Friday, November 6, 2009

Our Pork Chops vs. Their Pork Chops Part II

So, What gives? How can Payless sell pork chops for half the price that it takes me to raise mine from scratch? It has a lot to do with the cheap food policy promoted by the federal government and agribusiness corporations, cheap but wildly potent fossil fuels, and the dietary choices we each make.

Industrial U.S. agriculture produces the pork chops you can purchase at most grocery stores such as Payless. And, it produces those pork chops on a wide scale based on intensive use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuel, minerals, and metals coupled with huge government payment programs to industrial agriculture. $11.3 Billion for commodity subsidies in 2006 alone. (An agricultural commodity, such as pork, is usually a food product produced on a large market scale.) This figure does not include "disaster relief payments or conservation ag payments...both of which would be unnecessary in a sustainable food production system. Some estimates show that the average U.S. taxpayer pays out around $300 annually toward agricultural subsidies to Uncle Sam...which then is distributed to the agribusiness giants. This amounts to $600 for most families per year.

Humans have been practicing agriculture for at least 10,000 years, but it is only in the last 60 or so years that heavy industrialization has occurred. So much so, that farmers are extremely dependent on synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fossil-fuel powered machinery. As a result yields have greatly increased during this period of time, along with an increasing population of mouths to feed. Yet, the overall efficiency of production has sharply decreased when considering the amount of energy used in the industrial system. Scientists estimate that the industrial food producing system uses from 3 to 10 times as much energy as it produces. This means for every kilocalorie of food energy produced 3 to 10 kilocalories of energy were necessary to produce it and get it to the stores, where we drive to purchase it. (The ratio is much worse 35:1 for beef produced in feedlots compared with grains) How long can we keep this up?

What does this have to do with the price of pork chops in Payless? In order to keep the price of those pork chops low, in spite of the very unsustainable use of energy and non-renewable resources, our government pays out big bucks to keep this industrial system propped up and functioning. Who pays for it? You do. I do. We all do. And our children will pay dearly if we don't get it turned around soon. Although the pork chops at Payless were going for 97 cents a don't see the hidden costs behind those pork chops on the sticker price. If you account for all of the hidden costs they should cost us at least $6-8 a pound.

We very much need a level playing field when it comes to food production politics. If we had such an environment, I bet we would see a rapid move to sustainable food production. A system where we retain freedom of choice and quantity of foods we eat, but we pay the appropriate price for the food with the heretofore hidden costs included in the sticker price. My guess is that we would likely eat fewer pork chops and meat overall, but that when we do purchase foods they would be coming from local growers using sustainable practices. This would have the desired effect of creating more niches for local jobs, our dollars spent would circulate within the local economy strengthening our communities, providing healthier food and healthier people.

Somehow we the people must get our elected officials to support real change in food production policies. But, in the meantime, we can choose whenever possible to eat food produced locally...even though it means we pay out of pocket twice....once for the food and once for commodity subsidies of the food we are not eating. There should be no "cheap food policy" because there really is no free lunch.

Oh, "our" pork chops are pretty darn tasty! But I'm hoping to find a way to feed a pig or two more sustainably in the future such that the ratio of energy in to energy produced is even more favorable.

1 comment:

Jason Dufair said...

Can't wait to hear how they taste! We get our pork Wednesday from a pig raised on NICHES land. I wonder how it is to eat an animal you actually raised. I suspect we'll find out soon enough.