Virus sheds light on farmers’ plight

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Farm and Dairy file photo.

Feeding a family in today’s world is proving to be a major challenge, regardless of the fact that farmers continue working hard to produce enough to feed the nation.

Colliding forces have impacted meat processing plants — where 20,000 hogs are typically sent through daily — and many have been forced to temporarily close due to the coronavirus pandemic impacting its workforce.

Overrun

At a time when farmers need to be turning every possible dollar back into their farm operations, pigs up to 300 pounds are being euthanized through no fault of the farmers who raised them. Some pig producers are trying to give their hogs away to anyone who can make use of them, but the days of a family doing their own butchering is fading fast, and smaller meatpackers are overrun with their own local business.

This comes at a time when families need more food than ever since the pandemic closed schools nationwide in March. Many grocery stores are now placing limits on how much each shopper can purchase.

Officials estimate about 700,000 pigs across the U.S. are being put down weekly, which will impact the food supply for an indeterminate amount of time.

Strikes a chord

I just ran across a very old book in my collection which has intrigued me. Eat, Drink and be Wary, by F.J. Schlink, copyright 1935, proves to strike a chord all these years later. The author urged people to consider the contamination and chemical horrors in the factory-processed foods that were just beginning to be consumed in this country during the mad scramble of the Great Depression.

This was written at a time when many in the U.S. were still growing the vast majority of their own foods, but many times there was just not quite enough to go around. Some who could afford it began to search for new offerings that were emerging, while others left their farms in search of jobs and suddenly had to eat in an entirely new way.

This author discussed, in his opening remarks, “the drug store lunch-counter and commercial restaurants, degenerating into places where cans and bottles are opened, their contents heated and served, and the empties piled high in the alley.”

He discussed dangerous “attacks on public health made by the sugar and candy manufacturers through their exploitative, misleading propaganda, the basis of which has been purchased from physicians and scientists in much the same way that consumers now buy butter at the corner store.”

Current considerations

In recent years, people are beginning to question some of these very things, though we never have had to worry about food shortages.

We have heard repeatedly that much of our deteriorating health in people of all ages can be blamed on refined foods, sugars and chemical additives. We have learned to eat too much. We have learned to eat what tastes good rather than what is always good for us.

The recent news of coronavirus among employees in meatpacking plants has shined a light on another aspect of food security. We are being forced to consider our moral obligation to care about an unseen, unknown segment of society, from the farms where animals are raised to that critical next step, getting that food to the tables where meat is enjoyed.

Slowly, the tide seems to be changing as people begin to become more conscious of a secure food chain, and this can prove to be a very good thing for the American farm families who work hard to produce a safe, healthy product.

As one multi-generational Iowa hog farmer said on the national news, “We will prevail, if we are still standing at the end of this.”

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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