Grass symbolizes the natural order of the agricultural food chain, as it is the food that cows have evolved over thousands of years to eat. Grass farming thus provides an example of an agricultural system that is designed by humans and oriented towards their needs, but still works in concert with nature. Like corn, grass has a close relationship with humans and their food, but maintains more independence, as it has not coevolved so closely with humans and has maintained its own life cycle and reproductive process. On truly organic farms like Polyface, grass plays the starring role in the food system, providing the solar energy and protein that supports the other animals and plants. Indeed, grass is so central to the philosophical mission and ecosystem of Polyface Farm that Joel Salatin refers to himself as a “grass farmer.” Michael Pollan points out that a cow’s reliance on grass makes excellent evolutionary sense, since cows fertilize the land with their waste, and their digestive system converts grass into energy that they then pass up the food chain to humans. This is a “sustainable, solar-powered food chain” that creates no waste and transforms sunlight directly into protein. By contrast, corn is more wasteful and less nutritionally beneficial for both animals and humans—cattle are fed corn simply because it is more economically efficient. For Pollan, while corn represents the industrial food system’s prioritization of profit to the detriment of all other ethical and environmental values, grass symbolizes a more ideal and natural food chain.
Grass Quotes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma
This is an astounding cornucopia of food to draw from a hundred acres of pasture, yet what is perhaps still more astonishing is the fact that this pasture will be in no way diminished by the process…Salatin’s audacious bet is that feeding ourselves from nature need not be a zero-sum proposition, one in which if there is more for us at the end of the season then there must be less for nature—less topsoil, less fertility, less life.
Our civilization and, increasingly, our food system are strictly organized on industrial lines. They prize consistency, mechanization, predictability, interchangeability, and economies of scale. Everything about corn meshes smoothly with the gears of this great machine; grass doesn’t.