July/August 2006 Letters

Why the Chicken Crossed the Globe

Michael Pollan’s “No Bar Code” was a great article, but it missed the main reason that I buy locally: The food is healthier.

I just picked up half a cow, all butchered and frozen, from a farmer in Tennessee and had to travel an hour and a half to do so. But it’s worth it for grass-fed cattle with no hormones, no antibiotics, and no steroids.

Elaine Claudio
Cape Coral, Florida

Why is it somehow more sustainable to have a thousand people drive ten to a hundred miles to pick up chickens than it is to have one truck deliver said chickens to a central location? I’m all for sustainable farming, organic food, and an end to monoculture, but it seems very cockeyed to leave out the energy expended by nonlocal customers to buy local food.

Mary Tyler
Newport News, Virginia

I was a regular customer of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in the ’90s, driving two and a half hours each way twice a year to pick up chickens. I also edited Joel’s first three books spreading the gospel of grass-based animal production. Thanks to the widespread embrace of these books in the alternative farming community, today I can simply drive across my county or go to the local farmers’ market to buy broilers grown Salatin-style, and I have sold pasture-produced eggs for many years. It is extremely gratifying to see, at last, prominent writers such as Michael Pollan telling the general public that, between the black of factory farms and the alleged pure white of vegetarianism, there lies a green alternative.

Still, survival of the Polyface-type operation is not ensured. In Virginia, legislation has been proposed to prevent farmers from raising poultry outdoors, ostensibly because of the threat of avian flu. (So far they have not yet tried to ban wild birds from flying over Virginia airspace.) Nationwide, the proposed National Animal Identification System—designed to benefit industrial agriculture and the producers of identification equipment—threatens the livelihoods of all small animal farmers.

Vicki Dunaway
Willis, Virginia

Here in the Appalachian region of southeastern Ohio, home mini-farms and farmers’ markets have been multiplying with abundant variety. However, low-income families cannot shop for healthy homegrown foods because most farmers and markets are not able to accept food stamps. This is yet another example of despicable governmental regulation.

Kathleen Roby
Corning, Ohio

Ironically, Michael Pollan’s philosophy seems to be: Eat Locally/Read Globally. Is his book sold only in Berkeley? Consider the fossil fuels used for his book’s printing and distribution. By selling it worldwide, is he not being unfair and potentially putting local authors out of business? An absurd assertion? No more than Pollan’s portrayal of Whole Foods Market. We strongly believe in and support local production; we sell local products from thousands of growers and food artisans. But our customers tell us they want high-quality products from other parts of the world as well. The reality for most of America is that there isn’t enough local food for most people to meet their overall desires both in and out of season. Also, Pollan fails to point out that many big organic corporations are actually networks of small, local growers who have banded together to lower their marketing and distribution costs.

John Mackey
CEO, Whole Foods Market
Austin, Texas

Dead as a Dildo

I read with bittersweet delight David Kushner’s article “Bad Vibes,” lamenting a long-running legal challenge to Alabama’s statute banning sexual devices. Kushner observes that “similar bans have passed in Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.” Georgia, however, recently lost its sexual device ban to a First Amendment challenge. In fact, Georgia’s entire obscenity statute is history. I know because I argued the case.

The constitutional flaw in Georgia’s obscenity statute should come as little surprise. As every first-year law student learns, when a court is tasked to interpret an ambiguous statute, it generally must do so in a way that avoids an absurd result. To do otherwise, the thinking goes, would run contrary to the legislature’s intent. But what happens when the only interpretation leads to an absurd result? Probably nothing—that is, nothing unless the statute is enforced.

Enforcing an absurd statute is a surefire way to highlight its infirmities. Were an elected government to evenly enforce an absurd law, that administration wouldn’t last long. The problem, as the Alabama plaintiffs have probably experienced, is that absurd laws are usually selectively enforced. I doubt that Alabama’s major pharmacy chains are being prohibited from selling penis pumps or ribbed condoms, which are both banned.

Cary Wiggins
Atlanta, Georgia

Good luck to Sherri Williams in her battle to keep sex toys legal in Alabama. I have heard that it is not universally agreed that the Constitution guarantees us a right to privacy, but our Founding Fathers did hold that our creator gives us the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. If a citizen buys a sex toy in Williams’ store, and pursues happiness in the privacy of her own home, on whose rights is she infringing? She might be a libertine, but liberty is in the Constitution too. It should be a slam dunk.

Nancy Green
Providence, Rhode Island