Editor's Note Spring 2015

Tapping maple trees

Written on

February 11 , 2015

When Paul McCartney popped up on my computer screen recently, I wanted to believe him. Who wouldn’t be prepared to trust a man who wrote and sang “Blackbird” and “Good Day Sunshine” and “Penny Lane”?

What he said, though, was this: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” Oh, Sir Paul! I’ve known for a while that he is active in vegetarian causes, so it wasn’t a surprise that he was appearing in an online ad for a vegetarian organization, but this bit of hyperbole was too much, even for a guy who writes pop songs.

The fact is, many of us in the local food community who have watched animals’ lives ended for food, or who have participated in slaughtering ourselves, haven’t become vegetarian. In many cases, it has strengthened our appreciation of the meat we eat and resolved us to support local processing plants that do things right.(Perhaps Paul was referring to the worst industrial slaughterhouses, in which case, he might have a point.)

What’s more, if seeing animals processed turned everyone off of meat, then slaughterhouses wouldn’t be embracing the idea of installing public viewing windows—as the new Vermont Packinghouse has. As you’ll read in the story on page 18, the choice to invite the public to view all that takes place at Vermont Packinghouse was made in the spirit of transparency. Echoing this spirit, humane farming advocate Temple Grandin recently said that the future of the livestock industry requires “opening up the doors.”

I would say, though, that we need to open all the doors within our Vermont food system. We need to see the farmworkers from Mexico who labor on our dairy farms, need to observe the hay baler and the truck driver and the line cook hard at work, need to watch (if only in our mind’s eye) beginning farmer Ryan Demarest collapsing from exhaustion in his broccoli field, as he describes in an essay on page 34. Only when we see all the work that goes into the making of our local food will we truly appreciate it (and understand why it costs more).

In January, a group of Williams College students spent a week at Green Mountain Girls Farm in Northfield as part of their Winter Study. They visited all sorts of Vermont agricultural ventures, meeting the people who run our food system. One of the students later wrote, “We fittingly saw the faces of the farmers and workers who are often invisible to American consumers. Rodney, Mary, Karen… memorable personalities, and their stories gave me more than systemic understanding. They described motivations, morals, values, and missions that humanized the material and highlighted that any grand system is made up of many tiny individuals with distinct histories.”

How, in our busy lives, can we “see” all the people in our grand Vermont food system? We can’t, of course, but we can read articles about them, talk to them when they cross our path, express our appreciation for what they do, and try to understand the challenges they’re up against.

I’m remembering that Paul McCartney also penned a Beatles song called “I’ve Just Seen a Face”… Perfect.

—Caroline Abels



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Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape ties into larger questions of sustainability and the future of our food supply.