Chapter 13 Summary
In “The Market: Greetings From the Non-Barcode People,” Pollan examines how Joel Salatin sells his food and, to a lesser extent, Salatin’s vision of agriculture. Although Salatin at times sounds like a revolutionary to Pollan, particularly when he sends missives to his customers with statements like “greetings from the non-Barcode people,” the author comes to view Salatin as a reformer. If the system were reformed, what would it end up looking like?
Polyface Farm’s food costs more than food sold at a supermarket. However, Salatin argues that it is actually cheaper because it is produced without subsidies and is ecologically sustainable in a way that the industrial food is not. When Pollan examines how Salatin’s food is sold, he finds that consumers have a host of reasons for electing to buy from an alternative food chain. Some find that Salatin’s chicken tastes better and many praise his eggs. In fact, when Joel’s brother sells eggs to local restaurants, he often showcases the eggs to make his sale. Salatin insists that his buyers are willing to pay for quality, which it seems many people have stopped considering due to the standardization of food. Although the industrial food chain (and its standardized products) rules the supermarket, Pollan finds that many alternative farmers are selling their produce to local restaurants, which are in turn promoting their local growers. Pollan also finds that farmers’ markets are on the rise, though they are Salatin’s least profitable market.
In “The Market,” Pollan makes a distinction between industrial farming and “artisanal” farming and questions whether the two models can be merged. For Salatin, they are antithetical. The artisan farmer’s model must operate on the local market to maintain a relationship with the customer. Furthermore, it seems impossible to increase the scale of an artisan farmer’s operation. However, is it likely that the artisan’s model will take over the industrial model? Pollan thinks not, in part because it cannot be scaled to fit a larger model. Pollan points to the rise of the global economy and international trade. All of the questions of production and value are hidden behind a barcode.
Still, a growing number of people are willing to engage in this alternative food chain, a process that Salatin understands is about opting out of the industrial system. Pollan notes that the Internet helps like-minded groups of people produce their own alternative food chains and buying agreements. It is unlikely that artisanal farming will replace the industrial food chain, but Pollan thinks there is potential for these like-minded consumers and producers to form “tribes.” He notes that the movement away from a single model of production is arguably healthier and more resistant to problems, just as a polyculture tends to be healthier than a monoculture.