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Food for thought: Back to basics

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 10:05 p.m.

Joel Salatin practices what he preaches -- simple, sustainable living close to the land and loved ones -- through Polyface Inc., "a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley," according to its website.

A self-described "Christian libertarian environmentalist lunatic" profiled in the Oscar-nominated documentary "Food, Inc." and Michael Pollan's bestselling book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," Salatin has plenty to say about how Americans have gotten away from -- and can get back to -- the best ways to farm, eat and live in his new book "Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People and a Better World" (Center Street).

Welcoming anyone to visit at any time, Polyface supplies local, seasonal food to 2,000 families, 25 restaurants and 10 retail outlets near the farm but won't ship anything anywhere. Wary of growth leading to "deep pockets with shallow values," Salatin and his family train others to replicate their methods: They're "in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy and healing the culture," the website says.

Following are excerpts from the Trib's phone conversation with Salatin.

For urban dwellers:

The beauty of poultry in an urban setting is that it's so useful. The average American dog eats more food and makes more manure than 11 chickens. So, you know, all these people say, "Oh, you can't bring chickens. They're dirty. How do you do that in the city?" and all this stuff. Well, when you start looking at keeping a pet dog ... the manure won't compost -- it's not nearly as good for plants or to do anything with. Suddenly the chicken sounds like a pretty utilitarian critter. ... So when you think about ... the animals people have for pleasure, whether it's fish, birds or mammals, the chicken really goes way up there because they can eat all of your kitchen scraps. ... (T)hey allow you to eliminate all the compostable food waste that's going to the landfill ... and the chickens lay you wonderful eggs as a benefit ... . (W)hat is there not to love?

On isolation from nature:

You know, your immune system is a bit like your muscles -- I mean, the immune system needs periodic assaults on it, at least gentle assaults, to keep it from being lethargic, to exercise it. And so having a garden or having a couple of chickens, something like that, a ... close, visceral interaction with the physical world, actually does create some gentle assaults on the immune system, which stimulate it to greater functionality. ... I think it is worth being concerned aboutthat so many of our young children today never interact with real live ... animals. They don't get splinters, they don't get calluses, they don't get feathers and pollen and dust and things like that, and they live in almost an antiseptic world which I think over time can have pretty major ramifications.

On food safety:

The problem is that the government is such a political animal, and so as soon as we say, "We want the government to tell us what we can and cannot eat," that is not some sort of benign, vacuous agenda ... . The determinations on what is acceptable or not acceptable are extremely subjective and extremely political. So now ... our food police think it's perfectly safe to feed your kids Cocoa Puffs, Twinkies and Mountain Dew but it's very unsafe to feed your kids raw milk, Aunt Matilda's homemade pickles and compost-grown tomatoes. ... (Y)our ability to make food choices is undermined by the agenda of the bureaucracy, which is being driven by the agenda of the large multinational corporations ... . If you aren't afraid and you only want to eat government-approved food, that's fine. ... (But) we also need to preserve the freedom for people who say, "You know what• I don't cotton to the government's food agenda and I want the freedom to be able to choose ... ." The very notion that the only efficacious way to have food safety is by some faraway regulatory bureaucrat is just ... silly. ... The transparent, intimate relationship between a (food) producer and consumer who are doing direct contact ... creates its own safety net.


The world will get an eyeful and earful of the British monarchy in 2012 as Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, marking six decades on the throne.

Queen since Feb. 6, 1952, when her father, George VI, died, she saw to it that her coronation on June 2, 1953, was the first televised crowning of a British monarch. And if she remains queen until Sept. 10, 2015, she'll outdo Queen Victoria, her great-grandmother, reigning longer than any other British monarch.

Formal celebrations set for June 2-5 include the queen, lover of all things equestrian, attending the Epsom Derby; a massive flotilla on the River Thames; a Buckingham Palace concert; and a "Service of Thanksgiving" at St. Paul's Cathedral. Also, royal family members will visit British Commonwealth countries and other nations worldwide throughout the year.

Gain insight into what's behind all the hoopla -- the origins, development, status and future of the British monarchy and its influence on America and its government -- from these titles selected especially for A Page of Books readers by manager Karen Rossi and her staff at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Downtown & Business branch.

1215: The Year of Magna Carta

by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham

(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

Tudor and Stuart Britain, 1485-1714

by Roger Lockyer

(Pearson/Longman, 2005)

Events That Changed Great Britain Since 1689

edited by Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling

(Greenwood Press, 2002)

Events That Changed Great Britain, from 1066 to 1714

edited by Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling

(Greenwood Press, 2004)

Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II

by Philip Eade

(Henry Holt and Co., 2011)

The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor

by Penny Junor

(Thomas Dunne Books, 2005)

Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II

by Robert Lacey

(Free Press, 2002)

Our Times: The Age of Elizabeth II

by A.N. Wilson

(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010)

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch

by Sally Bedell Smith

(Random House, 2012)

The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth

by Andrew Marr

(Henry Holt and Co., 2012)


A Matter of Principle

by Conrad Black

(McClelland & Stewart)

Born in Canada, Conrad Black became a newspaper magnate, a critically acclaimed historian and biographer and, in 2001, a member of Britain's House of Lords. Just a few years later, he was fired from his Hollinger International media empire over a U.S. corporate-fraud case. Sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison, he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled the "honest services" law that underpinned his conviction on three fraud charges too vague and ordered review by a lower court. Then granted bail after two and a half years behind bars, he was ordered last summer to serve another seven months by a judge who restored his lone obstruction-of-justice conviction. He'll be released this spring -- and as a felon who's not a citizen, he'll have to leave the United States. "A Matter of Principle" recounts his life and legal battles. Offering gossipy insights about such figures as Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Rupert Murdoch and Henry Kissinger along the way, Black's memoir grapples with issues of politics, corporate governance and American justice.

Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America

by Mark R. Levin

(Threshold Editions)

Mark R. Levin, syndicated talk-radio host and Landmark Legal Foundation president, topped The New York Times best-seller list with his anti-statism "Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto." His new book, the publisher says, "explores the psychology, motivations, and history of the utopian movement, its architects, and its modern-day disciples -- and how the individual and American society are being devoured by it." Finding parallels between today's America and Plato's "Republic," More's "Utopia," Hobbes' "Leviathan" and Marx's "Communist Manifesto," Levin draws on the wisdom of Locke, Montesquieu and de Tocqueville. He begins thus: "Tyranny, broadly defined, is the use of power to dehumanize the individual and delegitimize his nature. Political utopianism is tyranny disguised as a desirable, workable and even paradisiacal governing ideology" -- one that imperils the self-reliance and individualism reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He says "all that really stands between the individual and tyranny is a resolute and sober people" -- and calls for Americans to "overcome the constant and relentless influences of ideological indoctrination, economic manipulation, and administrative coerciveness ... ."

We're With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics

by Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian

(William Morrow)

The material that forms the basis for political attack ads -- and is sometimes used quietly to prevent a potential candidate from running -- comes from what's known as opposition research. In "We're With Nobody," two practitioners of that dirt-digging craft -- "oppo" in insiders' parlance -- shed light on what's usually a behind-the-scenes aspect of politics. The authors, formerly journalists and political advisers, are partners in a Jackson, Miss., political research firm. In a book excerpt that The Wall Street Journal ran under his byline -- and headlined "'Can You Tell Me a Little About Your Ex-Husband?'" -- Michael Rejebian writes that the role that he and Alan Huffman play is about gathering information, not what's done with it or how it affects elections: "Our job is simply to find, document and collect. In our work, the judges and juries reside in the voting booths and campaign offices." Whether they're typical voters, hardened political junkies or would-be candidates who have unflattering college-days photos posted on Facebook, readers' perceptions of campaign rhetoric and advertising will be changed by this book.

A Page of Books, written and compiled by Alan Wallace, appears on the last Sunday of each month.

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