At the core of our false belief that meat is cheap – lies corn and oil. Farmers used to grow a multitude of crops on their land, leaving strips of trees and native vegetation in between crop sections. These strips served to help reduce wind and soil erosion, and also acted as wildlife pass-thrus. But with the industrialization of farming, these became viewed as unproductive strips of land and unrealized profit. So, farmers began to eliminate them and replace them with mre crops. Furthermore, farmers began to abandon multi-crops to instead grow huge monocrops. In other words, we went from having various different species of plants, interupted by trees and integrated with wildlife – to vast uninterrupted fields upon fields of a single species. Not only has this resulted in a deterioration of soil quality, but it has also increased the incidence of disease and pests.
Nature is meant to be diverse. Diversity helps reduce the spread of disease and allows life to flourish from all those wonderfully complex symbiotic relationships that exist in our ecosystem. Diversity in crops may not seem as profitable in the short run, but does end up costing us less with the continuous revitalization of soil nutrients and natural pest control. The problem is that our governments subsidize these huge monocrops of corn so much that processed foods and animals that are fed corn are much cheaper to buy than fresh fruits and vegetables. (Much cheaper in retail price, at least.) Because of this system, we’ve come to believe that food should be cheap, and that fruits and vegetables are overpriced, when in fact we’re paying more for cheap meat and processed foods in other ways without even knowing it.
From this belief that food should be cheap arises various problems in our food system: pollution of our air from transporting food from halfway across the world so that we can eat whatever out-of-season foods we want; pollution of our fresh water supplies and aquatic life from agricultural fertilizers (phosphates); the unethical treatment of animals so that they can be mass produced and commodotized; and in some cases, the exploitation of labour to keep costs down. So when you really think of it, “cheap” meat is only cheap on your wallet, but only because all the other costs have been conveniently externalized.
Many consumers feel powerless in this cycle, when in fact they are the most powerful group of all. Retailers will only sell and continue to buy products that consumers demand. Everytime you go through the checkout, buy from your local farmers’ market, choose local, or choose oganic – you are casting a vote. When enough of us cast our vote for change, retailers will listen. Why do you think organic produce is so much easier to find today than it was even just 5 years ago? Because YOU have asked for it, and YOU have bought it. ASK where your food is coming from, how it was raised, how it was grown and if it is genetically modified. Then, support those practices that are responsible, sustainable and ethical. Yes, ethically raised grass-fed beef will be more expensive than CAFO beef. But instead of just automatically eating meat at every meal, choose when you are going to eat meat and enjoy it when you do. The more we ask and the more we act, the more will change for the better. It might cost you a little more in the pocket book – but when it comes to food, it’s pay now… or pay later.