Feeding America: A look at the role of our farmers

It is an oft-repeated lament in agriculture that the average person today doesn't have a clue where his food comes from, or the circuitous path it took to the supermarket shelf or restaurant table.

Peter Lovenheim, who lives in Rochester, N.Y., and describes himself as “a typical middle-aged suburban dad,” was buying his young daughter a McDonald's Happy Meal when the thought came that most people know little or nothing about how cows become burgers.

He ended up finding a farm that agreed to sell him a couple of calves and to let him have round-the-clock access to all phases of livestock production “from conception to consumption” — everything from breeding cows, to calving, the use of antibiotics in feeding rations, and the auctioning of the animals for slaughter.

The result was a book, “Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf: The true story of one man, two cows, and the feeding of a nation.” It could have been yet another ambush “expose” of the meat industry; rather, it is a realistic, appreciative portrait of some of the people who help to provide us the cheapest, most abundant food on the planet.

If you want an interesting read for these cold, dreary winter nights, you might want to pick up a copy.

Subsequent to the publication of his book, Lovenheim penned an essay that appeared in the Thanksgiving issue of USA Today, entitled “Farmers deserve thanks for their labors this holiday.” A few excerpts:

“Until recent generations, every human culture knew intimately the source of its food. Today, it's easy to sit at our Thanksgiving tables and say grace for the abundance that is ours. But it's harder to remember to thank the men and women whose labor actually puts it there.”

“…Farmers are people most of us no longer know and hardly think about. Sadly, the loss of this connection affects us profoundly. As consumers, we choose our diets largely out of ignorance, leaving us susceptible to manipulation by advertisers and interest groups. One type of food is healthful, we are told; another is tainted.”

“…We have become so ignorant of food that even if we wanted to, we couldn't heed our mother's warning, ‘Don't put anything in your mouth unless you know where it comes from.’”

“…Yes, we are thankful to be with loved ones, thankful for our health and worldly abundance. But it has become difficult to feel genuinely thankful for the 20-pound turkey and mashed yams. Not only don't we raise turkeys and grow yams, we don't know anyone who does. We've lost the connection with the cycle of life and death that puts animals and plants on our plates.”

He suggests ways that urban residents can get to know farmers and learn more about agriculture, concluding: “When I say grace with my family for the abundance on our table, I'll thank the farmers I have met for their part in putting it there. Because, really, our food doesn't just fall from the sky.”

You can read Lovenheim's essay at USAToday.com (search for “Farmers deserve thanks”).

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