Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin

I've long been interested in the local food movement, slow food, and sustainable agriculture. I was probably started down this road by Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals" (both highly, highly recommended). I've just finished "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front" by Joel Salatin, and I have mixed feelings about it.

First, the good. Salatin has been farming a small, family farm for decades, learning and espousing an "organic" (one of his rants is about the limitations on the use of that word), Earth-friendly, holistic approach to farming. He has many things to teach about that, and his insights there, and into the many senseless restrictions on small farmers, are invaluable.

Still, Mr. Salatin is clearly a crank (in many senses of that word, including simply being cranky) and he doesn't limit himself to farm-related topics. (Fair warning: while Salatin and I both pick parts of liberal and conservative philosophies to believe in, we seem to take different points from both, and that may have informed this review.) Salatin falls down when he talks about immigration, race relations, and international affairs, and displays just as much ignorance of the world at large as he displays encyclopedic knowledge of farming.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping example of this is when Salatin compares aborting a calf in the third trimester with aborting a human baby, and seems shocked that others don't see the parallel. "Amazingly, the people who are so concerned about abortions in the third trimester of a bovine pregnancy tend to support that action in humans. Isn't that incredible." I hesitate to point this out, because, you know, nobody should have to -- but women are not cattle.

Salatin uses Biblical justifications for a number of his points. These justifications may be persuasive to his coreligionists, but are not so to people who don't share Salatin's faith. Salatin seems a writer desperately in need of an editor. His writing is largely competent, though alternatingly wooden and florid. But the book would have been a thousand times better if it were half as long. The many valid points Salatin has are buried in off-topic, poorly-framed arguments about things Salatin seems to know little about. Salatin has written a number of books, and I'll probably read one or two more, because he does have amazing insights about sustainable farming, and the ways a small farmer can operate in a rigid, bureaucratic environment designed to cater to factory farms. I'm hoping his other books have more of that, and fewer cranky rants.