Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why pay more for the "certified organic" label?

My husband and I visited the Memphis Farmers Market at Central Station yesterday. We had slept in on Saturday morning and got there a little later than planned. Several of the vendors had sold out of their wares, brandishing signs reading "Sorry - we'll have more next time!" That is certainly a great problem to have from their perspective, but I rushed to the West Wind Farms stand in hopes of buying what I came to get: certified organic meat.

Luckily, they were still in business. Two folks stood behind a table display that listed a surprisingly diverse array of chicken, pork, turkey, and beef products that were packed in freezers behind them. They were busily filling orders, so I spent the few minutes in line carefully inspecting the list. A little concerned that no prices were listed, I decided to shrug it off, content that spending a little extra to support a local, organic farmer was well worth it. At my turn, I ordered four New York strip steaks and two 2.5 pound packages of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The man behind the counter quickly retrieved these items from the freezer, worked up the cost, and announced the total. I almost choked on my McCarter coffee but resolutely handed him my debit card.

Yes, it is typically more expensive to buy from local, certified organic farmers. However, it must be said that we pay a high price for the industrially grown meat and produce on sale at the local Kroger. An excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Harper Perennial 2007), written by Steven L. Hopp, helps explain:

A common complaint about organic and local foods is that they're more expensive than "conventional" (industrially grown) foods. Most consumers don't realize how much we're already paying for the conventional foods, before we even get to the supermarket. Our tax dollars subsidize the petroleum used in growing, processing, and shipping these products. We also pay direct subsidies to the large-scale, chemical-dependent brand of farming. And we're being forced to pay more each year for the environmental and health costs of that method of food production.

Here's an exercise: add up the portion of agricultural fuel use that is paid for with our taxes ($22 billion), direct Farm Bill subsidies for corn and wheat ($3 billion), treatment of food-related illnesses ($10 billion), agricultural cleanup costs ($17 billion), collateral costs of pesticide use ($8 billion), and costs of nutrients lost to erosion ($20 billion). At minimum, that's a national subsidy of at least $80 billion, about $725 per household each year. That plus the sticker price buys our "inexpensive" conventional food.

Besides hidden costs, inhumane treatment of animals, and excess pollution, there is our own health to consider when supporting the CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) that produce cheap meat:

Confined animals are physically stressed, and are routinely given antibiotics in their feed to ward off disease. Nearly three-quarters of all antibiotics in the United States are used in CAFOs. Even so, the Consumers Union reported that over 70 percent of supermarket chickens harbored campylobacter and/or salmonella bacteria. The antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that grow in these conditions are a significant new threat to humans.

Suddenly, I feel better handing the man my debit card.

(First published on

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sometimes things just go terribly, terribly wrong

I made a hummingbird cake for Easter Sunday at my grandmother's house. Is it me, or is my cake growling at me?

For the record, this cake is very tasty, regardless of the fact that it was hit with the ugly stick. The plan for Phase II involves a sheet cake. Round cakes are not my friend.

I'm also feeling a bit of de ja vue here. Perhaps I was not destined to be a baker.


World's best complaint letter

I'm obviously trolling the Internet too much today, but this is the most hilarious passenger complaint letter ever.

The $25000 peanut butter sandwich

Want to know what a peanut butter sandwich worth $25000 tastes like? Try this recipe created by a ten-year old named Lauren.

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