The Suffolk/Eastern Shore Valor trip was eye opening, not in amazement, but in reality of the scope of capitalism, consumerism and class. I’ll probably do several blogs, so this doesn’t turn out to be half the length of War and Peace. ( I didn’t do multiple blogs, its long, i’d suggest napping between paragraphs)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who hosted us, providing their time, energy, knowledge and valuable resources with our group to make our trip most pleasant and informative. The spirit of hospitality and welcomeness (according to Microsoft I just made up a word again.) reflected the best of the Commonwealth.
This commentary speaks more to an industry, a system, and is not a reflection of the people who have shared their time and opened up their businesses to us. It is an incredibly handsome 150 lb, African american, vegan , organic/biological advocating observation from the unique vantage point and cultural demographic that I represent.
When your skin is your sin, it makes it difficult to escape certain aspects of your fate. Inside the skin of a vegan in Southeast Virginia could mean you may have to skip a meal or three if you are eating out. The reality is the understanding of certain individuals with special dietary needs is not understood in its full complexity. Why I am a vegan, is a blend of spirituality and health, which for me are interrelated. As an African Hebrew Israelite ,(FYI – Abraham, Jacob, David, Malachi, Jesus and most of the main characters in the Old Testament are Hebrew Israelites), my spirituality was tested and challenged touring the Smithfield Processing Facility.
Leviticus 11:7-8 King James Version (KJV): And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcass shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.
Share I have not my spiritual beliefs with the VALOR IV cohort yet (in my perfect Yoda voice).
As a spiritual leader in a past life, I will share some biblical quotes that I have applied to my life that make sense to me, to give a greater understanding of why I’m a vegan and my positions on various segments of industrial agriculture:
Genesis 1:29 King James Version (KJV) : And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
Isaiah 66:3 King James Version (KJV) : He that kill an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrifice a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.
I questioned the leadership of myself, the conundrum of the moment. The true gravity of the situation as I pulled up to doors of the Smithfield processing facility hit me like a ton of the proverbial bricks. My heart raced, a cold sweat developed on my forehead, masked by the perfectly timed rain on that cloudy dreary day. The day before we had just went through Gallops strengths test with VALOR alum Dana Fisher. My signature themes or attributes that the Gallup’s strength’s evaluation stated I possessed strongly spoke to my intellect, context, input, activation and most importantly, my connectedness, but not my belief. My connectedness nature is why this blog post is 3 days long. Sorry.. not sorry. I thought I held pretty strong core beliefs.. But as I sat on the bus after everyone else had departed to go into swine purgatory… I realized my beliefs were being challenged, greatly. I’d dressed in clothes I could throw away or burn afterwards, along with disposal gloves and big yellow boots I could wash and sanitize. It wasn’t enough..as it crossed my mine, I was knowingly about to sin. In years past I would have never even driven by the facility, now I’m about to go and take a tour and have lunch here. Personally I didn’t even feel safe drinking the water at Smithfield, I knew my vegan card would be revoked, and I’d have to attend 42 weeks of herbivores anonymous.
The factory tour was the equivalent of a gang initiation.. I was being jumped into the industry of industrial agriculture… CAFO’s, GMOs, the cocktail of insecticides and herbicides, shareholder values, nuisance laws, gene editing, the food security myth… I was about to be in… from the rooter to the tooter (I was squealing on the inside.)
I’ve often heard, on both sides of the Atlantic, that enslaved Africans were treated like animals, or worse. I could never understand who gave humans a right to treat animals in this way. When I was in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana, working with a tomato factory, I saw/heard/experienced some eye opening things. One morning, I watched our elder security guard for the factory, Mr. Bawa, go into the security booth, move a chicken off of her egg, and take it. For the next 30-45 minutes, I heard the cries, the wails, the anguish, the pain of a languishing mother. Her suffering and pain, made me ask the elder to please return the egg. My English, and more importantly what I was trying to express, couldn’t be understood, and the chicken lost the most important thing to her…. Her future. I, witnessed steers placed in the back of taxis, generally the size of a Ford Focus, to be taken to what is termed in Ghana and possibly in British english as the ‘abitur’ (slaughtering house). As well as goats, stuffed in the luggage compartments of buses, for a 8-10 hour trek to meet the fate of being in the skin they are in.
Walking through the Smithfield plant, I knew what I’d see, no different than what I saw at my family farm 30 years ago, the slaughtering of swine. I’ve seen it, participated in it, much like the staff we saw going through the packaging plant. The skin I was in, relegated me to seeing the sow or hog being shoot, slit open to drain and then gutted. The population in the processing part of the plant is 97-99.8% African American. I have relatives who work in that plant. The task being performed from our outsiders perspective seems undesirable. And from my vegan perspective, the most undesirable job I could think of. But the precision of the staff, to process the carcass of hog into packaged bacon, pork chops, bacon bits, and the most delectable pink slime was impressive.
What was more resounding was the dignity and excellence performed by the production staff in getting the job done and being efficient and effective in their work. I take my hair net off to those doing what I wouldn’t have the stomach to do.
It gave a whole ‘nother meaning to making the bacon or bringing home the bacon. Those pigs’ fate seemed to reflect the skin they were in. The pig’s skin was his sin (and ultimately a salted, deep fried snack).
It reminded me of my grandfather, Warren Harding Carter Sr. I’d only known him as heavy drinker and snuff chewer. Every time I saw him, he had on his overworked overalls with one buckle hanging off, spit can in one hand, and a bottle near the other. I saw the same picture, year after year, as diabetes and gangrene took a toe, foot, leg, on to the other side also a toe, foot and leg. My grandfathers are the main reason I don’t drink alcohol (much).
Unfortunately my grandfather’s situation reflected the skin he was in. In 1942, after the Pearl Harbor attack, my grandfather, the oldest of 11 children, was drafted to serve a nation that he didn’t have rights in, he couldn’t vote, he couldn’t eat at certain restaurants or use certain water fountains. He truly couldn’t be caught in some areas after sundown, because like many in that time, his skin was his sin. He and two of his other brothers, served in World War 2. His two youngest brothers served in the Korean conflict and Vietnam War. My family has served or participated in most American War’s/conflicts up until the first Iraq War. I didn’t understand my grandfather’s plight until it was shared with me what he did during that war of the worlds. In a true act of selflessness, he and his brothers, all under 21, and I’m sure earning more money than they had ever had in their lives, sent their military checks to their mother, to acquire our families land that we/I now farm today. His selflessness was not just there, but on the battlefield, where he was given the almost ensured PTSD position of digging graves to bury his fellow soldiers. Day after day he witnessed the realities of war, mourning and grieving, with the fear, hope and angst of not having to see one of your junior brothers in the mass of individuals to be buried. Upon returning from the war, finding a job was impossible for a young black man in rural segregated America at the time, with occasional work at the local sawmill. April 1, 1968, 3 days before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, his brother, and best friend, Lewis Alphonso Carter was killed on the farm in a freak tractor accident. These myriad of events created the perceived shell of the man I got to know later in his life. Circumstances of life helped me understand my grandfather’s plight in the skin he was in, and allowed me to empathize with my brothers and sisters in the packaging plant. I don’t know their story, and won’t begin to guess, how they made peace with working in that plant, and made the most of the skin they were in given their respective situations.
Entering Northhampton County, crossing the engineering marvel of a bridge connecting the Eastern Shore with the mainland of Virginia. I kept looking at the names of the county, and wondered of the earlier inhabitants of Chicoteague and Accomack. How many of those Native Nations are still inhabitants on that island? Victims, again, of the skin they were in. That’s another blog for another time.
Walking through the Dublin farms potato plant was impressive, more in the fact, that in 6 weeks they processed millions of potatoes to be sold around the country. A small but efficient family operation, the Hickmans explained their business, the operation and seasonal nature of their enterprise. Benefactors of a migrant labor force, I’d love to see their GAP certified farm in operation during harvest time. During peak season it operates between 16-25 hours a day… yes 25 hours a day. The eastern shore acquires the hour when you turn your clocks forward. Dublin Farms was a microcosm of the people and spirit of the shore are close knit, and their agriculture is close to their hearts. It was a thriving self-sufficient community that, I’m sure, wants to return to that stage of their growth. Being an island makes you have to rely on you. No man is an island but some people live on them.
The Commonwealth (cotton) gin was impressive and eye opening as well. Understanding the history of cotton in America, with the enslaved Africans of the newly formed nation after a successful colonial revolt, it’s a bitter memory. I know why many African-American farmers do not grow cotton, way too much genetic memory to grow it without the thoughts of our forefathers in the back of their mind.
Looking at the pictures on the walls of the corporate office was a reminder of our cotton pickin’ history.
Picking cotton seeds out of a fresh cotton boll at Mr. Daughtrey’s outstanding reception for us, was a solemn reminder of the fifty or more years enslaved Africans were the cotton gin Colonial America and enslaved people owners were waiting for.
Leviticus 19:19 King James Version (KJV): Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.
Bound to cotton I am. 94% of my clothing is 100% cotton, as I don’t wear synthetic materials because of my spiritual understanding. Well over 90% of all cotton is genetically modified (mingled) organisms (gmo), and cotton is the most highly sprayed crop in the world, because it’s not food, post-harvest intervals aren’t required. I do have an issue with genetically modified organisms, the science, the industry and the underlying profit and control motive. I don’t have a personal issue with those affiliated with growing gmo’s, but I will ask questions and challenge certain things said about them or why we need them. And I did, on numerous occasions, because we visited two major operations in which gmo crops were the lifeblood of their industry as well as Mr. Paul Rogers a Virginia Farmer of the Year. At Smithfield, we were reminded and informed approximately how much corn was needed to feed the hogs of the Smithfield operation. It was a lot of corn. A wee bit over 98% (I’m being modest) of corn grown for feed for any animal is genetically modified. As I was told when I was young, you are what you eat from your hair down to your feet. Hence, I don’t eat anything that eats anything genetically modified. Well I don’t eat anything that eats anything .. but still if I did eat animals I wouldn’t eat those. And I try my best not to consume or be engaged with gmo’s, but it’s hard, virtually impossible. Sheets, towels, non organic cotton undergarments, socks, q-tips, hand sanitizer, ink on newspapers, cotton based feminine hygiene products, biodegradable plastics and gasoline all have some gmo’s in them.
My frustration with the industry comes from not having a choice, it just showed up in our food supply, and in our everyday products one day, no one asked, no labels or signs posted, just a little added in every gallon of fuel you pump, sweeteners and additives in your food, or just plain in front in you in your favorite brand of white granulated sugar.
My other frustration comes from being human guinea pigs, being victims of the skin we are in, our need to eat and corporations need for insatiable profits. But I digress. But let me continue to digress. Mr. Dell Cotton’s advocacy for peanuts was assuring. My family and I eat our weight in peanuts in the form of peanut butter every single year. In Ghana, a staple of Ghanaian cuisine is Nkatie nkwan.
Nkatie nkwan is groundnut soup. It taste better than it looks, especially with warm corn bread or spoon bread, peanut butter seasoned to allergy free perfection. Groudnuts are a form of peanut, eaten profusely in West Africa. I never heard of anyone, the thousands of individuals I interacted with and broke bread with say they were allergic to groundnuts. I asked numerous Ghanaians in doing research to write this, if they knew anyone who was allergic to groundnuts. Even though it wasn’t a scientific poll, the results turned out nobody (zero people) in the whole country are allergic to groundnuts. It might even be illegal to be allergic to them. Most, if not all of those groundnuts, were grown organically or with minimal spraying. I don’t know if the same is done with peanuts in the U.S., which may explain the number of allergic reactions. Peanut allergist suffer, maybe, because the skin the peanut is in.
As we walked through Birdsong Peanut Factory, and hearing of the enormous size of the Birdsong operation, Mr. Charles Birdsong Jr, gave us a guided tour of the companies oldest facility. Walking through I recognized a lot of the little guys, and tried to make a connection with a few of them, because it was a great possibility they would enter the pantry of my home next year. The truck tipper upper (TTU), I think that’s the technical name for it, was a piece of technology that did impress me. The TTU is the equivalent of putting the bag of rte. 11 potato chips to your mouth to ensure you get every last crumb out the bag. The TTU is a probably one of the greatest inventions since the beautiful invention of peanut butter. The peanut has come along way from western and central Africa to George Washington Carver working his agricultural genius on the precious tan kernel. If he had have lived another few years, I’m sure he would have invented the TTU, or at least the hydraulic oil that made it work.
It was a breath of fresh air to visit Quail Cove Organics and Mr. Bill Jardin. A person who carried some of the same principles of the land and agriculture that I have. A different consciousness for the trillions x trillions of microorganisms in every square foot of soil. An organic farmer, whose sweet potatoes are used for Rte. 11 potato chips… the chips I’m eating as I type this. Rte. 11 touts on the website that they take all the sweet potatoes that Quail Cove Farm can grow. Encouraging words, when some markets especially organic growers have trouble finding reliable, consistent markets or may not be as understanding of the ebbs and flows of organic agriculture.
Mr. Jardin spoke like a distant relative, homeschooling, organic, healthier living, we were speaking the language of the weirdo as he referred to himself. I had to let him know, I too am a weirdo, the strange spiritual love child of Master Yoda, Gonzo, and Grover who binge watched Alf, the Toxic Avenger and Howard the Duck movies.
This skin I’m in makes me write a 5 page blog post for VALOR, just a couple of words over 3000… until the next time, stay safe in the skin you are in.