380 500 million eggs — that’s the number of them now being recalled. We’re often asked about the price of local food compared to those found at the supermarket, and this latest recall perhaps helps to reframe the question to: How is it that industrial food can be produced and made available so cheaply? The hidden and not-so-hidden costs are many, and salmonella is just one of them.
Two recent interviews further explore the issue of cost. One with Michael Pollan, with prescient timing, asks “A Dozen Eggs for $8?“
WSJ: Is eating well just an indulgence for people who can afford it?
Mr. Pollan: If you’re in the supermarket buying organic versus not buying organic, you are going to spend more. But buying food at the farmer’s market, if you compare it to the prices at Safeway for stuff that’s in season, it actually beats the prices in my experience. People shouldn’t assume that they are going to go broke at the farmer’s market.
WSJ: What do you wish people here understood about their food that they don’t now?
Mr. Pollan: We’ve been conditioned by artificially cheap food to be shocked when a box of strawberries costs $3.
But it’s important to know that farmers aren’t getting wealthy. When you see strawberries being sold for $1 a box, picture the kind of labor it takes to pick those strawberries and the kind of chemicals it takes to produce those kinds of strawberries without hand weeding.
Eight dollars for a dozen eggs sounds outrageous, but when you think that you can make a delicious meal from two eggs, that’s $1.50. It’s really not that much when we think of how we waste money in our lives.
The other, with a program manager at the Intervale Center in Vermont, discusses what goes into producing local meat:
And now for the question we’ve all been waiting to ask … why are local meat prices so high?
I get this question a lot! It’s funny how many people think that all food is the same and perhaps it should all have a comparable price. I know when I shop for a new car or a can of paint I have the understanding that the product that has a higher price is almost always of a higher quality. I’m surprised that more skeptical people don’t wonder how they can buy non-local meat at such a low price.
So why are many local meats priced higher than standard meats at the supermarket? In most cases you’re looking at a superior product: see if you can taste the difference or decide if you derive value from the other attributes like grass fed, humane treatment or paying a VT farmer a better wage.
Processing for a small-scale producer can cost more; slaughtering animals and cutting and wrapping meat is a significant component of the final sale price.
Many grass-fed animals may be carried through the winter on stored feeds before the animal is ready for harvest. That means more money for feed, more time for the farmer and more space taken up in fields or the barn. Compare that to a Midwestern feedlot steer who is fed surplus corn on an accelerated growth plan. Corn is cheap in those parts of the country and, after all, time is money!