It’s Not the Grapes

In the John Sayles play “At the Anarchist Convention,” one of the old anarchists makes it a point to say that he refuses to eat grapes at the annual dinner. In a beautiful bit of back and forth with his comrades, he conflates the grapes on the plate with the famous 1970s grape boycott in support of striking farmworkers.

As a small-farm farmer, I often think of this play and how we, as a society, are prone to confusing the thing (the grape) with the process (the strike). For example, we disparage any grain feeding of livestock, when what we’re really protesting are the practices of the industrial feedlots and the monocultural production of millions of acres of commodity corn. Now this is not to say, Mr. Pollan, that raising livestock exclusively on grain hasn’t got its own set of problems, whether on an industrial or a small farm. But addressing appropriate process, scale, and humane treatment can help us frame a better question that yields a better answer than simply blaming the thing.

Yesterday, we butchered a couple of dozen Cornish X White Rock chickens. The day-old chicks we purchased a mere 8.5 weeks ago had grown out to produce an astounding 4.5-pound carcass. (Think of a Rottweiler and a Chihuahua side by side, and you’ll have an idea of how fast the cross grows compared to the traditional farm variety.) As a super-fast-growing bird, the Cornish-Rock has several issues of concern from the small-producer standpoint — weak limbs and lack of hardiness, to name two. But the bird, in and of itself, is not the crux of the problem.

The real problem is its role in the agri-industrial system. This commercial cross was bred specifically and exclusively for industrial exploitation: The Cornish-Rock cross is an ideal partner for the vertical factory model — a model in which bird, agribusinessman, and illegal immigrant plant worker are tightly bound in the same machine that spits out soylent green parts for consumption by the masses. The model that provides cheap protein, provides cheap veggies, provides cheap clothing, provides a cheapened life….

The grapes ain’t the problem, folks. It’s the process by which the grapes got to your table.

12 thoughts on “It’s Not the Grapes

  1. A “farmer” from the southern end of this county recently updated his manure discharge permit to go from 6000 animal units to 10,000 in order for “his children to have a future in farming.” While surplus milk is being dumped out. As a small farmer, these types of operations are the enemy of everything I stand for, yet many people expect me to help defend this idiocy. What a crazy world we live in.

      • Wow, the snark meter pegged a full ’11’ on that one. But hey, if the shoe fits, right?

        The staff and I at GP picked up on a certain word usage in this post… in reference to an early 70s movie. And I’ll confess to a certain sensitivity to the use of soylent… so I suppose I take some comfort in the overarching theme of not blaming the symbol.

        On the birds just harvested… have you had the opportunity to try one yet? Wondering how different the experience might be. I’m reminded of the difference in yolk colors for eggs laid by industrial hens vs. hens allowed to forage for themselves.

        • The birds were just a test for us to gauge the interest of our customer base in custom slaughtered chicken. We raised these in an outdoor setting. They were next door to a flock of Barred Rock hens. The difference in behavior was striking. The BR, like most chickens, were active scratching through their bedding, chasing bugs, etc. The CR engaged in no scratching of litter, no bug chasing, just eat, poop and then drink a huge quantity of water each day.
          Now, for 17 years we have only eaten roosters and aged hens. The flavor of those birds was outstanding. Of, the CR, not as much. Cindy fixed two of the birds for a dinner last night using a Cuban recipe. And they were quite tasty, just not the depth of flavor we are used to in our poultry.

          • I hope to be forgiven for repeatedly confusing ‘Soylent Green’ with ‘Man-Eater of Surrey Green’. A critique of modern ag in its own right.

          • ‘Man-Eater of Surrey Green’ – The Avengers with Emma Peel (Diana Rigg). Fond memories.

            Thanks Michael

  2. My home in Georgia is the land of commercial chicken growers, the latest farmer planning 24 houses. Newer houses dwarf those built just 8-10 years ago. The closest neighbors with broiler houses (and there are many) told my mother they were having a very hard time growing for the company they have a contract with because they want the birds to weigh NINE pounds at 6 weeks. She said she could not carry out the dead–a necessary chore of the business…three fit in a 5 gallon bucket.

  3. Final thought: We brought a friend some of our chicken eggs for a birthday present. They were surprised that some of the eggs were white. “We thought you just raised small-farm chickens, we don’t eat white eggs.”

    Aside from these friends lack of essential social graces…It ain’t the egg color that is the problem, folks!

Any thoughts or questions?