The Older Brother Gets Grass-Fed

While I’m on the Low-Carb Cruise, my brother Jerry (a.k.a. Older Brother in comments) agreed to write a guest post or two. He’s a relatively new convert to low-carb eating and is 30 pounds lighter as a result. Nearly 20 years ago, he was the one converting me: I became a libertarian after debating politics and economics with Jerry and realizing I was getting my butt kicked. After licking my psychic wounds, I asked him to suggest some books I should read. He did. I’ve been fascinated by economics ever since.

The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illiniois has been publishing Jerry’s witty observations on politics and economics for years now. I’ve been bugging him lately to start his own blog and expand his readership beyond Springfield, which he finally did. I know some of you don’t care for my libertarian take on current issues, but for those of you who do, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Jerry’s blog as well: And now here’s his guest post …

Ever see something where you don’t expect it, or have the same thing show up in different areas of your life that you hadn’t considered related? Like when you were in third grade and you bumped into your teacher who was out on a date? You almost didn’t recognize her because she wasn’t “where she was supposed to be.” I had a couple of those instances cascade into each other in the last month or so.

It started with Lierre Keith and her book The Vegetarian Myth. For those of you who’ve been following Tom’s blog for awhile, you’ll recognize it from his recommended reading selections and a couple of posts. Ms. Keith is not a big fan of men (as in feudal/patriarchal) or capitalism and was a devout vegan for much of her life. As a libertarian guy and carnivore, she trends toward my “Not My People” category.

But since I’ve been working my way through the Fat Head reading list, I started “Myth” with my Nook eReader while I was online in Barnes and Noble one day (for free!). Then I went back the next day so I could read some more — for free. The third time I just went ahead and paid for the same electronic version. Libertarian guilt pains, I guess. Then I bought the “paper” version so I could make notes and share it.

So anyway, a number of times when discussing the ideas of healthy, pastured animals, Keith mentioned a Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farms, describing him as “one of the High Priests of the local/sustainable movement.” My back-of-the-mind thought process went along the lines of “it’s probably some hippie selling to fellow true believers at ungodly prices without a workable business model.” The name seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t think of why.

Okay, now to the other, “didn’t really think it was related” part of my life. I don’t normally admit this in public, but I’ve read Mother Earth News for years. I usually hide it inside a copy of Reason magazine or some porn so people don’t get the wrong idea about me. Despite their global-warming, anti-business, whole-grain, granola-loving little hearts and their itty-bitty carbon footprints, I even have a subscription and read it online. Again, not generally my people, but I love the self-sufficiency and back-to-the earth angles, along with the gardening tips and do-it-yourself alternative energy stories.

They’ve been touting their annual “Mother Earth News Fair,” and there was an online blurb about a Joel Salatin at one of the events. I had a momentary brain lock trying to think of why I’d heard that name before, then remembered seeing it in Keith’s book. Then I remembered Salatin had an interview on the Mother Earth News website a year or so earlier, which triggered the “déjà vu” feeling when I saw his name in Keith’s book. As these references seemed to keep circling back on each other, I decided to check Salatin’s story out. What I found was awesome, especially a three-part series on YouTube from a “Meet the Farmer TV” show:



It’s a very educational, fun, and enlightening hour and a half (if you watch all three parts). Kind of reminds me of another documentary I’ve seen, now that I think about it(!).

A final “déjà vu all over again” note. On the first video, the interviewer asks Joel about agricultural outreach in the third world. He gives a very well thought out and powerful analysis, including how badly our government mismanages its efforts, noting that we’re running programs in these countries to grow corn – which requires equipment and expertise they don’t have, fossil fuels they don’t have, fossil fertilizers they don’t have, and will destroy their topsoil. This past week in our local paper was an article about a group of our local National Guard soldiers being deployed to help get Afghanistan’s agricultural economy going.

They’re going to grow corn. Sigh.


The Older Brother


26 thoughts on “The Older Brother Gets Grass-Fed

  1. Lori

    There’s also an article in the Spring 2011 issue of Yes! magazine that has an interview with Salatin: “Should we Eat Animals?” Salatin, of course, answers yes.

    After reading The Vegetarian Myth and seeing his name on the cover of the magazine, I had a deja-vu moment myself.

    He’s pretty prolific — including several books I’m sure I’ll be getting.

    — Older Brother

  2. Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People

    I don’t know what crops would do well in Afghanistan, but I’m guessing corn isn’t one of them or they wouldn’t need so much help getting it going.

    I saw an article a few years ago about the drug trade in Columbia. One guy on a remote mountaintop — and all the mountaintops in Columbia are remote — can grow a crop of coca for a year, harvest it, process it, and load the finished product in a backpack. Then he can hike for four or five days to where he can sell it for enough money to pay for the entire year.

    Then American agents come in, burn his crops, and plant bananas instead. Even assuming the crop does well he can’t harvest it all himself while it’s ripe, doesn’t have room to store it or trucks to transport it, and there’s no road to get it to market even if he had a truck.

    One side blames big business for our problems, the other side blames big government. The one thing they agree on is that “big” is always part of the problem. Looks like locavores are right.

    It’s kind of funny/sad — the newspaper article said the Afghan farmers grow “wheat, barley, corn, rice, fruit, and nuts,” then noted that “Afghanistan is also a major supplier of opium in the international drug trade.” Duh.

    Tom and I have both referred to my son who’s Army Infantry and has done two tours in Iraq. I love these guys and want nothing more than for them to all have a good tour and get home safely. But their bosses’ (both parties) arrogance is matched only by their ignorance.

    — Older Brother

  3. Michael

    Well I am a voluntaryist who enjoys reading Mother Earth News as well. 🙂

    But have you told your family?

    Kidding aside, it’s really an enjoyable magazine, but they seem to have total cognitive dissonance. They’re all about being smaller footprint, backyard chickens, and self sufficient on one hand while wanting a massive government to mandate all kinds of feel-good environmental dictates and mandates. They don’t seem to get that they’re advocating for the machine.

    That’s why I tell anyone who catches me reading it that I just buy it for the pictures.


    — Older Brother

  4. mezzo

    Hi Bro!
    An older brother is something I always wanted – all I got was a little temper tantrum…We’ve settled down by now (g). Nice to see you taking over from Tom. I suppose you will prefer to stay nameless?

    “Taking over” sounds a bit frightening. I prefer to think of it as “keeping the seat warm” so I don’t scare myself.


    –Older Brother

  5. mezzo

    Oh dear, forgive the oversight in the last comment…Hi Jerry. Nice videos. The name “Polyface farm” sounds intriguing. Do they produce “Polyjuice Potion” I wonder?

  6. jclivenz

    Highly recommend Joel’s “Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer” published 2010. Most readable and enlightening for even the non farmer. He was in NZ last November and I paid $NZ500 to attend his all weekend seminar although I am a non farmer. Consider money well spent. Joel is definitely not a lunatic – it is just how he is perceived by those who have been sucked into the vortex of Big Agriculture and confinement farming.
    Keith’s book despite the patriarchal thing (but perhaps she has a point) is right on the money. That she refers to Salatin is so appropriate as only his animal husbandry and land management model will sustain and restore the earth that feeds us all.

    I suspect I’ll end up buying several of his books once it’s all over with. Good writing is like cocaine for Naughtons.

    — Big Brother

  7. damaged justice

    Shades of this Brian Regan routine, toward the end:

    Salatin’s description of himself as a “crazy libertarian Christian” immediately endeared me to him, and got me interested in the topic of agriculture versus permaculture. The “DC cosmopolitan libertarians” are correct on the surface that just buying local/organic isn’t the answer, and yes it’s awesome if anyone can trade with anyone anywhere. But there’s always more to it, both in terms of the big picture and one’s own brief and irreplaceable life. (The old common law strict liability allowed property owners to sue polluters for trespass. You can thank “your” government for putting an end to that — I think around the time of the transcontinental railroads?)

    Tom, have a great time on the cruise, and thanks, Jerry, for keeping the fire burning in Tom’s absence. I recently watched Big Fat Fiasco again and it lit a not so quiet fire in me as well, and I’ve been planting a few seeds of my own here and there. Hoping you’ll soon be getting some new viewers (and hopefully buyers 🙂

    I just watched Fat Head again last night on Netflix for the first time since they got the soundtrack fixed (yes, I’ve got the dvd but it was all the way over there and I already had the Tivo remote). It’s one of those “like a good book” things where I still get something else out of it each time through.

    On Tom’s behalf, thanks for spreading the word!

    — Older Brother

  8. Be

    Nice post Older Brother. Joel Salatin is sharp and also a Libertarian – you would agree with much of his politics. He was interviewed heavily in Food Inc., and I highly recommend his book (one of many) titled “Everything I want to do is Illegal”. Thanks for sharing these videos I have not seen – will have to watch them tonight.

    I realized he was a libertarian from the things he said in the videos about the market, government, etc. I was happy to see he realized he’s a libertarian, and stated it explicitly in another video (I don’t believe he said it out loud on the ones in the post). Lots of folks are libertarian by nature but don’t realize they have a home.

    I know he also heavily influenced the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma when Michael Pollan called him and asked Joel to ship him some of his pasture raised food. Salatin refused because he won’t sell outside a 300 mile radius. As a result, Pollan came and spent time at Polyface.

    — Older Brother

  9. Jan

    Oh, good – another Naughton to stalk. 🙂 I just subscribed to your blog (you should consider putting a link to your RSS feed up).

    You should really read Salatin’s book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal – as a Libertarian, it will either make you pull your hair out (assuming you have some) or grind your teeth until there’s nothing left of them (assuming you still have them). I don’t agree with all of his views, especially on immigration and abortion – sorry, but he makes some downright asinine statements regarding both – but the problems he’s faced due to government “regulation” is just astounding.

    I’ll check out the RSS feed angle. By which I mean I’ll ask Tom about it after he gets back from the Low-Carb Cruise. I was actually quite the SQL/Access/VB guru back in the day, but moved away from the tech stuff just as the web tech really started to explode. I’ve tried to avoid learning any of it up until now, assuming this whole “internet” thing would blow over. Looks like I’m going to have to deal with it.

    Salatin’s got so many books from so many angles, I’m kind of frozen. Like a kid in a candy store with $5 in his pocket — where to start?!? Now that you mention “Everything I Want to Do…” I’m pretty sure it was a takeoff on it that I’d seen in Mother Earth News prior to Keith’s book.

    Tom got more brains, height, musical talent, and writing skills than me. I got more hair, so I avoid pulling on it to preserve my advantage.


    — Older Brother

  10. gallier2

    Hi, your parents must have been old cartoon fans, or why would they name their sons Tom & Jerry 😉

    They swear that’s not what they were thinking. Circumstantial evidence supports their claim, as I was born and named first, so technically it’s Jerry and Tom. Tom, of course, may disagree.

    There’s also a classic cocktail from the 1800’s called a Tom and Jerry, a kind of rum and eggnog concoction which was originally called a “Jerry Thomas,” created by an eccentric bartender of the same name. They claim this wasn’t the inspiration either (at least consciously), but it looks suspicious. We report, you decide.


    — Older Brother

  11. Angel

    Hi Jerry, thanks for the great guest post.

    I’ll add my two cents regarding your reading – the place to start reading Salatin is his “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal” book. Some farming, a lot of politics. Very good reading. He is an excellent writer.

    I’m actually leaning more towards one of his more farming-oriented books, based on the fact that I’ve followed politics/economics for years but I don’t know much at all about sustainable farming. I figure that makes for more low-hanging fruit in my case.

    Maybe I can talk Tom into another guest post once I’ve read up on Joel’s works.

    — Older Brother

  12. marné

    I just watched Food, Inc. last week, and Salatin was featured there, too. I had planned to look up more about Polyface Farms this week, it’s great to know that he has several books. My reading list is getting a little out of control, though. I also started The Vegetarian Myth a while ago. I’m really loving that there is so much overlap between Libertarianism and this whole foods movement (Paleo/Primal/whatever you want to call it). I feel like I’ve found my people :o)

    Amazing, isn’t it? I mentioned to Tom several months ago that you could almost build a Unified Theory of Nutrition and Politics, where carbs = subsidized industries that the pols keep insisting are the answer to what’s good for us, saturated fats = entrepreneurs that we have to have to survive and thrive, but keep getting cast as villains, etc. The more bankrupt (fatter) we become, the more the experts insist we need even more subsidies. You get the idea.

    Tom challenged me to write it up, and I’m still rolling it around in my mind. If I get it done, I think it will kick Stephen Hawking’s butt for important theories.


    — Older Brother

  13. Firebird

    I am a raging Libertarian! If the party could get organized it could make a serious run in politics as a viable third party.

    Years ago, in the middle of a deep conversation with a top notch IT guy for a customer I was working with, I declared that I was a rabid libertarian. Without even missing a beat, he stated:

    “That’s redundant.”

    I’ve never used an adjective along with it again. Seriously, have you ever met a “moderate” libertarian or a “country club” libertarian?

    Keep the faith, but don’t let go of your St. Jude statue. (Patron saint of lost causes)


    — Older Brother

  14. marné

    I look forward to reading that, get to it!

    The more I’m reading and listening to, the bigger and more tangled the web becomes – subsidies, big corporations, government, healthcare – it’s all connected in the most sinister way, and at our expense. I don’t quite understand how the super-lefty mother earth types can possibly think more government will help matters.

    Dang. That was my out-loud voice, wasn’t it. I’ll get on it, but it’s going to take some time.

    — Older Brother

  15. C

    What’s a libertarian? I’m vaguely curious.

    Anyways, that’s interesting. At least the parts I understood…meaning about 25%, lol.

    Short answer, libertarians believe in very limited government with maximum personal and economic freedom.

    Longer answer:

    Small “L” libertarian refers to people who believe in this concept and its ramifications as a philosophy, capital “L” Libertarian refers to members of the Libertarian political party. The Austrian School (free market) of economics is generally considered the foundation of libertarian economic thought in direct contrast to Keynesian economics, which advocates for government control and regulation of markets and prices (think Roosevelt/New Deal/Bailouts). That’s the folks who brought you our current economic situation.

    For those who follow some economics, the inaugural post on my blog features a YouTube video of a Hayek/Keynes smackdown — and they’re RAPPING!

    — Older Brother

  16. TonyNZ

    No, no, no, no, NO!

    Yet another “our study finds contradictory evidence to the accepted dogma, therefore we should follow the accepted dogma.”

    Resident Libertarian Pasture-Feeding Farmer

    Just never ends, does it? Father Pisors, Tom’s and my outstanding Physics teacher from high school, had a quote on the lab wall:

    “No experiment is a complete failure. It can always be used as a bad example.”

    Unfortunately, it seems all we have these days are bad examples.

    Amazing. These yo-yos with lab coats do a study to see if low fat diets work (too bad nobody’s looked into that before), get a smack-in-the-face negative result, and then conclude that “For instance, it might help kids stave off heart disease as they grow up…” Of course, it might also keep little green martians from invading our planet, so keep drinking that skim milk, Chubby.

    Meanwhile, somewhere out on the deep blue sea, a stand-up comedian is doing a presentation on “Science for Smart People” to help people think rationally. Is it any wonder the byline for my blog is “I should have taken the blue pill…” ?

    Thanks for the link. I’m banging my head on the desk for Tom.

    He said it was in the job description.

    — Older Brother

  17. Sigi

    Thanks for the videos, Older Brother! I first developed a little crush on the remarkable Mr Salatin after reading Michael Pollan’s fascinating ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’, so it was interesting to revisit the goings-on at Polyface, this time with visuals (always wanted to see the EggMobile in action).

    I thought the EggMobile was pretty neat, too.

    I ended up buying The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer. I’d like to say it was after a careful analysis of Salatin’s collected works and how it matched up with my current knowledge level and priorities, but it was the one my local Barnes and Noble had in stock. Turned out to be a great match, anyway, and I’m already five chapters in. It’s like most of the books from Tom’s recommended reading section — a feeling of intellectual intoxication while drinking from a knowledge firehose.


    — Older Brother

  18. shel

    want more joel salatin? get a hold of the incredible movie “fresh”. it is the more hopeful answer to “food inc”

  19. tracker

    “Short answer, libertarians believe in very limited government with maximum personal and economic freedom.”

    Great post, enjoyed it thoroughly. My problem with many of the libertarians I’ve met, is that they’re all for economic freedom, but many have taken a page out of conservative republicanism when it comes to personal freedom (see: “morality”). Ron Paul is a prime example of this. I once watched a video of him back when he was running for president, and was agreeing with him on many things until he got to the whole ‘abortion should be illegal’ thing. Really? So, government should be just big enough to fit in my womb? *sigh* Maybe I’m just really an anarchist at heart 😀

    Thanks. Didn’t mean to kick off a libertarian thread on the Fat Head blog. Libertarians just can’t help ourselves!

    I didn’t follow Paul very closely during the last election cycle — I just voted for him. I was very big on him when he ran for president on the Libertarian ticket in 1988. His position then (with which I agree) is that, like almost everywhere else the federal government injects itself into these days, there’s just simply no place for national abortion mandates one way or the other in a constitutionally constructed USA. Hence forty years of strife.

    There’s a principled libertarian argument for both sides of the abortion issue. I don’t think we need either the Barrack Obamas or Newt Gingrichs of the world to be picking for us.


    — Older Brother

  20. Howard

    Jerry, my brother and I went through parallel metamorphoses as you and Tom, although the roles were reversed. I am the older brother who was liberal or perhaps just ignorant and ambivalent, and back in 1992 my younger brother started me listening to Rush Limbaugh and then going farther toward libertarianism on my own. Then this past year I convinced him to go low carb and he lost 50lbs and now is as strong a proponent as ever. Anyway, great posting!

    Thanks! Great being the older brother, isn’t it?

    You must’ve had a pretty open mind as a liberal to start listening to Rush. I think that trait has declined on both sides of the political duopoly.

    Others have commented on the parallels between the libertarian mindset and the low carb lifestyle. They’re driven by a desire to ascertain an ethical, internally consistent model for living that is based on reality — instead of how we wish things were, or would be if we could change human nature or physiology by popular vote.

    Churchill said ““If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” The early jump from liberal to libertarian was made easier for me (and Tom) by a couple of things. First, we moved to Springfield — Illinois’ capital — as young teens. So we got to see the “sausage” being made, but we hadn’t been raised on the factory farm, as a lot of our peers had.

    Even bigger, our Dad was a small business owner who worked his fanny off to provide for a better life for his family. After coming through the Nixon/Ford/Carter recession without drawing a “paycheck” for four years, my blood absolutely boiled when I’d hear some tax-eating chucklehead explaining how “the rich” — meaning Dad, since he had a great year coming out of the recession — needed to pay more.

    I was in mortal danger of becoming a Republican when I picked up a 50 cent book at the library’s annual book sale — “For a New Liberty: A Libertarian Manifesto” by Murray Rothbard. I figured it was some kind of commie group, and wanted to see how ignorant this “libertarian” thing was. Half a chapter in, I realized I wasn’t alone and I’d found my people.

    You see the same politics in the nutrition debate — the dictating of “choices” for your own good; the appeals to credentialed “experts” — whose results are funded by the ones dictating the choices; the simultaneous claims of scientific justification while at the same time declaring a “consensus” and the “the debate is over.”

    The whole time, you’re watching with a mixture of horror and fascination, thinking “what exactly is it these people can’t see?” Hence the byline on my blog: “I should have taken the blue pill…”


    — Older Brother

  21. Peggy Cihocki

    Sure wish there were more like Joel Salatin around the country. Then maybe grass fed beef (the only kind I will buy and consume) and other naturally raised meat products would be easier to obtain. I haven’t had a really good steak (or any steak) since before my vegetarian days and would love one. But I’d rather do without than buy the stuff that comes out of the Midwest factories.

    I’ve noticed more and more around were I live. The weekly farmers’ market downtown always has a few local producers, and the nicer non-chain restaurants are starting to feature local grass-fed cuts for their specials. Keep looking — I think the momentum is growing.

    — Older Brother

  22. Tammy

    Jerry – I’ve read Food, Inc., seen the movie, read Omnivore’s Dilemma, seen the movie “Fresh” and bought Joel’s book about getting your family into farming to give to my best friend. I live in the Mid-Atlantic, and feel really lucky to have a great group of local farms to choose products from in MD, VA and PA. My best friend has a 13 acre “farmette” in southern MD and three sons so I’ve been working that angle – trying to get one of the boys into farming.

    Sounds like an embarrassment of riches! I’m just starting to absorb the whole locavore/grass fed idea due, frankly, to prejudice. Whenever I’d see something about the movement in general, the only references I would get are the Birkenstock, global-warming, vegan-ish types. I figured more power to them but, again, not my people.

    Took some indirect convincing — Tom’s work, The Vegetarian Myth, Salatin, etc. — but it finally started sinking in that there’s no libertarian path through the factory farm. So I’m coming around.

    I may be a slow learner, but as I like to tell people — I’m not really as dumb as I look — that’s just the way my clothes fit.


    — Older Brother

  23. Max

    I never thought in my life I would sit through a 90 minute show about farming. I certainly never thought I would enjoy it.

    It sure wouldn’t have made my “must see tv” list if I hadn’t tripped over the name enough times to figure out someone was trying to tell me something! Glad you liked it.

    — Older Brother


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