I also wrote about watching Food, Inc, and was troubled by the idea that organic production models couldn't reasonably feed the world, that they just don't produce enough.
I was surprised to be struck by something in the Animal Welfare chapter at the end of Joel's book. He actually is quoting another author, but it really has me thinking...
He begins by discussing the animal-welfare people who are very against inducing abortion in third-trimester cows for the sole reason of putting more weight on the beast (in a feedlot, where her future is to be meat, not milk). This is obviously poor animal husbandry! But,
"Amazingly, the people who are so concerned about abortions in the third trimester of a bovine pregnancy tend to support that action in humans. Isn't that incredible? It's as inconsistent as the pro-lifers eating disrespected factory farmed meat out of Costco. I agree with Matthew Scully, author of Dominion: The people who should be most concerned about respecting and honoring animals are the members of the religious right. Instead these folks defend the right to abuse animals, to disrespect their chickeness and pigness. And they even applaud their own ability to find the cheapest food. I wonder if they think the best church comes from hiring the cheapest pastor."
I've pondered this. Why did God make animals? Why did he make them each different? Was it for His pleasure, as well as our benefit? If so, if He delights in having "cattle on (a thousand) hills" and not on cement, lounging on mountains of excrement, wracked with bacteria, disease, and pain, while their very life is drawn out of them on a daily basis... If this is how we can "afford" to drink milk... Does this please Him? If He gave a chicken feathers, a beak and the instinct to peck, feet and the nature to scratch in dirt.. Is He pleased if they spend their entire lives with 8 others in a 16"x16" cage, having their beak tips cut off, never seeing the light of day or breathing anything but the dust and mites and manure from thousands of others under the same roof? Is this God's preferred way of providing "affordable" eggs and meat for His children? Does He want us to consider this?? Are we responsible to consider where and how our dinner got to our plate?
This doesn't seem small to me. It doesn't seem inconsequential at all. Joel (or Matthew Scully) is right. I've read more than one blog - operated by well-meaning stay-at-home Mamas, determined to steward God's resources responsibly, to feed their families well - who find great virtue in frugality... and haven't even looked at this perspective. Many pursue "organic" food when possible, but even when they don't or can't, the extent of their thought seems to be, "I just pray that God will protect us from any risk..." In light of this, that seems awfully self-focused. When we buy that tray of 'affordable' meat, are we righteous because we didn't 'waste' money, or are we unrighteous for propping up a system that abuses people (illegal immigrants, among others), poisons water and fish and great swaths of soil, and, to use a word from the quotation, "disrespects" the very nature of the thing which we eat? Cows don't naturally eat grain, legumes, or chicken manure (you read that right. As of 2007 anyway, that was/is an approved practice near Joel's home). Should this factor in to our purchasing decisions, along with pricetag and nutrition?
The other issue, the question of whether or not people would starve to death if we didn't chem-farm and feed-lot. Joel briefly refers to this in his book.
"They really believe, like our Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Mason Carbaugh in the 1980s wrote in his annual bulletin, 'If we went to organic farming, we would just have to decide which half of the world would starve.' These officials actually believe this. They make statements like this and go to church and feel exceptionally good inside about protecting the world from lunatics like me.
How did he come up with such a silly notion? Simply. The land grand college researches organic production this way:
Pick several plots of ground.
These plots have been used previously in research regarding herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. The soil is dead.
Identify three as the organic plots and three as conventional plots.
Organic plots receive no soil amendments; conventional receive full complement of fertilizer, pre-emerge weed killer, grubicides, etc.
Plant hybrid corn - genetically selected to require chemical fertilizer - nutrient vacuum cleaners.
Leave the plots to their own devices. Organic plots get weedy. So what. Herbicide kills weeds in conventional.
Measure yield. Organic pitiful; conventional excellent.
Extrapolate production volume over worldwide corn acreage.
Conclusion: Organics will kill half the world's population.
Folks, I'm not making this up. This is exactly how the research is conducted. Now can you see why science is not objective? Anyone with a lick of sense understands that chemicalized soils take at least three years to detoxify. The native soil flora and fauna take a long time to recolonize dead soil. Notice, too, that they didn't plant hardy open pollinated corn. And nobody cared about the nutritional quality of the corn; the only thing that mattered was volume This is Modern Science 101, the foundation of official press releases and government-sponsored research.
If organics would kill the world half-over, then why are the 'big guys' so determined to keep neighborhood farms and farmers from feeding the people nearest them? Have you seen what Joel Salatin produces? Have you seen articles about what people are growing on their city lot, or their quarter acre? Have you researched the biointensive method? It's incredible. And all organic. Too, if conventional means raping and pillaging the soil and the animals, I have a hard time believing God would love the increase of people as much as He seems to. God would not tell anyone to "fill the earth" if we had to abuse the rest of His creation to do so... would He?
I can hear people saying, "whoa now... hold on. I have several children to feed and clothe on my husband's salary. How exactly am I supposed to afford stuff like that? And my moral compass may be calibrated incorrectly?!?" I hear the same thing in my own mind. A recent YouTube video I watched featured Daniel Salatin (Joel's son) teaching others how to cut and package chicken pieces... The whole chicken was $3/lb, and boneless, skinless breasts were $13/lb! I don't know how current it was, but even Azure has similar prices for such. And I about choked. That may be doable for a couple, or small family, but that starts getting crazy as you go up in family size. What about the price for beef? Grains? Veggies?
I don't have any easy answers, but 2 things come to mind. First, conventional food isn't really cheap. You hear about "the Farm Bill" every year? That spells out what the government is going to do with, to, for, about food production. Whether they will pay Joe Smith to NOT grow wheat, etc. You hear a farmer mention that bean prices were the same for his grandpa... How can that be? Grandpa probably had a cheaper tractor, smaller mortgage, cheaper inputs.. How then is today's farmer even paying the property taxes? Government "subsidies?" [There is a lot about this that I don't know. I would love to know more about how this works, if anyone can help!] Americans spend a smaller proportion of their income for food than ever before. America "sells" corn or whatever to Mexico and Haiti... and the imported American stuff is EVEN CHEAPER than a local subsistence farmer can grow it for. How else does this happen, without taxpayers propping up the industry? So we're paying for it, just not when we write a check to the grocer.
Another cost of today's food is in medical expenses. Obesity is such a huge problem, we have skyrocketing rates of diabetes, heart disease (in younger and younger people), cancer, chronic diseases. MUCH of this is the result of the daily choices people make, when it comes time to eat. And we're lazy, and ignorant. Even food bank recipients (often) refuse dry beans, or other higher nutrition, more effort, foodstuffs. Most people don't see the purpose in taking time to make beans, or soup, or anything, when you can get (seemingly!) "the same thing" from a can or box or package in 1/8 of the time, with 1/12 the effort. And in short order, they're spending how much per month on prescription medications to deal with the problems they've developed. How 'affordable' was that food again?
I don't have any ways for you to opt out of the first hidden costs. Tax evasion is not looked at lightly. :) The second you have much more power over. Not complete power mind you; things happen, certainly, but we know enough to know that some things are "bad for you" and others notsomuch. Use that knowledge, and better your odds in that department. Don't know? Well, if you're reading this, you have access to a world of information. Get some. :)
Small organic producers don't get the corporate welfare (big organic might, I don't know). They're not picking your pocket; anything they get from you is entirely voluntary, entirely transparent. We have to respect that at least. :) As such, their prices are higher than that of their conventional counterparts. A farmer, or market gardener, needs to be compensated with a living wage. We shouldn't decry that. If we do, what is their incentive to continue?
But what can we do... Is there an option outside of doubling our grocery budget?
I think so. We eat *darn good* and have extra food stocked in the pantry and freezers, yet we *still* fall within the lowest average spending for a household our size. How do we do it? Well, first, we don't eat out. Hardly ever. The way I hear things from Dave Ramsey, that's a huge expense for some families. I know people who, both working and both tired, eat dinner out a couple times a week or more. Some lunches are in restaurants too. Cutting back on this could easily free up a LOT of grocery money. Second, we buy bulk when possible, and from buying clubs/co-ops. This is a GREAT way to get healthy, organic foods at decent prices. I find the best buys are (of course) on the least-processed foods. If you're going to buy organic canned soups, they're expensive anywhere you find them. Azure Standard is one I've mentioned more than once. Almost anyone can raise a few laying hens, or if not, give up a $3 latte and buy a dozen or two eggs from someone local. Grass-fed, organic beef is horrifically expensive. At least, in my mind. :) But buying a whole beef (or a half, or a quarter, or finding a dozen family members to split it) is much more economical. Where do you find such a thing? Well, the last one we bought I discovered through a local organic grocery store. They were stocking $5/lb hamburger from a neighbor who farms organically, but I wondered if they knew of anyone else in the area that raised beef completely on pasture. They gave me a name, and I called, and the rest is history. That was 2 years ago, and we're about due for a refill. :) Sometimes these stores have bulletin boards; keep an eye out there, or put up your own name and number, "in search of" grass-fed beef. You could do the same thing at a feed store. Probably the best place to find information right now is a farmer's market. Ask any vendor there if they know of someone, even ask other patrons. You can tap into a great network this way. You might find someone raising chickens, rabbits, turkeys... A lot of people in this area would consider bartering, and I bet that's true elsewhere. You never know until you ask. Personally, having someone I could call to tend these chickens when I'm gone would be worth a bird or two! Now, who wants to share a milk cow?
This is a long post. I thought about dividing it up, but I didn't like it that way. One point leads to the other. And I want to encourage you, if you were struck like I was by that first quote, that it is not a catch-22. We trust God "to provide" right? Is He not capable of providing in line with His own design? Let us trust Him to provide well. If He calls us this direction He is faithful to equip.