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Is food really too cheap?

Posted by: Trevor

April 12, 2012

When I was a boy, my father told me something about modern agriculture that I'll never forget. "Food is too cheap," he said. Too cheap? Really? I didn't know what he meant. But I think I'm starting to.

Recently, I watched an interview with Joel Salatin. He said today's agriculture is all about "faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper." Think Costco and Walmart. Cheap chicken, cheap eggs, cheap beef. Grocery carts overflowing with cheap everything. Enormous fruits and vegetables that are blemish-free. "Fresh" produce, sometimes flown-in from the other side of the planet. How is all this possible?

Today's industrial farming model has successfully delivered an abundance of cheap, nutritionally-deficient food to a culture that has become improvident, self-indulgent, and dissolute. "Give me cheap, tasty food" --- no matter what the cost to future generations.

Chemical cocktails are routinely sprayed on food crops, leading to deficient, barren soil.

Most of the produce sold in the grocery store is grown in a soup of chemicals --- leaving the soil barren of microbes, and stripped of beneficial nutrients. The increasingly sterile soil (now dirt) is "supplemented" with ever-growing amounts of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. It is being strip mined, leaving a vast "dead-zone" of once arable land. It will take decades, perhaps centuries, of intense effort to replenish the soil and undo the damage that has been caused. Future generations have been robbed, all for the sake of "faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper."

Most beef cattle spend the last several weeks of their lives on feedlots.

But it gets worse. Massive CAFO's (confinement animal feeding operations) now dominate livestock and poultry production, and their market share is increasing. Beef, pork and chicken are all affected, with some facilities holding hundreds of thousands of animals. Manure lagoons, medicated feed, hormone implants, gestation crates, battery cages, and the overpowering stench of ammonia --- all considered "normal" on today's industrial farms. Animals aren't seen as living creatures, but rather "units of production." In return for their milk, eggs, and meat, they receive misery. They're being robbed, too.

Layer chickens are typically kept in battery cages, and never see the light of day.

And so maybe that's why my father said food is too cheap. I think he realized that modern industrial agriculture is really just a form of theft. Cheap food today, subsidized by the animals, the land, and our descendants.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Thankfully, a small but growing number of consumers are insisting that their food be grown responsibly. And they are willing to put their money behind it. Local, organic family farms are being brought back from the edge of extinction. Livestock is being raised the way it was meant to be. Produce is being grown in chemical-free soil. And families are returning to the land.

And while it may not seem like much right now, it's growing, and it's filled with committed people. I'm convinced that the tide is changing, and we're grateful to be part of it.

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