more environmentally sustainable to cut meat from your diets than to participate in a meat-buying/owning coop. It’s surprisingly easy to be vegan these days.

    Cheers.

  39. mark
    Posted December 17, 2006 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    I can’t disagree with you on anything that you’ve said, and, as I mentioned, I think the path I’m on will eventually lead back to veganism. WIthout a doubt, it’s the best thing that any one person can do to lessen his or her negative impact on the world.

  40. ol' e cross
    Posted December 18, 2006 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Hillary, a second thanks for the cookbook recommendations. When I secure the pressure cooker, I’ll check back here for the titles.

    EgP, summer before last I caught 13 plump groundhogs in my backyard (but only after they had obliterated every green thing). I, like a fool, released these plump morsels into greener pastures, where, I presume, our growing population of coyotes enjoyed the place in the natural order that I’ve relinquished.

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