By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- The U.S. food system is too industrialized, too opaque and too segregated to be sustainable, according to local-food advocate Joel Salatin.
Speaking in Salem Feb. 12 as part of Willamette University's Dempsey Lecture Series, Salatin said the system's regulatory and economic functions encourage large-scale production of unhealthy food that consumes large amounts of energy.
The system's failures start at the top of the regulatory chain, he said.
"We don't have a way for food innovation to occur on a local level because ... (the USDA and Food and Drug Administration) don't allow small-scale, embryonic innovation to come to the marketplace, unless it comes through their infrastructure and regulatory and paperwork sieve," Salatin said. "And that sieve is prejudicial to all small-scale operations.
"They want to separate us at the federal level from local food choices," Salatin said.
"They have decided that it is perfectly safe to feed your kids Twinkies, Cocoa Puffs and Mountain Dew, but that raw milk (and) Aunt Matilda's pickles ... are hazardous substances," he said.
Salatin, a third-generation alternative farmer, has become a leader in the local-food movement through his lectures, writing and farm practices.
Salatin raises livestock using holistic methods on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Va. He sells meat directly to consumers and restaurants in his area.
His 550-acre farm was featured in food-activist Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma."
Salatin said food producers in the U.S. hide production practices from consumers.
"What this opaqueness does is create a lack of integrity in the food system, because whenever there is an economic sector in opaqueness, that is an economic sector that will quickly move into a lack of accountability that comes from transparency."
The system also is unhealthy, he said.
Packing animals tightly in buildings, feeding them antibiotics, eliminating their access to sunlight and fresh air encourages the development and spread of pathogens, he said.
"What we have here is a highly pathogenic system," he said.
Produce production, meanwhile, "is all about preserving shelf life," he said, "as if there is something about food stability that makes it good.
"Well, it doesn't make it good, generally," he said. "When you eliminate the ability of food to rot, it deteriorates."
Salatin said local-food systems can reduce energy consumption and lower food's carbon footprint by scaling back the miles food travels.
"The average morsel of food in America travels 1,500 miles," he said. "In just 1946, it was fewer than 100 miles."
And, he said, plenty of land is available in the U.S. to meet the country's food needs.
"The average city has enough unused land in the city to grow all the fruits and vegetables for that city," he said.
"America has 36 million acres of lawn, and we have 35 million acres housing and growing feed for recreational horses. That is 71 million acres," he said. "That is enough to feed the entire country without a single farm.
"Obviously, local food systems are not just a way for food security, they are the most efficacious way for food security," he said.