The Celebrity of Salatin: Can a Famous Lunatic Farmer Change the Food System?
This essay analyzes Joel Salatin’s celebrity as a sustainable farmer to explore the ways his public persona manages underlying tensions in the alterative food movement. Using his many film appearances as well as ethnographic notes from a full day workshop with Salatin as data, this paper explores how Salatin’s celebrity status obscures many of the challenges facing food activists behind the veneer of the charming, folksy farmer and the rhetoric of freedom (freedom from the corporate food system and corrupt government practices). The tensions between Salatin’s free-market, anti-regulation politics and the mainstream environmental movement, we argue, are managed and contained through nostalgic images of Salatin as the white, male, yeoman farmer and the masculinization of sustainability. By using an appeal to traditional masculinities to market sustainable food to the mainstream, Salatin’s celebrity (like all celebrity identities) works to support consumption and market-driven solutions to current environmental and food justice crises. In the process, these solutions ignore how the market itself is culpable in creating such crises. By obscuring this tautology, Salatin’s celebrity suggests we can consume our way out of the injustices of the current food system.