You have to make a choice: Do you want the truth or your comfortable illusions?
Frankly, I think most people prefer illusions, because of their comfort value, but there’s a lot to be said for truth, especially when the future is riding on it! One of the most useful ways of getting at the truth is the side-by-side test, which has lots of applications in everyday life. I’ll talk about farm-related ones here.
I frequently tell people that I have “the best eggs ever.” Is this true? Well, so far it is! But I don’t just rest on my laurels. Once in a while, I go out and buy other people’s eggs, then cook them up in exactly the same way and do a taste test. Ideally, this would be literally a blind taste test, since my eggs tend to have very dark yolks compared to other people’s. In a blind test, you don’t know whose eggs you’re tasting, so your preconceptions and wishful thinking are kept in check.
So far, the results have been very encouraging — nobody’s eggs taste better than mine — though as a side effect I discovered that many of the bad things that people say about supermarket eggs just aren’t true. I’ve heard a lot of claims that supermarket eggs are old and have weak yolks, so I was surprised by the results of my first test, where the el cheapo eggs from the supermarket were just as fresh as mine and had really strong yolks, too. So don’t believe what you hear from others. Test, test, test!
With broilers, the results have been more mixed. Our non-irrigated pasture browns off in the late summer, and in one late-summer taste test, our broilers were not as good as another pastured poultry outfit’s, one which I suspect grows their birds on irrigated pasture. And some of the faux free-range chicken from California was surprisingly flavorful, considering that their “outdoor access” was more or less mythical. Normally I expect that it’s green pasture plants that give the chickens their flavor, but I suspect that there’s another way of doing it…
One interesting side-by-side experiment we made happened when Karen took a Poultry Science class at Oregon State University. One lab involved butchering chickens from the university’s broiler barn. Karen butchered the chicken using methods that were equivalent to what she uses at home, but this well-cared-for confinement broiler tasted far blander than a grass-fed broiler of the same age that we tested at the same time, and the confinement broiler had an unpleasant manure-y aftertaste that could only be blamed on growing conditions, not processing. Ewww!
The reason people don’t do more side-by-side testing is that it raises the possibility that their cherished beliefs will be proven false. Of course, this is exactly why you should do it! Great ideas only get you into the ballpark. You’re probably up in the bleachers somewhere, not on base at all. But it’s a start. You get on base when you get the details right and drop some of the baggage that we all bring to a new venture. You’re going to lose your illusions one way or another, either by refining your ideas until they actually work, or by failing. Using denial is the more natural and comfortable option, but it sends you straight down the road to failure. Testing and refining are less comfortable at first, but they reveal the path to success — reliable, ongoing success — the path that leads to a reality that’s far better than any illusion.
If you look around, you’ll see many opportunities to use side-by-side testing. The experiments are often very easy. For example, it took me less than half an hour to test half a dozen kinds of coffee, from which I discovered (to my surprise) that I don’t appreciate fresh-ground, gourmet coffee — something that has saved me a lot of money over the years.
Go forth and test! This is the Age of Science!