Joel Salatin, the self-described “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer” and a man who has never been afraid to mix it up, may be the first person in America to state this publicly and proudly:
“I want coronavirus!”
The farmer, famously featured in Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and in the documentary “Food, Inc,” wrote this plea in a blog post last week for his personal website, Musings from the Lunatic Farmer, which is separate from the website for his main business, Polyface Farms, the “diversified, grass-based, beyond organic, direct marketing farm” in Swoope, Va.
An excerpt from Salatin’s blog post:
Okay folks, enough is enough. I want coronavirus. I’ve been watching all the personal stories of the folks who have gotten it and the overwhelming testimony is pretty simple: a day of sniffles, another day of fatigue, then a couple of days of recovery, and life is back to normal.
Goodness, the common cold often knocks people worse than that. It’s actually not that strong. But it’s new; it’s novel. Because of that, nobody has built-up immunities to it. Once we have immunities, like to the flu, we’ll be fine with it, just like we are with the flu.
Okay, then, bring it on. I’m healthy, so I want it to get immune and allay my concerns. This mass hysteria among the general populace won’t help us get through it; it’ll just postpone the immunity exercise. Are precautions important? Absolutely, especially if you have a compromised immune system, either from health, diet, age or lifestyle. So I’m not advocating complete unconcern; I am suggesting everyone who is healthy, just go on about your daily life and don’t worry about it.
You can imagine what kind of comments Salatin, 63, received for flouting scientific advice on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, namely social distancing or even statewide lockdowns. As of Tuesday — eight days after the original post — Salatin has received plenty of pushback, some more polite than others. One commenter was a peer, Will Harris III, the fourth-generation owner of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Ga. Like Salatin, Harris is a hardcore advocate for traditional, holistic, grass-fed farming practices, but he showed no mercy to his colleague:
“IF YOU REALLY WANT CORONAVIRUS, YOU SHOULD DRIVE TO NYC AND LICK THE DOOR HANDLES OF SOME CONVENIENCE STORES,” Harris wrote, his caps-lock in prime shouting position. “GOOD LUCK ON THIS.” (The Post confirmed with Harris that he was the commenter.)
Another, “Concerned Citizen,” wrote: “I am baffled by this post. Please educated yourself as to what is happening in countries like Italy and Spain. This is NOT a cold. And it is going to kill quite a few people. This post is socially irresponsible at best.”
If you think the blowback has cowed Salatin, you don’t know the man. First of all, he has a farm to run. He doesn’t spend his days scrolling through his Twitter feed or obsessively reading the latest updates on covid-19 (which may be an issue itself). He hadn’t even read the comments on his original post until Monday night. But second, and perhaps more to the point, Salatin is also a natural iconoclast. He has built his reputation by speaking (his) truth to power, and he’s not about to stop now.
“Can society abide a different view of any type?” Salatin asked in an interview with The Washington Post. “You know, in these kinds of things, it seems like the bowing and the compliance is so [prevalent]. How dare you even question the CDC? How dare you question the governor? How dare you question the health commissioner or whatever. The fact is, throughout history, experts have been wrong lots of times. They told us the earth was flat. They told us that women didn’t want to vote. They told us to substitute margarine and hydrogenated vegetable oil for butter.”
“Every day I’m thinking, ‘How can I question the orthodoxy?’” Salatin continued. “Not just to be argumentative, but to lay another idea on the table. What’s wrong with that? It doesn’t mean that I’m right. It doesn’t mean that I’m wrong.”
The potential problem with that, I suggest to Salatin, is that by questioning the current science on coronavirus and how to prevent its spread, he is putting lives at risk.
“That is all fair enough,” Salatin said. “However, there are other costs. I mean, there are tons of reports. In fact, there’s a big article in The Wall Street Journal today about the number one way to destroy an immune system is with loneliness.”
Salatin is keen on immune systems, and how to improve them. It’s theme that he returns to time and again with his blog posts, especially the ones focused on coronavirus. It’s a logical position for a farmer who says he regularly sticks his hands in “cow poop and chicken guts” and drinks from the same troughs as the cows. It’s also a logical position for a farmer who’s deeply invested in organic, naturally raised foods.
“Let’s have an immune-building day,” Salatin said. “How do you build the immune system? Why don’t we talk about that for a change?”
“Where’s the leader who says, ‘We’re going to put a moratorium on drinking soda for a week and eating McDonald’s and factory food and antibiotic-laden junk and potato chips and Little Debbie’s . . . and let’s spend a week eating really, really good stuff and see what our sickness rate does.’ But nobody does that. They just take somebody like me and crucify me for even daring to question the orthodoxy,” he added.
Salatin says his motivation for writing the “I want coronavirus” post was not frustration, or anger, about losing business after the restaurant market dried up, the result of voluntary and government-ordered shutdowns. (In the piece, Salatin mentions that Polyface is “looking at throwing away perhaps [10,000]-20,000 dozen eggs. That’s a year-crippling loss.”) He has been more frustrated by the “lack of science” and arbitrary nature of some decisions, such as labeling major grocery chains and liquor stores “essential,” but not farmers markets.
“I think the very notion that it’s healthier to shop at Walmart or the ABC Store than an open-air farmers market, I think it’s unfair, it’s unjust and it’s very unscientific and reprehensible,” Salatin said.
On Tuesday, Salatin wrote a follow-up to his original post, under the headline, “Clearing the Air.” He says wrote it to apologize to Polyface staff and customers who feared the farm was not taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. It is. He also wanted to clarify that he didn’t actually trash those eggs. Customers, including many new ones, have stepped up to buy thousands of unsold eggs, Salatin said.
“It does good to whine once in a while,” he added, laughing.
But Salatin also makes the case for civil discourse. He wrote: “We live in such a sound bite culture now that a standing ovation can turn into a mob protest on one word. That’s a shame. Civil discourse demands that we appreciate other viewpoints and stay away from vitriol.”
On the phone, Salatin reflected further on his musings: “Okay, should we wait till this is all over and have the discussion” about immunity, government edicts and good food?
“Well, you know, we could argue that, yes or no,” Salatin added. “I could certainly be very wrong. I guess what I would like to see is somebody disagree, politely.”
Rather than the way one commenter disagreed with Salatin, which was to tell him to take those 20,000 dozen eggs and stick ’em . . . well, you get the point.
Read more on Voraciously: