Friday, July 10, 2009

Working man's food

Today at the end of the work day I was talking to the carpenters at the job site. I asked if they were working tomorrow as working four tens is fairly common. One said they were and was I. "No, we've been trying to do four tens" I replied. "We come up a little short, but its fine. But on Friday I will be working at a farm in exchange for food." He asked what I did there so I briefly explained about raising the chickens on pasture and the garden. He commented that the chickens must be better. Of course I had to agree that chickens raised on pasture were far superior to confined birds.

Later he surprised me by returning to the conversation. "Where can you get one of those chickens? Like, at the store what is their brand?" I explained that they just sell at the Telluride Farmers market. Unfortunately, this probably guarantees that he will never buy one. The market happens during work hours so it is almost impossible for him to go, even if did think it was worth his time to make a special shopping trip. But, he still wanted to know what they cost. I rounded down "$4 a pound" (they are really $4.50/lb). I knew that this didn't probably mean much to him (most people are very bad at translating costs in and out of a per unit basis, this explains how small packages of ready to eat meals ever sell. If people realized they were paying $20/lb they wouldn't buy them) so I translated to a whole bird "around $16 a bird." He responded as I expected "$16 for a chicken!"

I admitted that this was alot. But I threw in that it is a large bird and Marie and I get 3 meals out of one. What I didn't go into detail about was that in reality it is not that much to pay for quality food. One of the most interesting facts I have heard recently regarding the supposed expense of healthy food is that while Americans spend less on food as a percentage of our income than anyone ever has in the history of the world (about 10%) we now spend more on health care than anyone in the history of the world. In fact, the sum of what we spend on healthcare and food has remained steady. But instead of spending most of our money on good food and very little on doctors visits we now spend very little on empty calories and most of our income on dealing with the affects of those poor food choices.

Add to this the fact that much of the carcass weight you are paying for of a factory raised bird is contaminated water from the cooling process and paying a little extra up front for a healthy meal doesn't seem so expensive. Of course, right now we are paying for both. We contribute to cheap empty calories with our tax dollars and everyone feels the effects of an unhealthy society in their insurance bills. So we are faced with a problem. We can pay extra up front on an individual level for healthier food, but in the meantime continue to pay the societal costs of an unhealthy lifestyle.

I don't know what the solution is right now. But I cannot think that making poor choices on the individual level will ever add up to create a healthier whole. However, I believe that if we all slowly make changes in our own lives they can add up to eventually change the larger picture. So think twice about where your money is going. Is it going to improve the health of your body, your family, and your community? Or will saving a dime now lead to the degradation of all of the above and ultimately higher costs down the road?

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