A breakfast frequently served at my son’s school—where over half the children receive government-supported meals—consists of commercially produced French toast sticks and syrup. The list of ingredients on the package for this meal is as long as this paragraph. It includes not only partially hydrogenated soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup, but also more mystifying additives like gelatinized wheat starch, calcium caseinate, lecithin, guar gum and cellulose gum. The story of how these items arrive at a school cafeteria and are designated as food is a long and complicated one involving the interaction of farmers, government policy makers and the food industry. The modern story of why we eat what we eat begins in the 1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt faced the challenges of the Depression. He saw that many farmers were poor and that one in every five people in the country was undernourished. Farmers and other Americans were too vulnerable, he believed, to the cycles of boom and bust.
America’s food production system is killing us. It relies on the use of fossil fuels, chemicals, growth hormones and antibiotics, and on production and farming practices that erode the soil and deplete the groundwater.An entirely different approach to food production can be glimpsed at Polyface Farm in central Virginia, where Joel Salatin’s Christian faith informs the way he farms and, to the best of his ability, honors the animals.