Farm | When Cheaper Isn't Better
cheaper isn’t always better
If you’re like me you’re always after the best deal available for most items on the market. However, I’d venture to guess you’re also like me in the fact that you’ll spend your hard earned money on something you find valuable. It might not be diamond rings, it might not be ethical clothing, and it might not even be food.
But, you probably value something so highly the price wouldn’t matter a whole lot to you and you’d even go out of your way to get it.
My passion is to share with you more background on a topic that is very close to my heart. That is the $3 head of lettuce and the $3 beef at the grocery store.
Cheap food isn’t better, cheap food is killing us.
The industrial food system has allowed food to get cheaper but only at the expense of our health, animal health and the health of the people that work to put food on our tables.
Much like the fashion industry, the food industry in America has been driven by lower costs. The only way to make things cheap is by cutting every corner possible, which in turn, has made American’s sick and those who work to keep food on our dinner table even sicker.
Food - Borne Illness
The CDC estimates that ‘48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from food borne illness in America’. Recalls on beef alone in 2018 totaled 31 independent recalls - totaling 13,185,563 pounds of beef. The numbers of people that died due to food borne illness is disastrous, our food shouldn’t be killing us. AND on the other end, which also breaks my heart as a farmer, these recalled pounds of beef are animals that are dying to feed us. We should be harvesting animals that make it to dinner plates to give us a nutritious meal, not meat that get’s pulled off grocery shelves because it could kill us.
To give you an idea of how many animals were harvested and pulled from grocery shelves in 2018, in just beef alone, I’m counting upwards of 33,000 animals. When I harvest a steer on my farm, I get back roughly 400 pounds of beef. If we divide 13,185,563 pounds of beef that was recalled last year alone, that is a total of nearly 33,000 animals that were thrown away for no purpose other than the desire to make beef cheap enough to sell a $1 hamburger at McDonalds. We’re not only looking at a in-excusable number of human lives lost, but of animals lives lost all in the name of cheap food.
And that’s just food borne illness.
The farmer’s share
I was baffled when I saw this chart for the first time, and I would guess you are too. No wonder we have a food problem. Have you ever driven through Nebraska or Wyoming and seen the miles and miles of feed lot beef? That’s what you get when you have to meet such a low cost demand. You can’t make a living on $1.95 per pound for beef, the economics just don’t work.
Slavery in america
Do a little looking into the industrial food system and you’ll quickly realize that slavery is not truly gone in the agriculture industry. Meat packing workers, field workers and even farmer’s themselves have become slaves to the system.
For example, a single industrial food system chicken house costs upwards of $500,000 dollars, which the large companies ‘finance’ to their farmers. In order to be a competitive chicken farmer for large buyers a farmer would likely have several of these buildings. It’s been stated that even with multiple chicken houses a farmer is only likely to pull $20,000 annually in profits. Again, the price we pay for the chicken on the grocery shelf, is not what the farmer is getting paid when we buy from large suppliers. Working in such unsanitary chicken houses for $20,000 dollars, with a mountain of debt to the companies, is exactly the type of ‘slavery’ that these farmer’s face. There is no way out for many of them.
Meat packaging and field workers suffer from little pay, high-risk of injury jobs, unhealthy working conditions and abuse. Just imagine for a second being brought to this country with a promise of a ‘good job’ only to be abused and endure incredible suffering instead.
All in the name of cheap food.
Change is in your hands
We’ve all been consumers of cheap food. We’ve all been looking for the best deal at the grocery store. We’ve all looked at a head of lettuce, a package of ground beef, and our Thanksgiving turkey without questioning how it was raised, who processed it and how it got to our local grocery store. Most of us have looked at it through dollar signs.
I honestly understand that it’s a hard habit to break. I love a good deal and I love convenience, but when I looked at the industrial food system of America my heart broke, I was angry and I needed to change my thinking. I hope you feel the same.
Perhaps you’ve made steps to knowing your food better, if you have you’re already making a difference. If you are still a deal shopper at the local grocery I know where you’re at. But change needs to happen. We need to spend our dollars in a way that makes change happen. The industrial food system came out of our very own desires for cheaper food and if we desire something better - it will come. If you feel powerless, like the food problem is bigger than you, I want to firmly tell you it isn’t.
You can choose to ask questions, to get to know your local farmers and to know your food.
I Know it costs more
Going back to my very first argument, I GET IT. I understand the desire to consume a deal, to stop in at my local grocery for that $3 per pound hamburger BUT eating cheaper isn’t valuing my health and the health of all the people connected to the food chain. It is going to cost more now but it’s going to change our future for the better.
One thing that has changed for us since eating more locally and knowing our food better (though we have much room for improvement yet) is that we eat differently. Meat is no longer making it onto our nightly dinner menu, we actually eat far less meat since we began farming than before we farmed. Meat raised and harvested right costs more than meat raised in manure lots that are stuffed to the gills with cattle; that are then processed in an assembly line that is bound to break every once in a while (contaminating that meat). We buy our own meat and since it comes at a higher cost we eat less of it, honestly we eat meat about 3 times a week.
Start with something small. Unhappy with inhumane treatment and harvest of animals, start by buying meat from a farmer you trust. Unhappy with slave labor in California wine making, buy local wine made from local grapes. Unhappy with eating Romaine lettuce that makes you sick right before the holidays, partner with a CSA.
Do the research. Information is at our finger tips, but we need to be willing to look and we need to be willing to be confronted with hard realities. Start by watching Food Inc. (available on Netflix) and research your questions from there.
If you have a family history of a particular disease, check to see if it’s linked to a food you’re eating. For example, a customer of mine buys grass-fed meats because a grain diet can be linked to Alzieimer’s, and her mother just passed from that.
Find a local farmer. If you’re in Wisconsin finding a farmer has never been easier. You can find a list of local farms on the Farm Fresh Atlas.
Perhaps a change in how you spend your dollar means a change in how you eat. BUT in exchange you’ll be part of a valuable movement to say no to unhealthy food, to big corporations and to change the way America eats for the better.