The price of chicken

Child laborers at the looms making affordable fabric
The American high standard of living is built on economies of scale, predicated on cheap supplies on terms usually detrimental to the suppliers. In materials, this means exploiting the environment, in manufacturing it means cheap labor, in food it means industrialized farming.

It’s an oft repeated mantra, and counter to a consumerist imperative, but this dilemma can be addressed by showing restraint, even in light of growing populations. It’s resource conservation.

If we can’t afford a fairly traded commodity, we should perhaps consider going without it. We could make do with fewer consumer goods for example. or less meat and more beans and rice maybe. We would not need to subject animals to factory farms if we could reduce our demand; not going without, going with less. If range fed beef is indeed a luxury, couldn’t we consider not having a feast of it everyday? Just because a substitute can be had for cheaper doesn’t mean we have to indulge yourselves. Especially, I would think, if the cheap price means inherent harm on the other end.

A free-range. grain-fed chicken costs $2.85 per pound to bring to your table. Not $0.89 per pound, or $1.99 for the whole chicken, but $2.85/lb, or $7.30/lb for the boneless breast fillet. That’s what it costs to raise a chicken in conditions that wouldn’t turn our stomach or haunt us if we were really knew. Priced any lower and the chicken supplier has to cut corners and mistreat the animals in ways you would never willfully approve. Instead of three cheap chickens in every pot, how about buying one humanely raised chicken instead? Permit yourself the luxury of feeling good about the demands you are making on the food supply, about the sacrifice being made by others to sustain you.

A healthy-raised pig costs $8 per pound. Anything less comes from a place you don’t want to get within 20 miles downwind, much less see. Same deal. If you are now eating cheap bacon, pay more for an honorable source but buy less.

Range-fed beef costs upwards of $8 per pound. You’ll be doing yourself a favor avoiding the mad cow disease of factory abused cows and calves. $8/lb. Any less and it’s packing the trauma of its final breaths into the flesh you think you are enjoying. Plus the antibiotics pumped into the cow to enable it to survive the cramped unhygienic conditions of feed lots.

Wild salmon costs $12 per pound. It’s good for you, one of the best sources of nutrition this side of broccoli. But that’s not true about farm grown salmon. Now the domestic stocks are contaminating the natural fisheries. Stop encouraging the aquaculture robber barons. Don’t eat their salmon or their shrimp, they’re killing the environment and the local fishing communities.

The price test works for everything that’s unbelievably cheap. What? Were you thinking it was the miracle of modern capitalism? Goods available for less than the cost you would think they could be made? If it wasn’t affordable to you before, the company has now found out how to steal it from someone to bring it to you.

If you see something you never thought you could afford, and its price is too good to be true, it is for someone. The true cost is being born by someone else, maybe a pre-teen indentured servant, maybe someone who works a 12 hour shift sharing a bunk with the person who handles the other 12 hours, maybe someone who’s been incarcerated for the sole reason that their governor needs a low-wage labor pool, maybe it’s someone working off a debt which just keeps growing, maybe it’s an immigrant living in a special economic development zone from which one may neither move in nor out, maybe it’ll be you in a few years, without options in our race to the bottom global economy.

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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1 Response to The price of chicken

  1. Avatar Kathy says:

    You have explained so well what needs to be in all “Food and Health” sections of the “daily newspapers.” It will take a collective change of conscience to begin to win over our appetites and pocketbooks in order to decelerate the poor health and poverty conditions placing us in an inferior plobal position. For starters I will send copies of this essay to the teachers in our local school district who are part of a “Wellness Committee” to educate the students while they are being fed healthier lunches.

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