Folks, this ain’t normal.

folks tthis aint normal book
Folks, this ain’t normal: A farmer’s advice for happier hens, healthier people, and a better world, by Joel Salatin. Published in 2011. 384 pages.

When most modern Americans stop to consider a time when life resembled something normal (juxtaposed against the insanity of today), minds automatically drift toward the 1950s. Although the images that spring to mind are more Hollywood conjuring than anything a majority of Americans can actually remember, the amalgamated images of Ward and June Cleaver combined with Father Knows Best transport us to a time and place where life was simple, normal, and family-oriented.

In Folks This Ain’t Normal, however, Joel Salatin submits that the 1950s were in many ways the acceleration of our culture’s move away from normal life, speeding us like a locomotive to the dysfunction that we are grappling with in post modern America. While his book is without question and indictment of what has become of our food supply and ways of food production which harm our health and our planet, this book is about much more than that. Much the way Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community explores how the tentacles of abnormal economy infect our communities and most intimate relationships, Folks This Ain’t Normal offers something similar using our dysfunctional food system as its starting point.

No doubt you’re wondering how I concluded that the 1950s would be the point in time where the acceleration of abnormal living took root according to Mr. Salatin. I know I’d be wondering how such an idyllic period in American history could be viewed through such a lens. Salatin argues that the first supermarket appeared on the American landscape around 1946:

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”

Using his timetable as a measuring stick, one can conclude that he sees the late 1940s into the 1950s as a watershed period in the way Americans acquired their food. Not everyone agrees with Salatin’s assertion (see here for one example), but whether or not you agree, one thing is for certain: the way we eat, live, work and play in 21st century is not normal when measured against any other time period in human history. Salatin argues quite convincingly that this abnormal way of life is more of regression than any evidence of human progress. That in fact, our approach to food and eating as described here:

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.”

Has put us all in a position where food security is an issue even for the most affluent among us. We are too detached from the reality of how to acquire and secure food for our families in the event of any hiccup in our current infrastructure:

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”

To some extent, Salatin oversimplifies his argument because there have always been and will always be people for whom hunger is a reality of life. What he gets correct, however, is that far too many of us are ignorant of the things that make for a normal life and healthy food untainted by substances harmful to the human body, produced in a sustainable way, and ingested in a form as close as possible to the way God made it.

While the food supply is the jumping off point for Salatin’s arguments, he hardly stops there. He points out how the proliferation of plastic is harming our environment, how our cultural aversion to hard work and addiction to screens is further disconnecting us from our humanity, the earth, and each other, and offers his opinion on things we can do on an individual level to change the way we live our lives.

“As a culture, we don’t cook at home. We don’t have a larder. We’re tuned in, plugged in, addicted to electronic gadgetry to the exclusion of a whippoorwill’s midsummer song or a herd of cows lying down contentedly on the leeward side of a slope, indicating a thunderstorm in the offing. Most modern Americans can’t conceive of a time without supermarkets, without refrigeration, stainless steel, plastic, bar codes, potato chips.”

Because Hearth prepared me in her review of this book, I knew the last two chapters of the book were a nice long political rant. It was unnecessary, detracting from the much more entertaining rant on food and post modern life that filled the book up until that point.

There is a lot of farm jargon in the book as well, but I always welcome the opportunity to learn as I read, so I didn’t mind it. If you’re not familiar with farm language, however, be prepared to do some googling for clarification.

One of the things I most appreciated about this book was the fact that this Christian, libertarian leaning author has a clear and unambiguous concern for the environment. People who oppose conservative/religious ideology often assume that those of us on this end of the spectrum don’t care about the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Refusing to worship creation doesn’t necessarily translate into having no concern for it.

Overall, this was worth a read, an encouraging reminder to me to embrace normalcy not only in my approach to food and eating, but every area of life.

3.5 out of 5 stars

9 thoughts on “Folks, this ain’t normal.

  1. hearthie says:

    Thank you for linkies.

    Hit me with a stick and remind me to write about the necessity of community for things other than the obvious, will you please?


  2. Elspeth says:

    You’re welcome, Hearth.

    Like you, I need to be reminded of the necessity of community also. The difficulty -and this is something I think about often- is that we live in a culture with no common understanding of what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. I’m not referring to picking nits about whether a woman should work part time or the difference between a hem line one inch below the knee or one inch above it.

    I mean we don’t have a common understanding even on very broad issues.

    A lot of what Salatin describes in his book is really about the breakdown own community brought on by postmodern living.

    Take for instance his reminiscing of the days when he and others in community got together for a hog killing. Notice how over the years the numbers of people *available* to participate dwindled more and more until finally there wasn’t enough participation to continue the thing as an annual event.

    What did he say pulled the people away? Things like Jack’s soccer practice or Jill’s ballet lesson. Good things, according to current cultural wisdom.

    I’m rambling now but our drive to have and be more, to refuse to content ourselves with the fact that we might be missing out (or our kids might be missing) that one thing to give us the edge on our neighbor totally short circuits the possibility of community.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Robyn says:

    A phenomenon that comes into play is that, the more aware I become of how negative and unbeneficial the structure of postmodern living renders us …. the more lonely I see the world and the more segregated I feel.

    Another thing, this “segregated” type of life, which would be better called “cubicle” living — everyone hides aways within their own houses. The saying goes, “no one knows what goes on behind closed doors” … which according to Charlie Rich could be a good thing! But I’m talking about the natural barriers that are in readily in place from group (communal) living. We did have privacy areas in the past, but as far as “hunting, cooking and eating” we were forced to depend on the help and safety of the group; which brings me to my point. In relationships, there’s always sticky stuff …. people ARE messy — it’s just the nature of being ‘us’. But being exposed to the group so often … I think, kept us in check. I’m not looking through ‘rose coloured glasses’ … yes, there are always ways, to be sure, for evil to rise to the occasion. I’m just saying … I think it was harder to get away with poor treatment of each other.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. hearthie says:

    That may be because one of our *real* (and unspoken) community values is that good parents sacrifice to keep their children in a lot of activities. That (nice one!) actually does keep a lot of folks from investing more heavily in their communities of church and neighborhood – you’re forever running off to kid things in your “off hours” as well as when you’re at work.

    We have lost the concept that community requires upkeep. I think the reason for that is that the folks who left community left before they were pillars thereof, and it really was something that they took for granted. It was supposed to just be there… until it wasn’t. And then, not being invested, their sadness was shortlived.

    I get this with my mom sometimes, she’ll miss that small-town vibe, especially on holidays like the 4th of July. But she hated being constrained by the small-town and left out of HS. (And there *are* downsides, like major gossip and noses that are still bent out of shape 20 years after something went wrong). So, no more small-town benefits.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Bike Bubba says:

    Regarding the political rant, it strikes me that Salatin did exactly the same thing that Upton Sinclair did in The Jungle. So at least he’s in some good company–except of course for the fact that Sinclair was emphatically in support of regulating abbatoirs, of course.

    And if you want a good picture of the difference between factory food and real food, just make yourself two eggs, one where the chickens get to eat grass and bugs, and one where they’re feed just corn, soy, and supplements. I can’t afford to go all “local”, but the difference is huge.

    And living out in corn country, I get to see the stories Salatin refers to in the local papers–where guys die in grain bins, suffocate while maintaining hog manure storage facilities, and where thousands of animals die because the power went out and they got poisoned by their own manure.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. hearthie says:

    contrariwise, I saw what must have been one of the last old-school family pig farms owned by my mom’s cousins. Raised corn for their pigs, and their pigpens could have been straight out of charlotte’s web. One for the boar and the non mommying sows and one for the sow with piglets. Running, squealing piglets are cute, btw. And boars are BIG.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Elspeth says:

    Well yes Hearth (and Robyn *waves at Robyn*).

    There are always downsides, but the upsides of community are worth it. The other thing I thought was this, “Are Jack and Jill better off in long term for having been in soccer league, or having been involved in a community-wide event where they worked for the good of several families?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Elspeth says:

    And if you want a good picture of the difference between factory food and real food, just make yourself two eggs, one where the chickens get to eat grass and bugs, and one where they’re feed just corn, soy, and supplements. I can’t afford to go all “local”, but the difference is huge.

    Yeah, I’ve done that a time or two. The locally raised eggs were so much better, but at $7 a dozen, they’re too rich for my blood. I buy them to support that particular farm maybe every other month.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Robyn says:

    *waves back to Els*

    ““Are Jack and Jill better off in long term for having been in soccer league,..”

    I believe NO. Not when you take all the pros and cons into account equally.

    Liked by 1 person

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