A conversation has swept the nation regarding the implications of Big Tech in our daily lives with multiple powerful pieces appearing in the press. But what about an issue that is potentially bigger, and even more personal, that affects all of us? What about our modern industrial food complex and the confluence of government, academia, lobbying organizations and the implications of those relationships for our health, children, food access, animal welfare, and farming community? A dialogue surrounding these issues arose in the early 2000s with several exposés and analysis by major US publications.
However, that was 18 years ago. What has happened since then?
An important film by Christopher Quinn, narrated by Natalie Portman, and based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer of the same name—Eating Animals—brings us up to date, answers that question and introduces us to developments that affect the liberties of each American. Originally shown in the Fall of 2017 at the Telluride Film Festival, Mr. Quinn’s film has found wider distribution with the support of concerned philanthropists, notably from the EJF Philanthropies. This August, P. Allen Smith partnered with EJF Philanthropies to host a private screening and panel discussion for Arkansas thought leaders in Little Rock. This screening is part of a multi-city tour to encourage dialogue among citizen, business, and elected leaders to address food and health safety, animal welfare, and environmental hazards.
Arkansas has a rich agrarian community and passion for supporting local and small farmers. Eating Animals takes a deep dive of topics critical to our health and provides insight into the decisions facing our citizenry at the local, state and national levels. It is a must-see for anyone who cares about food security, environmental safety and business and government ethics. It is also a must-see for concerned consumers who want to understand the connection between the decisions they make at the grocery store and the health of their communities.
For over 18 years, P. Allen Smith has worked to support small farmers, local producers, and responsible farming practices through his national—and now international—television shows. In 2015, Mr. Smith profiled the leadership example of late philanthropist Dorrance Hamilton and her Swiss Village Farm mammalian preservation project in Newport, Rhode Island (now conserved by the Smithsonian Institute). Regrettably, avian genetics are much more fragile and cannot be reliably preserved using cryogenic technology.
That is where the efforts of Mr. Smith and the hero poultry farmer of Eating Animals, Frank Reese, come into critical prominence. They are part of a very small group of Americans who are independently safeguarding the genetics of robust, healthy Heritage birds. These are the birds that were originally bred to survive outdoor conditions and to feed our growing nation. Sadly, these same birds have been neglected by much of academia, industry, and government in favor of fast-growing, inexpensive genetics, as profiled in Eating Animals.
Beyond animal welfare, Mr. Smith’s 2015 TEDx talk in LIttle Rock highlights the vulnerable position society can place itself in when relying upon too narrow a range of fragile genetics and too great an emphasis on any one food source. The Irish potato famine is a perfect example of the danger of over-relying on any one food and is often cited as an important illustration of this concept.
Complicating our position today, however, as Mr. Smith explained in his TEDx discussion, is the appeal of meat in the diet of ascending India and China, and the robustly expanding middle class of both countries. Modern Indian and Chinese are increasingly consuming American protein products—frequently with poultry as the preferred source. The difference between the Irish Potato famine of 1845 and today, as many have observed, is scale and ability to adapt. In 1845, blight affliction caused massive crop failure of the leaves and tubers of the potato plant in Ireland, preceding unimaginable misery for an entire nation and over 1 million deaths. In 2018, in our highly standardized world, narrow ranges of poultry genetics serve the protein needs of world populations in far excess of 1 billion, with those populations highly clustered in large cities rather than rural communities. Our ability to quickly adapt carefully engineered food delivery systems with alternative protein and food sources is in question. With recent compromises in egg and poultry production in the United States, and with increasing appreciation of the precarious state of our current food delivery model, many are asking: what is our backup?
It is notable that private charities are leading the way in answering this important question. The efforts of Mr. Smith and Mr. Reese specifically help preserve strains of living genetics that may be critically needed by future generations. Both Mr. Reese and Mr. Smith have started 501(c)3 non-profits to maintain their programs. Mr. Reese is partnering with the MASS Design Group to develop a center at his Kansas farm—Good Shepherd Institute— to help educate the public and teach a new generation of farmers the almost-lost art of Heritage Poultry farming.
For over a decade, Mr. Smith’s Heritage Poultry Conservancy has improved and maintained the genetics of endangered heritage breeds. Smith has also invested in encouraging youth involvement in poultry science and believes progress on this issue is best accomplished by inspiring local and national leadership and encouraging the next generation to take up the cause. His outreach efforts have inspired youth to pursue academic careers in poultry science and contribute to the field.
To date, no food industry participant has been involved with the financing or support of either gentleman’s preservation programs. And in 2017, the University of Arkansas eliminated its Heritage Poultry facility, removing an important resource for students to learn and interact with genetic diversity offered by Heritage breeds.
Christopher Quinn (Director of Eating Animals), Caitlyn Taylor (Architect, MASS Design Group), P. Allen Smith and Simone Friedman (Philanthropist, EJF Philanthropies) and Guest at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, AR. The group of panelists gathered after dinner in the Foyer of the Capital Hotel.
Caitlyn Taylor, Frank Reese, and Allen Smith walk to Mr. Smith’s Heritage Poultry Conservancy at Moss Mountain Farm.
Caitlyn Taylor, P. Allen Smith and Frank Reese pause at Moss Mountain Farm’s poultry gallery space. The three reviewed the rare heritage genetics maintained at Moss Mountain Farm. Mr. Reese and Mr. Smith safeguard satellite genetics of endangered flocks.
Allen explains his conservation program to Caitlyn and Frank.
Allen and Frank inspect young Narragansett and Bronze Turkey.
Allen holds a Silvery Grey Dorking, Frank holds a White Faced Black Spanish.
Christopher Quinn and P. Allen Smith at Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm, outside Little Rock, AR.
Caitlyn Taylor, Allen Smith, and Frank Reese pausing for a moment prior to making lunch at Moss Mountain Farm.
Smith preparing a family recipe pimento-grilled-cheese sandwich to accompany a cool summer tomato soup.
Caitlyn helps Smith prepare lunch.
Caitlyn, Frank, Allen, and Allen’s Scottish Terrier ‘Miss Chatty’ relax after lunch enjoying a refreshing breeze on the front porch of Moss Mountain Farm.
Rodney Thomason (CEO, Medical Assets Holding Group), P. Allen Smith and Ayasha Thomason at the Capital Hotel Reception of Eating Animals.
Simone Friedman, P. Allen Smith, Frank Reese, and Christopher Quinn share their insights during a panel discussion following the reception for Eating Animals at the Capital Hotel.
P. Allen Smith, Tim and Robin Ralston (owners of Ralston Family Farms rice), and Frank Reese at the Capital Hotel Reception.
For More Information, please see:
Eating Animals, a film by Michael Quinn:
MASS Design Group:
Frank’s Reese’s Good Shepherd Institute Project:
Frank Reese’s Good Shepherd Ranch:
P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm Foundation:
Heritage Poultry Conservancy:
P. Allen Smith’s 2015 TEDx Genetic Diversity, End of Choice:
P. Allen Smith’s profile on The Swiss Village Farm Foundation (and the problem with avian genetics):
SVF, Swiss Village Farm Foundation: