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Part Two: Talking About Food and Farming with Orren Fox

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Welcome back for the conclusion of my interview with foodster Orren Fox. You're also a gardener. How long have you been doing that?

I started gardening about three years ago, when I was nine. I started with little peat pots in our kitchen window sill, which I then moved outside and immediately drowned. I was so disappointed. I watered them way too much. So I tried again and again. That year, I didn't have much luck with my tomatoes. Then a year later, I started again with peat pots and seeds in a sunny window, only this time, I had learned not to overwater them. Now, I feel quite comfortable with the whole thing. This past year, I had several kinds of tomatoes, bok choy, fennel, arugula, and beans. It was a fairly successful year.

That's impressive. I know from personal experience. I just started vegetable gardening this year and I'm still in the drowned tomatoes stage. You've obviously given food a lot of thought. Did all of this stem from your 5th grade project?

Hmm. I guess it has all just built on itself. I like being out at the farm and all the things you do there. It just feels comfortable to me. I think about it often because I guess it's just the subject that's in my head most often. Another really impactful thing besides my 5th grade project was seeing Food, Inc. I've seen it a few times and could see it again. That movie changed the way I think about food. I was already interested in the factory farming issue, but Food, Inc. raised many other ideas.

I also just finished the book by Novella Carpenter, Farm City. It's awesome. I'm writing a book review of it for English. The thing that is so cool about her book is that she has a farm in the most unlikely place, in the middle of a "ghetto", as she calls it. It isn't the usual rolling green hills, with sounds of the bees and goats and hens being the only thing that you hear. Instead, she's next to a freeway! Will Allen is also doing a similar thing in Milwaukee. He's growing tons of food in what might have been considered waste space.

What else do you do, besides for the farm/nature/healthful eating stuff? Do you play a musical instrument? Go to movies? Do sports?

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I love sports. I want to play in the NBA. I'm not sure I will, but I love sports. I just love stats and following players. I read the sports pages every morning and follow lots of teams. I also play the guitar. I'm not very good, but I do like it.

Boston's definitely a great town to be a sports fan. What do your classmates think of your interest in the environment and what we eat? Do they give you a hard time? Have you changed any minds?

I go to a really cool place, Glen Urquhart School, in Beverly Farms, MA. We have a huge greenhouse where we have a classroom and where we partner with The Food Project to grow pesticide-free produce for local shelters. We also have a beehive!

Because our school is so small, my classmates have been hearing me talk about this for several years. I think they're tired of it. But several of my classmates are vegetarian or vegan.

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What do your parents think of your activism? Are they also into chickens?

Actually, I don't think of myself as an activist, at all. I just talk about what I'm into. I think my classmates and friends are probably also interested in really cool things, like speaking Chinese or trains. I just happen to collect all my ideas on a blog where what I am thinking is visible.

You're in middle school now. Do you have long-term goals?

I'd like to try and change the way industrialized chickens are raised. I just don't get the current system. I can't make it all make sense in my head. I guess it all has to do with money. We would rather have cheap meat rather than tasty, ethically raised meat. Cheap is more important than respecting the animal. That's what I don't get. Do you?
I am hoping that perhaps I could get some sheep. Aren't they amazing animals? I don't know anything about them other than I think they are fascinating.

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Oh! I want to eat at Chez Panisse [Alice Waters' restaurant in Berkeley] and start a Farm Club at school. I guess the Farm Club isn't long-term, because my science teacher has already said she would be my faculty advisor for this. We have also gotten permission to show Food, Inc!

That's cool. I need to see that movie myself. You have a blog Happy Chickens Lay Healthy Eggs. Are your readers mostly adults, kids, people you know?

That's an interesting question. I think probably adults, because some of the stuff I post is quite gruesome. Although I just heard on an interview with Jonathan Foer that 18% of college freshmen (or is it students?) are vegetarian. I think what I am talking about is more extreme for older people than for younger people.

You've been called a young Michael Pollan. That's quite a compliment. Have you ever met him? Would you like to?

Woah, it sure is a compliment. I haven't ever met him. I would love to meet him, Will Allen, Joel Salatin, Novella Carpenter, J S Foer [vegetarian, animal rights activist and mindful eater, author of Everything is Illuminated and Eating Animals] and Rajon Rondo (on the Celtics). Obviously, I am nowhere near as smart as any of these people, but we talk about the same subjects.

Yes, you do. What message would you like our readers to take away from this interview?

I would ask them to not eat factory-farmed meat or eggs. The animals in those situations are truly tortured. I think the problem is that no one ever has an opportunity to "meet" a chicken. I think once you did, once you spent a little bit of time with one, you would realize that the hens are familiar. They are social, they have likes and dislikes, they communicate, they are not unlike other animals you know. Maybe they are even a lot like your cat or dog.

Would you ever consider raising your pet in a space so small that they couldn't turn around or do their natural things, like sit in the sun, or roll on the ground, or fetch? Chickens in factory farms are raised in a space about the size of a sheet of [notebook] paper, 8.5" x 11". Often, they can't turn around, they can't roost, they can't dust bathe, and there is no sun. All the natural things chickens usually do, they can't do. They are treated like machines, NOT like living, breathing, feeling, thinking, funny creatures. Also, get this: their beaks are trimmed with a hot blade so that they can't peck each other when they get frustrated. Are you willing to have them treated that way so that your chicken nibbleys (chicken nuggets) cost 99 cents? I'm not.

If you want to continue to eat meat, consider finding a source where the animal was ethically raised and slaughtered. Ask the market, ask the butcher, and if they won't tell you, don't eat it. And once you have had pasture-raised eggs, you will never go back to the factory farmed eggs. The taste is completely different.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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