Was It Just Fine? A Farmer Shares His Insight

Originally published by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms.

As people respond to the shock of the pandemic, it’s interesting to hear their perspectives about pre-pandemic days. One that caught my attention this week in a newspaper column was an interview of a bunch of people responding to the shock of the whole thing.

One guy said “Everything was going along just fine.” Folks, that struck me. Did you think everything was going along just fine prior to the pandemic?

For sure, it was “let the good times roll.” Unemployment was at historically low levels so everybody who wanted to work had plenty of options. Venture capitalists were throwing money at projects like it was water. You could borrow money cheaply. Even an idiot could make money in the stock market. Tesla was valued higher than all the U.S. car makers combined. What wasn’t to love?

But as my friendly German mentor says, in reality it was an EVERYTHING BUBBLE. And it was built on some devastating realities. You couldn’t see across the street in Shanghai. Waters in Venice were polluted. Aquifers worldwide retreated underground while above ground deserts continued their march across northern Africa and the southern U.S. Collapsing species signaled catastrophic biological disruptions. Factional, sectarian, and civil wars created massive refugee situations and humanitarian crises around the globe. In the U.S. health costs continued to escalate; farmers committed suicide at unprecedented rates; for the first time life expectancy dropped year to year. Need I mention autism, opioids, and more people incarcerated per capita than any nation on earth? Oh, and don’t forget we’d become a debtor nation rather than a creditor nation. 

For the average person, as long as beer is in the fridge, the NFL is on TV, and the Kardashians still adorn the cover of People magazine, life is good: “Everything was going along just fine.” Who thinks that a country that criminalizes the sale of raw milk, censors herbalist podcasts and breaks up medical offices when a doctor starts doing something unorthodox is a country where “everything was going along just fine?”

This is not to say I was depressed or angry prior to the pandemic. But in the face of increased divorce, juvenile delinquency, plummeting SAT scores and public education’s war on private and charter schools, the USDA’s promotion of genetically modified organisms and the Chinese and Brazilians buying nearly half of the U.S. meat processing plant capacity, for anyone to nonchalantly say “Everyhthing was going along just fine” indicates profoundly shallow thinking.

Remember, crises never create trends; crises only accelerate or clarify existing trends. That is exactly what has happened here. Thinking people did not listen to the gloating economic pundits and Wall Street who fed the narrative “Everything was going along just fine.” That was the official line from credentialed experts and most people bought it. And now they blame the pandemic for disrupting Fantasy Island.

Lots of people want to go back to Fantasy Island, calling it normal. It wasn’t normal. It’s not normal for people to spend fewer than 15 minutes on average in their kitchens. It’s not normal for 70 percent of the people at 4 p.m. to not have a clue what’s for dinner. It’s not normal for millenials to ask “what’s dinner?” It’s not normal for half of all males 25-35 years old to spend 25 hours per week playing video games, most of which are extremely violent. It’s not normal for a business person to have to fill out forms for 10 federal agencies just to hire somebody. It’s not normal to cram 15,000 chickens in a house breathing fecal particulate and unable to ever see a ray of sunshine. It’s not normal to put thousands of small community abattoirs out of business with draconian inappropriate regulations and concentrate the production in 100 mega-processing facilities.

In the face of such dysfunction, only a fool would say “Everything was going along just fine.”

What did I miss?