The Price of Food

America is the richest nation on the planet and we spend less of our income on food than any other country.  In 1949, the average American spent 22% of our income on food.  Currently, we’re spending only about 10% of our income on food. This is historically unprecedented.

Some might say, “How is this a bad thing?” Now we have more money to spend on computers, entertainment, education, travel, or any number of things. Perhaps, if your goal is to “have it all.” I’m not so sure that’s a great goal. I’m also fairly convinced that those extras we want to spend money on are not more valuable than the health of our planet, ourselves and the people and animals who provide our food. Some might also say now everyone can afford food because it’s cheap. Let it be known that I care a great deal about food security for American families. But we need to become more concerned about making food fair (to animals, the land, and farmers/workers) and affordable instead of cheap. Will that mean spending more money on food? Most likely. When someone makes more money each month (a fair living wage/salary) then food can be affordable instead of cheap.

The current food system doesn’t reflect the “true cost” of producing it. For example, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, a group of tomato pickers (they pick around 1/3 of the nation’s tomatoes), is fighting for a penny/lb of tomatoes increase in their pay. They barely manage on their current pay and live in poverty. A penny/lb pay increase might raise their standard of living to acceptable, but the CEOs and executives don’t think they deserve fair pay. That’s why our tomatoes are so “cheap.” Someone else is paying the price.

Frankly, we’re not putting enough of our resources to providing good quality, humanely raised, healthy food for everyone. That is, we’re only putting 10% of our monetary resources toward food which is not enough! An alternative theory is that companies are pilfering off too much in profits and that’s where we could find the extra money for a fair food system. It’s tough to prove, but it’s a good thought and certainly corporate profits do get in the way of affordable food. The pervasive goals of cheap food and high profits drive policies and procedures that don’t mesh with the greater goals of a truly fair and sustainable food system.

If the rest of the world spends a higher percentage of their income on food, regardless of annual income, why can’t we? Why is America so special that we can only spend 10% of our income on food? I’m not so sure it’s that we feel special, it’s just that as far as priorities go, food doesn’t get much respect. I think it’s about time we get back to the basics and put more money into a fair and responsible food system.


“Folks, This Ain’t Normal”

Joel Salatin, personal hero of mine, has a new book coming out October 10th. It’s called Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World. I can’t wait for this release! Keep an eye out for it yourself, I guarantee you won’t regret reading 384 pages of Joel’s quips and ideas.

Check out Joel promoting the book in this clip below.

Thoughts on “American Meat”

I was really impressed with American Meat. The documentary was more ambitious than I would have guessed. It was fair and not myopic. Graham Meriwether (the director, cinematographer and producer) anticipated his critics and really gives us a complete (as much as can be in one documentary) picture of the current problem with our food system.

Some points that really stood out:

1. “Food connects us all” — I agree 100% and that’s why I believe wholeheartedly that “food activism” or whatever you want to call it is absolutely necessary because food is such an important part of every day of our lives. I remember learning in grade school that there were some basics to life: food, shelter and clothing. Food is top 3! Now obviously there are other aspects of life that are absolutely necessary as well, but food certainly connects us all in meaningful ways. When you think back on your life it’s a good bet some of the best family times involved food.

2. “We’re so removed from our food…” — The vast majority of Americans get their food at a restaurant or a grocery store. The reality is the grocery store is several if not several dozen steps removed from the actual place where your food came from. Do you know how the chicken that ended up in your saran wrapped package from the grocery store was killed? Would you be willing to find out? I’m not saying that killing a chicken is inherently wrong or immoral. Far from it. However, it’s important to realize that chickens are thought of as “protein units” in an industrial system that values bigger, better cheaper over all else. The chicken slaughterhouse is a unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Imagine an unending conveyor belt of chicken carcasses whizzing by all day long. Imagine you’re a worker on that line and you have worry every day if today is going to be the day you slice off your finger or have to be sidelined from work because of a repetitive stress injury. Virtually no one thinks about this when they buy chicken at the supermarket or order chicken strips at the restaurant. Read more about poultry production here. We literally have no idea where our food came from in most cases. The box or package doesn’t show the whole story.

3. Cost is a major problem — I’ve seen this scenario a dozen times: You nearly run out of breath telling someone the whole truth about factory farming and they respond “but no one can afford what you’re talking about, millions would be unable to afford that kind of food system.” This is one of the biggest issues in transitioning from a factory farming system to a sustainable farming system. I’d like to make three brief points: 1) We’re unfairly subsidizing the factory farming system so that the true costs are not reflected in the end product. Also, read this piece by Marion Nestle. 2) We should really be concerned about how a lot of people don’t make what would be considered a “living wage”. We should be concerned not just about making food affordable but making people able to afford food. 3) Factory farming is an unsustainable system and we literally have no choice but to convert to sustainable farming in the near future or we’ll really be in trouble. What I’m trying to say is factory farming is essentially connected to a barrel of oil. If we’re concerned about getting America “off of foreign oil” and thinking next-generation with our vehicles (electric, fuel cell, etc.) then we should really be thinking next-generation sustainable farming.

4. “Know your farmer and just completely opt out of the system” — quote by the hilariously spot on Joel Salatin. He’s a “character” is what my Grandma might say. Joel asks “if you could get paid a nice wage for working with your hands doing something that was healing would you give up your globalist agenda Dilbert cubicle job? A lot of people would.” I think that’s a beautiful statement. Have you ever gone outside and worked with your hands and had that sense of satisfaction of a job well done. I know you know the feeling. It’s a great one. Joel is basically saying you could make a living out of that feeling and do a world of good at the same time. The need is there and now we need the warm bodies. I was inspired by the number of new farmers chronicled in the documentary. I was especially impressed with one middle-aged man who gave up his 100K a year salaried job to be a delivery man for a farm (I believe it was Polyface farms, Joel Salatin’s farm) and how much better his life has been as a result.

4. We’re going to need more farmers — I think that’s good news. American Meat basically tells us to follow the advice of Ghandi himself and “be the change you wish to see in the world.” If we transition to sustainable farming we will need more farmers. It’s as simple as that. Today’s “get big or go home” farming manifesto doesn’t need a lot (relatively speaking) of labor on the farm. When you take petroleum out of the equation you must replace that with the physical labor of people on the farm. Over the past several decades we’ve seen a decay of small town America and the small sustainable family farm is nearly extinct. The average age of a farmer today is 57. We need young people to aspire to be farmers. We need to show young people that something exciting is happening out on the farm and they should be a part of it.

Assignment: Watch the trailer for American Meat below. Then visit the website and look for a screening near you. If there’s no screening near you, request a screening.

Prince Charles…Food Genius

I always thought Prince Charles was goofy. But now…I think he’s goofy and awesome!

I had no idea he was an advocate of sustainable agriculture and organic farming. BUT HE IS!

Check out this video  clip from his keynote speech at the Future of Food conference being held this week at Georgetown University. The video comes via the Washington Post Live website.

He really points out the issues facing modern food production and makes the case for sustainable agriculture. Now that’s “Royal” news worth reporting!

Assignment: Officially forget about the royal wedding and ponder the words of Prince Charles. Good day!

Real Food, exempli gratia

I love cheese. There, I said it and now you know.

So what happens when you watch someone make real homemade cheese? It makes you want to buy a goat.

Find out what I mean in this video.

The Perennial Plate is an online documentary series starring Daniel Klein (produced with Mirra Fine) that is “dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating”. The first season showcased the lovely state of Minnesota and the second season, which begins May 9th, will showcase the whole country. The first season was must-see internet TV…you won’t regret spending a few minutes of your time with a real guy and some real food.

Assignment: Bookmark and catch up on a year’s worth of missed episodes! Learning how to make Quiche in this video is a good starting point. Don’t forget to watch the new season starting in 3 days on May 9th!

What Are Factory Farms Hiding?

I live in Iowa. A bill (HF 589) recently passed  the state House of Representatives (it has yet to pass the Senate) that would make it a criminal offense to document animal cruelty using audiovisual equipment without the owner of the animal facility’s permission. And do you really think the owner is going to let someone videotape their facility? The most likely answer is a resounding NO.

Here are the interesting bits of language in the bill (all language following below has been condensed for ease of reading):

“A person is guilty of animal facility interference, if…the person acts without the consent of the owner of an animal facility to willfully do any of the following: (1) Produce a record which reproduces an image or sound occurring at the facility as follows: (a) The record must be created by the person while at the animal facility. (b) The record must be a reproduction of a visual or audio experience occurring at the animal facility, including but not limited to a photographic or audio medium. (2) Possess or distribute a record which produces and image or sound occurring at the animal facility which was produced as provided in subparagraph (1).”

What are the penalties?

“For the first conviction, the person is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor. (b.) For a second or subsequent conviction, the person is guilty of a class ‘D’ felony.”

What else does it say?

“1. A person is guilty of animal facility fraud, if the person willfully does any of the following: (a.) Obtains access to an animal facility by false pretenses for the purpose of committing an act not authorized by the owner of the animal facility.”

This means an undercover investigation of animal cruelty would be illegal.

You can read the bill for yourself in its entirely here.

I want you to ask yourself, “why would a factory farm want to make it a crime to record video or audio of their facility?” We have to be honest with ourselves…it means they’re doing something they don’t want YOU to find out about. They want to do things behind closed doors without public scrutiny. What does that tell you about the way their operation functions…if we saw the truth we might not want to eat food that was produced using the factory farm model. I don’t think we should, what do you think?

Assignment: I’d like you to watch the video below. There are some graphic images in the video. Paul McCartney makes the point that after viewing the video you should be compelled to be a vegetarian. I understand that is a reasonable conclusion given the cruelty depicted. However, I don’t believe everyone should be vegetarian. Rather, meat and animal products should have a supporting role in our diets. When the meat is produced on small local family farms then these cruelties disappear. Remember, what you are about to see is what the factory farm industry wants to hide from consumers.

Bonus Assignment: If you live in Iowa, please contact your state Senator and request they do not vote for this bill and actively work to ensure it does not pass. The bill is known as SF 431 in the Senate.

*UPDATE: — The Des Moines Register reports the Senate is rewriting the bill to include provisions that would “require employees or people who trespass on agriculture premises and record a crime of animal abuse to turn over to authorities all recordings – both originals and copies – within 72 hours. If they fail to do so, they could not claim whistle-blower protections and would face possible criminal charges resulting in up to 30 days in jail.”

This article is very telling of our food climate and I will be writing about portions that I found interesting soon!