The price of sustainability

Go and read this great article. Then this one. There are some really important ideas here.

There are several challenges to face. Americans as a whole are addicted to cheap meat in large quantities. This is beyond question. The only way to pay Walmart prices for meat is industrial meat production. Farming animals for meat on small farms in sustainable, ethical ways is simply more expensive, and the farmer has fewer animals with which to make a profit for the farm and pay himself.

But the price the farmer sets is only one part of the cost of getting that animal turned into steak. The end price in the grocery store also includes:

  • paying to transport the animals to the slaughterhouse,
  • paying the slaughterhouse itself,
  • paying to package the meat,
  • paying for the packaging materials themselves,
  • then the transport from the packaging plant to the distribution centers,
  • then the transportation to the grocery stores
  • plus all of the wages of all of the people at each step of the process.

All of this is squeezed into that $2.59 per pound ground beef. Out of all of those costs, how much do you think the guy who raises the cows get paid? He can only afford to stay in business making minimal profits off of many, many animals with a small an overhead cost as possible… which means minimal land (feedlots), higher percentage of feed (buying corn is cheaper than buying land and managing grass) and minimal labor costs (feedlots, again).

There is no way around this.

However, like Bob at Stony Brook Farms says:

Will it ever be as cheap as industrial meat? No, and I have never argued that it would, or should, be. Will local-regional meat on the supermarket shelves be substantially cheaper than at farmers markets, on the farm, or through CSAs (none of which we should do away with, by the way)? Yes, absolutely, but once again, to get it there requires a shift in our approach to local-regional farming; it requires scaling up from low-volume farms to an agriculture of the middle, which can be, and where it already exists is, every bit as ethical and sustainable.”

I would love to see this put into action but in the meantime, the best and as far as I can tell, only way to secure affordable and sustainably raised meat is cow pooling. Cow pooling’s strength is in the lack of middlemen and simplicity of execution. You sacrifice choice of cuts for price, which for many people is an easy choice to make.

More on this in the next post.

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