Food Fads Affect Farming



Perhaps no human activity, other than killing other humans, has a longer history than diet regulations that prohibit some foods and glorify others.  Even in the biblical garden of paradise there was forbidden fruit. And the reasoning behind forbidden fruit is always the same. Eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones means living longer, perhaps forever. Humans are always suckers for that pitch.

Just as the prohibition against meat on Fridays in the Catholic Church helped the fishing industry in medieval Italy, so the latest fad, the Paleo diet, should prove to be a boon to grass-fed chicken and livestock producers because Paleos are supposed to eat only meat raised on grazed pastures without, heaven forbid, grains. The Paleo philosophy believes that modern meats no longer have the nutritional value of the wild meat that prehistoric humans enjoyed. Modern meat has turned real, red blooded cavemen and cavewomen into pansies. Today the only easily obtainable meat that comes close to the wild meat of Paleolithic times is the grass-fed kind.

Paleo is not good news for grain farmers of course. Paleo shuns modern grains, especially wheat, because gluten is, well, close to being poison. They say. Paleos don’t think much of beans either. Modern corn, especially as syrup, was already getting the upraised middle finger before Paleos came along. If I were a grain farmer today, I’d be praying that the older Mediterranean diet, which encourages gobs of wheat and pasta in the human diet, has a resurgence. But when a  professional basketball star like Lebron James goes on the Paleo diet, as the news says, look out.

I must confess that I am secretly cheering for the Paleo diet, not because I believe in it or any other diet under the sun, but because if enough people follow Lebron, they just might deal a blow to factory meat and a return of many millions of acres now cultivated annually for grain to grass and clover pastures. And it won’t be a setback for corn-fed meat lovers. I continue to be able to enjoy totally grass-fed beef myself, thanks to our son who raises it. I think it tastes better than corn-stuffed beef and if it turns me into a real he-man caveman type, well, three cheers.

Just to seal my fate, I learned firsthand recently that chickens are terrific grazers and really need only a little grain if any. Because foxes are very fond of chicken meat no matter how it is produced, we had to enclose the chickens in canine-proof fencing this fall. The hens ate every single blade of grass and weed seed and clover leaf they could get their beaks around in their lot and when I moved them to another plot, ditto. Perhaps I will become a chicken-livered caveman. Chicken tractor devotees have known the grazing abilities of chickens for years, of course, but having been brought up to think that chickens were mostly  grain eaters. I was surprised at just how well they can graze.

The foxes are another reason I cheer for Paleos. If more people want wild meat, bring them on. The number of wild animals terrorizing the countryside right now is increasing alarmingly. I haven’t tasted fox meat yet, but deer, wild hogs, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, opossums and groundhogs, to name a few, happen to make fairly good meat if you know how to fix them. I am just now reading a pre-publication book that points to the practicality of foods like groundhog potpie cooked in a Crockpot.  I can’t quote it yet because it is still in editing, but this book is not some recollection from the past or a reprint of a rare old frontier diary. It is a very up-to-date modern account of how a young couple and their two children are making small scale subsistence farming work in the real world.

Over the last fifty years or so, we have seen red meat, butter, cream, and eggs damned to the fiery flames of high cholesterol, while we were instructed to eat more vegetables, fruits and grains. Now the diet police have re-canonized meat, eggs and dairy products and turned their guns on grains. I will not be at all surprised if the next big thing in dieting is a prohibition against fruit. Too much at once can sure enough bring on painful cases of diarrhea. In everyone’s garden of paradise, apples might become the forbidden fruit again instead of the food to eat every day will keep the doctor away, which is another kind of crock.


I just finished reading “Hospitality in the Age of Allergies,” a short feature in Oct. 13, 2014, issue of Christian Courier magazine. It approaches the subject of how we show hospitality to those who do have the allergies. It is available on-line.

Ah well, any prohibition, culinary or else, is a form of extremism. Even “Thou shalt not kill” should probably come with an asterisk and be followed by something like: “(*) Except if the killed is Adolf Hitler.” Moderation in all, not prohibition.

And of course, as Deb said, such culinary prohibitions that come mostly from people who are not dietitians, are First World problems. I was amazed to see that my nephew and niece now eat a very limited choice of foods just because they say, most of the times not even having tasted them, that they don’t like them, or they don’t feel like eating them, or they don’t like the idea of them, or whatever excuse their mind, not their stomach, make up. When there are millions of kids starving, I just don’t understand this type of behavior. No doubt I must be becoming some old food fascist myself. It’s a pity, because for me, the pleasure of food is also in the variety of all the vegetables and grains and meat, and even if you have had a bad experience with some of them in the past, like school restaurants serving canned spinach, you can enjoy excellent dishes with the same food, depending on how it’s grown or raised or cooked.

Looks like several of your readers are also reading Ben Hewitt’s blog. From the previews he’s released I’m excited for the book to come out. Thanks to Chelsea Green for publishing such great authors.

Colonel George H. Bristol USMC (retired) October 22, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Gene –

I am a career US Marine who retired after 38 years on active duty. For years I have enjoyed your books and point-of-view regarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You have hit a great point here and one that I am deeply committed to: living in a manner with our forefathers. Call it Paleo, call it whatever.

The society I am now a part of – and fought over 66 months in combat for – is still a good one. But we are in many ways a nation gone soft. Too much available at the blink of an eye; too many “pleasure food” choices replacing the “meat and potatoes” diet that forged a great many generations (including yours).

My last year on active duty I commanded a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Africa. I have hunted there several times and am still amazed that people continue to live in hard places and flourish. A big part of that is the fact that they hunt and farm for their food. It is – in so many ways – the best kind of life.

I urge you to continue to bring these topics to light. I have a group of young people I am teaching to hunt and travel in the backcountry (Montana, Wyoming and Canada). Your books feature prominently in some of my time with them. Whether splitting and stacking wood, watching a bird of prey swoop in, of simply enjoying the taste of wild game, this time spent is in keeping with what makes our Nation great. Though you always claim to be a farmer, you are one of the voices from the wilderness that echo loudly of how things should be…

I thank you much for your always-on-point musings. They echo things that will always matter far more than any fad of the day. I pray they always will.

A Billion Chinese can’t be wrong Rat is good eating! Matter of fact the West Virginia Market Bulletin a few years ago had an article by a WVA ag inspector dealings with ‘funny’ smelling packages from overseas.One of the top ones was Rat On A Stick he found in a package,sort of looked like a corn dog. And the another was Sun Dried Antelope as in they killed the Antelope let it dry out in the Sun for awhile and shipped it to their relatives in WVA USA.Food is a matter of taste and habit.

James M. Thomas — couldn’t have said it better myself! I’ve had much the same thoughts concerning petroleum and diet! I’ve also taken some of Gene’s advice and started growing our own food (much of it with horse power), and find that the exercise involved with producing food certainly negates much of the negative effect (blood sugar spikes in particular) of carb consumption. I think the Paleos get it about right — in the sense that they’re avoiding the quantities and qualities of the modern day petro-diet.

I’ve been greatly limiting my consumption of bread, pasta, potato products etc.and have lost twenty pounds to date this year. That means I limit but don’t eliminate carbohydrate foods. Life is too short to do without such culinary delights absolutely, at least for me.

I’ve tested my blood sugar regularly because of dealing with Type II Diabetes . As a result I’ve found that just about any carbohydrate will cause my blood sugar to raise quite quickly. That stands to reason because carbohydrates have long been touted as energy food. The only way I’ve found to slow the rise in blood sugar is to either exercise or, amazingly enough, perform some physical labor such as pulling weeds, scything hay or transferring the manure pack in the barn to either mulch a garden or transfer the manure pack to a formal compost pile.

My youngest daughter’s fiancee, who was raised in Los Angeles and therefore seldom, if ever, got close to a manure pack during his growing years, discovered to his surprise that transferring manure via physical labor was as much, if not more, of an exertion as going to the gymnasium. So I suggest if we persist in eating carbohydrates we follow such eating with some physical labor instead of sitting at a desk or watching a computer or television screen. The benefit of actually performing some carbohydrate-fueled physical labor instead of just exercise for the sake of exercise is that you have something to show for your exertion.

Lest I be guilty of hypocrisy I need to go outside in a few minutes to perform some exertion in the form of carpentry on my barn and shop and transfer some more manure pack to the garden because I just ate some potato, which was fried in animal grease (bacon grease) although I added some olive oil and avocado oil to the pan to theoretically cancel out the bad effect of the animal fat The fried potato was accompanied by onions and sausage and eggs from my free-range chickens .

Those chickens actually ate some grain as well as grass and some other really disgusting substances but still produce delicious eggs with bright orange yolks and carcasses that consist of real meat, not flab passing as meat. The raccoons which abscond with some of the chickens also taste mighty fine when I’m good enough with a gun to stop such absconding and thereafter I place the raccoon meat in a slow-cooker with some good vegetables. Now that is definitely some real Paleo eating: slow-cooked raccoon with vegetables, especially knowing that the raccoon has been fed with free-range grazing poultry. I can just feel those Omega -3 Fatty acids coursing through my circulatory system, I especially feel them when I chase down the raccoon with some good red wine .

In reality I think that paleo folks ate grain but it took some really physical labor to obtain grain. Anyone who has hand-harvested grain via the methods Gene has described in his writings knows how much work is involved in obtaining such grain. I rather think that what people are missing in regard to grain , potato and other high carbohydrate foods is how much our petroleum-dependent agriculture increased the ready availability of such foods Think of a mechanical potato digger compared to excavating potatoes by hand . Think of combines, trucks and grain elevators to centralize grain harvest which make bread and pasta cheap foods instead of something which for most of human history was hard to obtain and then only via considerable human exertion.

Could it be that the cause of obesity in our modern world is that grains, potatoes and other high-carbohydrate foods are just easily obtainable in the developed countries without much effort in the form of actual human exertion? Could it be that if we exerted ourselves to produce and harvest such high-carbohydrate foods that calories consumed from the high carbohydrate equaled calories burned to obtain such foods? As an example, I well remember a picture of a Native American man in the southwest resting from his labor of hoeing his corn field. Even though he obviously consumed a lot of corn and beans he was thin and wiry and very fit. Is there a lesson here that transcends Paleo eating or Wheat Belly or even gluten consumption? I’ve read that it was quite common for such folks to run miles daily just to get back and forth from their homes to work in their fields of corn, beans and squash.

Maybe those of us who read Gene’s Blog can start the next dietary trend: the “No-Petroleum Diet” , defined as not eating food unless we know it was produced by human labor instead of petroleum, especially if we performed the labor of production ourselves… Just a thought!

I am not a pansy! I am a wimp and darned proud of it. We live too far from the big stores so we have to get our meats from the near-by pastures. My wife was a veggie when we met. She decided that eating my friends’ local meats was better than buying “organic” from Chile and China.

Possums, groundhogs, and squirrels! Oh my! Granny Clampett said of all critters; “Them’s good eatin’ “. Looks like Ben H_’s newest book is on you table. Enjoy.

Time to start eating Brussels Sprouts now that they have been touched by frost.

I’ve not tried fox or raccoon, but we eat bear meat and ate the cougar my husband killed in the 1970s. Of course, they wouldn’t meet the Paleo requirements to be grass-fed…
However, I must say I think our beef, chicken and pig taste better than the wild predators do.

Gene you just put a smile on my face every time I read your blog.

Whether it is the food police or doctors who believe in “better living through modern chemistry”; they all seem to change their minds every few years.

Recently I learned my statin drugs were causing me to have pre-diabetes. Now I can’t have meat, fat, whole milk, grain, sugar, honey….and the list goes on. I guess if I quit eating I will be fine assuming I don’t starve to death first!

Keep it up Gene, you are a true ray of sunshine.

Whenever someone tells me to do something – or to not do something – more often than not, it has been in my best interest to do 180 degrees the opposite. But, what would you, a Contrary Farmer know about such things?

What are those wavy heads on top of the grass? Oh yes that would be grain. LOL. The mark of a society that has too much is the constant search for different diets. You don’t need a diet when you have to scrabble for enough to eat!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s