Modern Day Parable on Environmentalism (Joel Salatin)

Reading in the Christian Century today there was a review of Joel Salatin’s newest book “Mad farmer?” and read this parable from the “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic,” as Michael Pollan describes in Omnivore’s Dilema. Salatin writes:

We have neighbors—I’ll call them Cleve and Matilda—who would be the bane of liberal environmentalists. . . . Members of the National Rifle Association, they hunt avidly and procure all their meat that way. They scavenge firewood from neighbors’ woods to fill their home-built outdoor wood furnace that supplies all their domestic heat. Their huge garden, filled with blackberries, strawberries, and vegetables, offers a cornucopia of bounty, which they freely share with neighbors, including us. They can, freeze and dry their bounty.They don’t go out much. . . . They don’t buy new vehicles, seldom or never eat out, do fix-it jobs in the community to earn their living. They don’t buy things or shop—their clothes are common working threads, worn out and eventually discarded for rags. They listen to Rush Limbaugh. . . .Now let’s meet another family, living in suburbia, utterly dependent on industrial food, helter-skeltering daily between charitable and recreational activities. Shopping and getting take-out food routinely, amassing 20 pairs of shoes and a dozen trousers. Jetting to Disney World for vacation and popping pharmaceuticals for mental and physical survival. Big paychecks, lots of paper wrappers, big lawn to mow and nice annual donation to an environmental organization. Goodness, maybe they even sit on the board of a prestigious greenie.org.Let me ask you a question: Of these two scenarios, who is the true environmentalist?

via Mad farmer? LaVonne Neff reviews Joel Salatin | The Christian Century.

What I love about this is that Salatin challenges stereotypes and pushes the on the often self-righteousness of one group over another. I wonder how I am blind in my own prejudices and stereotypes to the point of not living up to what I say I believe.

We are confronted with the question of what does it mean to truly be an “environmentalist?” And does any one group have the corner market on what it means or looks like to care for the earth?

LaVonne Neff reports Salatin saying:

“I have no problem with vegetarians who choose to vote against industrial farming by eating that way,” Salatin writes. “Teresa and I have said that if we didn’t know somebody like us, we’d practically be vegetarians too.” But vegetarianism will not save the planet. In fact, if everyone switched to beans, we’d have a real problem, and not just the one that springs immediately to mind. “Not a single long-term tillage system on earth exists without an herbivorous component,” Salatin explains. “You can’t just substitute tofu (made from tillage—soybeans) for the herbivore. It doesn’t work ecologically. Period. No matter how much you like tofu.” That’s because tillage depletes the soil, while manure builds it up. To have good soil and good vegetables, you need plenty of animals, preferably cows. Or buffalo.

Salatin’s own vision may not line up exactly with yours or mine, but his “parable” and challenge are worth noting. In what ways do we try and protect ourselves from a couple of “right” practices or “green” activities, while ignoring the larger issues glaring blatantly for all to see but ourselves?

We should be reminded of the words a wise man once said:

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor (Matthew 7:1-5).

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.