Thursday, August 27, 2009

Joel responds

The poor people question is the second most frequently asked question
after "can we feed the world?" So let's
address it.

First, enough money is in the food system for everyone to enjoy safe,
nutrient dense food generally from local sources.
When you look at the price per pound of candy, potato chips, TV
dinners, and Cocoa-Puffs, you will find that they are
NOT cheap. And if you factor in nutrition, they are definitely not
cheap. If you took the money currently spent on Coca-Cola,
Kentucky Fried Chicken, and McDonald's and spent it instead on local
nutrient-dense direct-from-the-farm food, the
system contains plenty of money to eat well. Processed, snack, and
junk foods are not cheap, and take up valuable
money from the food system that could be spent better. Show me the
poor family that doesn't have soft drinks and
potato chips in their house, and then we can talk real issues. For
most of our lives, Teresa and I have been below the
poverty level, by choice. I do not believe government statistics, now
do I believe advocacy agency statistics. So off
the top, let's realize that poverty is extremely subjective. And when
someone says they can't afford our food who spends
nothing on potato chips and soft drinks, then I'll entertain their

Second, most of the problem is a lack of domestic culinary skills.
This can be from ignorance, negligence, or laziness,
none of which has anything to do with money. Plenty of busy people
cook unprocessed food. Premium Idaho baking
potatoes occupy a tiny box in the produce section and sell for 10 cents
a pound. Two aisles over, microwavable frozen
premade French fries occupy 150 feet of freezer space, and sell for
$1.25 per pound. A couple more aisles over,
potato chips in bags occupy another 150 feet of shelf space and sell
for $4 a pound. That's what Polyface hamburger
costs. I am not willing to concede that most people in poverty are
really putting effort into their home kitchens to prepare
unprocessed meals.

Third, if local food were not prejudicially regulated, the price
differences would not be as apparent as they are. Most of
the premium pricing on local, nutrient-dense food has nothing to do
with production, but rather the nonscalable application
of onerous, capricious regulations. Infrastructure and paperwork
requirements that big operations spread over thousands
of pounds or gallons become exorbitant to a small business. For
example, Polyface last year tipped over into the mandatory
workmen's compensation program due to the number of employees.
Normally, a business our size would pay $3-5,000 a
year, but we pay more than $10,000. Why? Because we're classified as
a farm, and by regulation, a farm cannot have a
delivery driver who handles boxes. The ONLY driver a farm can have is
a high risk live animal hauler, right at the top end
of the actuarial risk category. So who pays for that extra $6,000?
The customer. If you want to see more evidence of this
capricious and asinine regulatory climate, please read my book:
that were it not for this regulatory climate, neighborhood food systems
would run circles around Wal-Mart both in quality
and price. And impoverished city food deserts would spout oases of
entrepreneurial local food networks, at a price folks
could more easily afford. The people demanding more invasive and
onerous food safety regulations, for example, actually
hate poor people because they advocate policies that create further
price prejudice against smaller scale food businesses.

Finally, this issue has a subconscious corollary that food should be
cheap. I don't have any problem with cheap food; I only
have a problem with good food being cheap. How many people classified
as poor have a flat screen TV? Or iphones? Why
doesn't anyone complain about the price of Cadillacs or plasma TVs?
You get what you pay for, and if you only pay for junk,
you get junk. And if you only pay for things that destroy the earth or
cheapen life, then that's the world you're creating. You
can make do on a lot less if you look, just like scrounging for
anything. If you ask for seconds on tomatoes, or can the mountain
of tomatoes local farmers are throwing away just before frost when the
plants explode with end-of-season premonitional bounty,
you can get premium local vegetables by the bushel for very little
money. Eating well does not require you to eat organic
tomatoes shipped air freight from Peru in January. You can eat better
by canning, drying, or freezing local seasonal bounty
and enjoying it in the off season. But that means getting busy,
refusing to be a victim, and being responsible. Unfortunately,
these good character qualities are not encouraged in the modern
American welfare class. When I see food stamps used
for TV dinners so that personal money can purchase beer and cigarettes,
I admit to being a bit dubious about the alleged
plight of poor people. And if everyone who didn't need to be weren't,
the numbers would be so small that some philanthropy
would solve the genuine problem--just like it used to.

Bottom line, I've found that I usually have money for what I consider
essential. If I really want to make something happen,
I'll passionately try to make it happen, without a handout and without
whining. That would probably be a good way for more
of us to live, don't you think?

~Joel Salatin

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Join the discussion

Yesterday at 3:30 pm, I posted the following question on the Polyface Farm Facebook page. Within 18 hours, we received 32 comments. I wanted to give you all a chance to comment on this as well.

To set the stage - this was posted 2 weeks ago: Michael Pollen says that cheap food is an illusion. The cost of food will be paid somewhere, whether it be the environment, the land or your health.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION: If cheap food is an illusion, do you think it's possible for "poor people" to afford healthy food? How could someone who doesn't have a lot of money buy healthy food?
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