In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan summarizes a column by Allan Nation in Stockman Grass Farmer on the subject of “artisanal economics” and discusses its relevance to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Pollan writes,
“The biggest problem with alternative agriculture today,” Nation writes, “is that it seeks to incorporate bits and pieces of the industrial model and bits and pieces of the artisanal model. This will not work….In the middle of the road, you get the worst of both worlds.”
Nation’s column had helped Joel understand why his broiler business was more profitable than his beef or pork business. Since he could process the chickens himself, the product was artisanal from start to finish; his beef and pork, on the other hand, had to pass through an industrial processing plant, adding to his costs and shrinking his margins. (250)
A reader might be inclined to contrast Salatin’s entirely artisanal product with the chicken that Pollan bought at Whole Foods Market. Not only was that bird industrially raised and slaughtered, but the bird was a product of industrial breeding:
Rosie the organic chicken’s life is little different from that of her kosher and Asian cousins, all of whom are conventional Cornish Cross broilers processed according to state-of-the-art industrial practice….The Cornish Cross represents the pinnacle of industrial chicken breeding. It is the most efficient converter of corn into breast meat ever designed, though this efficiency comes at a high physiological price: The birds grow so rapidly (reaching oven-roaster proportions in seven weeks) that their poor legs cannot keep pace, and frequently fail. (171)
There’s at least one thing wrong with drawing this contrast, though. As Salatin writes on page 34 of his book, Pastured Poultry Profit$, Polyface Farm’s broilers are the same Cornish Cross chickens which, in the context of Petaluma Poultry, were “the pinnacle of industrial chicken breeding.” Salatin may be correct that the processing regulations cut into his beef and pork profit margins, but the idea that Salatin’s chickens are a purely artisanal product is nontheless something of a fantasy.