Back to the Future

If you are like me – a child of the 70ies – you most likely remember the ‘Back to the Future’-trilogy with Michael J. Fox.  In fact, Part I (now a classic!) was the very first movie I watched at the movie theater, back when there were those cushy, deep old chairs; reel changes after the commercials; high ceilings; and heavy, dark-red curtains.  Awww, the good ol’ days – much has changed since – and sometimes I long to the movie-going experience from back then.

I was reminded about this over the recent cartoon ad from Chipotle titled “Back to the start”.  In short, a farmer’s couple confines their livestock and turns them into junkies.  The farmer regrets that, breaks down the confinements, and provides free-range for their livestock.  In the last segment, the farmer hands his goods (now natural again) to Chipotle.  The ad is supported by Willie Nelson’s version of Coldplay’s ‘The scientist’ – and includes the line “I’m going back to the start”.  Much has been written and said about the misleading implications of that ad (See here and here).  But, the ad is clever – it speaks directly to our sentiment for the good ol’ days and to our fears about the future.

The reality is that regardless of all the sentiments, we’ll never be able to go back to the start, wherever the start was.  I will never be able to go back and relive the experience of watching my first-ever movie.  And even if I tried, I will almost certainly end up rather disappointed.  I want to be blunt: There is no going back, not to 1955 and not to farming methods from decades ago.  We are at a certain point in time – the now – and there is only one way from here on: into the future.  We cannot make the recent past undone.  We may have the opportunity to visit an old-style movie theater and relive the past for a couple of hours. But once we leave the theater, we are back in the now, which we cannot escape long-term.  Similarly, we can e.g., buy products from a free-range farm or become a member of a communal farm.  In either case, we are still surrounded by the now.  We can slide back into the past, but only for a short while.  Even if we decided to revive certain things from the past, it will still be in the future – never back to the start.

Every generation has had its own fear about the future.  The 1955-version of Dr. Emmett Brown states that “in 1985 plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955 it’s a little hard to come by” and (about the fact that his 1985 version is wearing a radiation suit) “Radiation suit? Of course, because of all the fallout from the atomic wars”.  These lines resembled the fears back in the 50ies of an atomic showdown.  Today’s generation seems to fear Armageddon from e.g., Frankenstein food.  It is rather natural to fear the unknown.  And I agree that much of today’s livestock production procedures are largely unknown (or not easily comprehensible) for many people.  In contrast, the majority of us understands the simplicity of growing fruits and vegetables in a garden, and animals in a pastoral setting.  If we fear today’s animal production methods, we can either try to discredit them; or – as I would suggest – attempt to understand why farmers are relying on those methods.  Seeking direct interaction with farmers may be helpful in that regard.  We may learn that our fears are unnecessary in some instances, while other practices may be improved, changed, or abandoned in other instances.

Dűrrenmatt wrote 50 years ago: “Those things which were thought can never be unthought.”  In other terms, we’ll have to live with the current technologies from now on until the end of time.  We can approach it two-ways: passively fear them, or actively try to manage and best utilize them.  My deep conviction is that we should not discuss how do raise all livestock free everything: range, of antibiotics or hormones, alternative feeds, etc; but instead seek ways of how to best implement, manage, monitor, and not overuse these technologies.  We have to live in the now and plan for the future.  The direction is back to the future, not back to the start.  Remember, as Dr. Brown said in Back to the Future:If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

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5 comments on “Back to the Future

  1. Karal Childers says:

    As the very unhappy and downright disgusted traditional farmer neighbor of a factory dairy farm…I am here to tell you that it is not all good as you say and the people that run these farms are not nice people and they depend on their public relations firms to put a lot of spin to hide the truth in agriculture. Just ask an employee of a firm in the southwest called Dairymaxx whom administer the regions dairy check off Got Milk campaign. Their job title says it all “Image Consultant”.. I see the realities of the massive propaganda and happy cow bullshit every time I walk outside as I just try to function outside with the dairies outfall of feed grinding dust, disgusting stench and flies. Not to mention the rotting carcasses illegaly dumped along with their employees trash in the rual areas of the county.. I have heard cows scream. Thanks to the right to farm laws I am barred from even complaining. I am threatened with being prosecuted with harassment charges if I dare try to speak out about my plight as a neighbor. Trust me you are being brainwashed by somebody or you are just one of them spin doctors planted by the very people I speak of. Now that gas is over four dollars a gallon I am faced with financial ruin.. We native locals in the area are happy to see many of these house of cards factory farms go out of business of late. good riddance! and take your droves of illegals with you!! … I found a lawyer willing to take on litigating a nuisance case on contingency against my neighbor but a credit check revealed it was to risky as the CAFO is near bankruptcy anyhow. In addition to the well water running out anytime now.. If the dairy had to pay the real cost of doing business by fixing the damage they have done they would be out of business already for sure. learn the truth about modern milk and you will be sad and mad!!!

    • Mike Haley says:

      Hi Karal

      I am sad to hear that you have had some bad experiences with a neighbor. I agree, agriculture is not now and never has been all flowers and roses. I think we as farmers can always strive to do better. The situations you describe in your comment, as you point out yourself are being done illegally and shame on him for trying to get away with it. I am sure you have already tried to talk with your neighbor peacefully about your concerns, if not its worth a try as he may respond positively. There are several good dairymen out there so please don’t let one individual persuade you that this is the case everywhere else in the country.

  2. Well said in this post. I have been struggling with thoughts like these myself. The past was great. I often wish I had been born in the days where everyone rode horses to get around and really lived off the land. But we can’t do that and move forward and live in this world. (Not to mention how tough it would be to live that way when we are used to modern amenities.) We have to live in the now, enjoy it, grow with it and find the good life amongst this difficult world.

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