Unless you live completely disconnected from the rest of the world, you have probably heard the horrific stories related to factory farming. I won’t name names in this article, but just walk through your grocery store and look at the labels and you’ll know whom I am talking about.
The idea behind factory farming is speed and efficiency. Grow meats and vegetables larger than normal, faster than normal and bring them to market in the least costly manner is pretty much the mantra of the consumer products world.
No idea is too harsh or scary for these companies. Meats are processed cheaper in China, so companies ship their beef and pork over there for processing, where (we have learned in recent months) their quality and safety practices are much more lax than ours. Chickens with bodies too big for their legs to support pull and crawl across feces covered floors to try to get to food and water. Cows that are too sick to walk are bulldozed into waiting crates to be taken to slaughter. (And don’t get me started on the pink stuff they call hamburger) We have all seen the pictures and read the stories.
While much of this may be true, let’s take a moment to look at the alternative. It is easy enough to cry foul when it comes to factory farming and local farmers tend to be some of the higher voices. They tout the facts of better quality and tasting meat, eggs and vegetables over those of mass production and they are right. Science can prove this, but you need only to taste for yourself to tell the real difference.
We also know that locally grown products tend to be higher in price…much higher and it is for this very reason alone factory farming is necessary. (Please don’t hate me, but here is why.)
Here in America, we often take for granted how lucky we are. I have seen the faces and heard the stories of immigrants and visitors from other countries who walk into one of our many grocery stores and are overwhelmed by all the food they see. In some cases, one grocery store on any given day could feed an entire village of starving people in a third world country and I can promise you they will not care how the animals were treated before they got to their plate. When you are starving…food is food.
Food is a commodity for the rich. If you believe otherwise, just look at North Korea. It is no different here than anywhere else. In some countries only those with money eat. In ours only those with money can afford the prices of locally grown “healthier” foods. It’s not fair, but it is fact.
Since I am a numbers person, let’s put this in perspective. The average household income in the state of New Hampshire is less than $65,000 per year for a family of four (before taxes). This, by the way, is much higher than the national average of $51,000. The average median home price in New Hampshire is $217,000.
Let’s assume the average mortgage is about $1500 per month including taxes and insurance, or about $18,000 per year. And let’s assume the following annual payments…
Electricity – $1200
Heating Fuel – $1800
Car payment – $3600
Phone – $1200 to $1500
Cable/Internet – $840
Gas – $2400
…Well, I think you get the picture. By the time you get done whittling away at that average income, there isn’t much left for food and it is just human nature to get the most bang for our buck.
My point? You can blame factory farming for all the horrific ways they treat and process their foods, but if it weren’t for them millions of people in this country would go hungry. Many people just can’t afford the higher costs of locally grown products no matter how much better they are. If they are lucky perhaps they can afford to buy some products as a special treat or for a special occasion.
Is there a solution? If so, I’m not sure what it is. As long as commercial food manufacturers are allowed to use questionable practices to keep the food supply fast and cheap, they will continue to do so. For them, it is all about profits. It has to be. Otherwise, they couldn’t stay in business. It doesn’t make it right, it’s just fact.
What local farmers can do is work together to find ways to make locally sourced foods less expensive and still maintain a good profit for the farmers. Economies of scale is key, but getting local farms to work together isn’t always easy.
All this doesn’t mean we have to like factory farming or that we shouldn’t continue to encourage better practices. In fact we should continue to push. We live in a highly successful, industrialized country. There is no reason why companies can’t find a better way to bring inexpensive food to the stores and still keep it healthy.
For now, have to realize that there is a fine balance between eating healthy and eating. By working together, perhaps we can find a satisfactory solution that fits both.