A few years back, an acquaintance was having a barbeque for a large group and asked if I knew anyone selling pork roasts. This was before we were raising pigs in our woodland areas of the farm, so my mind immediately turned to a local farmer we knew raised good pigs. I provided the phone number and let it go at that.
A couple weeks later I followed up to see how my pork connection worked out. My friend quickly shot back, “That guy wanted over five bucks a pound for those roasts… So I went to Sam’s Club and got’em for a dollar thirty-nine”. Part of me was offended that my recommendation meant nothing, but most of me was astonished. I was shocked that this same person who pays over $50,000 for automobiles felt like he was getting ripped off by a pig farmer. It was an eye-opening experience. Here’s a guy who was definitely not a cheapskate. He simply thought that the only difference between the two pork products was the price.
A more recent conversation took place with a new visitor to our farm. As I was proudly showing off some of our new chicken bratwursts, she jumped in with a comment on the price. “Those things are almost ten bucks a pound.” I was taken back a bit by the observation because most folks who come to us have done their homework. Although I wasn’t prepared for such a statement, I quickly bounced back - “you’re right. There’s four links to a pound, so you’re looking at about two-fifty a link. Throw in a bun and some other toppings and you have yourself a four-dollar sandwich.” I didn’t stop there. I boldly continued, “I went by Wendy’s the other day and they’re selling a chicken sandwich for about six bucks. Ask them where that chicken came from and let me know how you feel four hours after eating it.”
There’s an old saying that everyone knows – “you get what you pay for.” All of us willingly accept that a Cadillac costs more than a Malibu. For us Ford folks, a Lincoln will cost more than a Taurus. We understand this because one has heated leather seats and rain-activated windshield wipers! With cars, it’s an easy distinction to make. When it comes to food however, we’ve been trained to see price as the primary difference between otherwise similar products. In other words, pork is pork, chicken is chicken, beef is beef.
When we drive off the car lot, we know immediately that we got what we paid for. With food on the other hand, our daily decisions are cumulative over time. The only place we recognize the short-term effect of our food choice is in our weekly/monthly budget because we’ve been trained to ONLY look at this single factor. As a result, the food industry has responded with lower prices. When taken in isolation, this picture should be celebrated. For the past fifty years, we’ve been able to spend less of our discretionary income on food.
Yessssssss! More money for flat-screens, fancy cars and family vacations! This is a monumental achievement of human civilization. Essentially, we’re saying that our food industry has succeeded in delivering the features of a Lincoln for the price of a Taurus. Marvels in food production technology have made dollar menus and dollar a dozen eggs commonplace. The only thing we’ve had to sacrifice in return is our lives. Bet you weren’t expecting that downer, eh?
Folks, the fact is - there’s no shortcut. There’s no miracle. While we’ve been voting with our budgets in favor of low food prices for the past fifty years, we’ve unwittingly accepted sickness as a way of life. Our food budgets are down over 8% from fifty years ago, but our healthcare expenses are up nearly 700%. There is no such thing as cheap food. You’re either going to pay your farmer NOW to do it right, or you’re going to pay your doctor later. Yes, it’s that simple.
There is a direct link between the amount of time and money a family spends toward real food and the number of sick days taken each year. For my well-to-do friend who drives high-end cars, the extra dollars to buy directly from a farmer is insignificant. He can have both! For a budget conscious family like ours, it takes a deliberate effort to allocate funds from the flat-screen to the food pantry. After all, I’d rather walk to a local farm to pickup my milk than drive a shiny car to the doctor’s office!