Posted on May 21, 09:40 AM
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The business model of half a hog
Did Apple just take on Big Ag?
It’s been over a year since I bought chicken from a meat department. In that year, I’ve enjoyed more chicken dinners than ever before; the recipes of which I’ve mentally added to the, “have to do that again!” list. The chickens have all been farm fresh. I think it’s not a coincidence. As a suburbanite, the fine line between healthy and convenience is familiar. Very likely, over half the chickens I’ve had were frozen, not eaten just days after harvest – and that hasn’t made a difference to how memorably good they were.
In considering business models, it’s easy to see why the small farm stays small. It’s hard as hell to find competent help that can even keep up with slow processing. Increasing supply means moving the process faster. Working around slow parts of the process means finding or inventing shortcuts. Finding successful shortcuts can (but doesn’t always) lead to finding more shortcuts. There comes a point where a farm is “streamlined” for maximum processing and output. That convenience for the farmer doesn’t always equate to convenience for the consumer.
Sad to say, along side BigAg in America stands China as a good example of what goes wrong when production convenience supplies a dangerous product to the consumer. I take no argument with wanting to feed as many people as possible. That same desire drives volunteers to Soup Kitchens, Bake Sales and potluck suppers. When money gets involved, I completely agree that a new temptation arises that leaves the virtuous penny wise and pound poor.
Consumers have been tricked into thinking, “What should I eat?” Hunger used to inspire, “What should I cook?” Free time is more precious (only because it’s more rare) now than decades past. Few even have time to read a three-page magazine article recommended by friends – I’m guilty too and it’s pretty sad. Increasingly, people are saying, “where should we eat,” when they’re hungry and not, “what should we make?” Even Michael Pollan, foodie investigator and author, recently said he was disappointed that he was merely assembling meals now, not actually cooking. I pose that quite innocently, the consumer’s way of thinking is the final item for big food producers to streamline.
Allowing this change in yourself to go unchecked will harm others. Believe it or not, demand can still increase for beef, pork and poultry from where it is today and to increase supply, producers will slip down the slope to find faster shortcuts. In defence of Big Food, I remind you that everyone gets a frantic panic when they feel they need to do more on any scale – from throwing a kid’s birthday party to maintaining stockholder dividends, whomever’s in charge pulls the strings and levers as needed to “be successful.” “Be successful” is in quotes because the measure is so subjective; shortcuts to increase supply might not be your measure of success, but they are in the eyes of the birthday kid or the stockholders where the ends justify the means to meet expectations and beat out competition (respectively). We can’t tear down the establishment and change the world, but we can change ourselves and display a virtue rather than command a virtue.
The idea of tearing down the establishment is gaining a foothold in America in very real terms. We know we’re unhappy, but we don’t know why. Tearing down the establishment is a bad, bad idea; you don’t get to the fortieth floor constructing a building and then demolish the lobby beneath you/beneath everything. In this poor metaphor, the lobby, Big Food producers, isn’t actually supporting the fortieth floor. We’ve been fleeced to accept that it is. Big Food is just a business. It’s got sway and power and money to burn, but it’s just a business; it has to follow the money or it will starve. Consumers don’t have to follow the path Big Food lights for us because we won’t starve. Even Michael Pollan only recently realized that the “tail was wagging the dog.”
For a year, I accidentally didn’t convenience myself by buying into the conveniences of big chicken producers. I didn’t mean to, it wasn’t a mission or a goal – there’s no My Year of Farm-Raised Chicken book coming. It happened because I regressed to a child who asks, ‘why,’ to everything. I wanted to eat answers about where my food comes from. What does my food eat? How old is my food? Why does it eat this, not that? Big Food producers answer in gloss and pitch. Farmers answer in answers. I was satisfied that I knew my food and like many, I want to know what I’m eating. Explicitly. Big food producers telling me what I’m eating doesn’t work anymore because they’ve lost my trust. They surely don’t let me swagger through their production facilities either like a farmer does!
A suburbanite balances health against convenience.* We are the ones who make the American city rush hour commute hell. You think it’s bad for you? It’s everyday for us, twice a day. Until they start making great-paying jobs in the middle of nowhere, you’re stuck with it. For the suburbanite, the idea of finding the time to cook is a real bitch. Or is it? SONY put about 30 movies out in 2012 and made 4 BILLION dollars. A staggering one-quarter of that money was from one three-hour movie, Skyfall, worldwide. For 50 MILLION dollars a season, Netflix produced two 13-hour seasons of House of Cards which damn near everyone watched in a single weekend. So there’s a good chance I can say the following to you. You had time.
Movies can wait, On Demand Internet TV can wait. Why didn’t you make your hunger wait? Do you watch garbage TV? Garbage movies? Probably not all the way through even if you’re suckered into it. Then why eat garbage food all the way through? Oh! You didn’t want to waste your money and throw food away – I see. “Health Against Convenience.” You waste your money when you buy food you know nothing about, not when you throw it away. You watch Skyfall and House of Cards because you know something about them. Not all movies or TV shows are the same though they’re all called movies and TV – and I assure you, not all packaged chicken or chicken parts are the same though they’re all called chicken. We are selective about our consumption of movies and TV but less selective about what has a direct effect on our health. Why? How did that happen?
The hardest thing to do on an individual level is enact change. Something, though, has changed us. We consumers are still very picky about entertainment we consume that DOESN’T relate to our health, but have stopped being finicky about big food that does relate to our health – we rarely question it. It’s very easy to defend convenience over health: We do it because we want to and it’s convenient. We want to think about our health, but it’s inconvenient and the path of least resistance is NOT pointed toward enacting healthy changes.
I lied in that previous paragraph. This past year, no chicken has been tastier or more convenient than the farm fresh chickens I have and watched grow up from week-old chicks in some cases. A five-pound chicken at $3.50 a pound runs me $17.50 and I get dinner, lunch and dinner out of it bringing the meat of the meal to under $6 bucks ( plus parts for chicken stock which can stretch to an untold number of chicken-based soups and sauces). $4 dollars a dozen for farm fresh eggs that lasts me six mornings or more is a pittance. Add to that some sausage I made myself, vegetables from the grocer, boxed pasta from time to time and grocer’s beef and a few meals of pork from a quarter-hog I went in on last year and you’re looking at a year of pretty good food – most of which I know where it came from.
Brined, seasoned and smoked. A wonderful way to enjoy any chicken, especially farm raised chicken. Time consuming? Sort of - there are ways around that thanks to conveniences afforded the modern consumer, not always the modern food producer.
The biggest consumer convenience of all time for food isn’t food itself. It’s that freezer. Think about your freezer and fridge a minute. Mine’s all full of perishables and grocer’s milk, sour cream, cream cheese, perhaps a Twix bar or two and Heath bar, some cheeses and lettuce makes an occasional appearance. You go to a farm that’s always felt horribly out of your way. If you like it, get three or four of their chickens. Why not just one? Because of your freezer! “What,” you say, $70 dollars on chicken?! I give you an unamused look and ask, “are you not worth investing in?” See what happened there? Damn that hypnosis we’re under! We think first about the money/convenience; $70 dollars is roughly the same price as 12 fast food meals of unknown origin which, arguably, includes something tasty and fried or a side of sliced apple. It feels like we’re spending more because we’re shelling it out all at once instead of over 12 fast food visits – the efficiency and convenience of stocking up on farm fresh goods has been somehow disguised as daunting and unpleasant. Bullshit. You have a freezer: Strategize.
Cooking a whole chicken all at once is one of the easiest darn things you can do in the kitchen. Steam some vegetables and rice on the side or serve with bread and a quick water-based sauce and you’re eating pretty. While that chicken cooks, you can watch TV! Your oven does the hard work. Can’t finish what you cooked? Another massive consumer convenience: Ziplock baggies. I’ve had such a good time this past year knowing where my food came from and cooking ONCE to provide for multiple meals.
Fill your spice rack to help cut out salt so you add flavor and herbs instead. Each chicken will stand apart. You’ll still have to work out and rest properly to stay healthy. Cutting myself out of the consumer loop for chicken has been one of the most fascinating accidents in recent memory. I discovered convenience where health is. That goes against everything we’re feeling and believing as consumers today. I don’t know how it’s been done because it’s been years in the making and it’s really slick, but it’s a producer-driven society when it should be a consumer-driven society. We can’t tear it down and start over, but you can question WHY on a personal level and make a small change that suits what’s best for you.
Hmmmm… I’m glad I took one of those hand-raised chickens out of the freezer this morning so I can pop it on the rotisserie tonight – then I can have chicken tacos for lunch tomorrow :)
Aw, man! You’re luring me :) We were just talking about that. BTW, thank you for the list of 31 things you can Freeze – I’ll add it here for people who read this lengthy post and wonder what more they can do to add convenience to health!
LINK: 31 Things you can FREEZE for convenience.
That link directs to OneGoodThing.com
Jan 20, 11:46 AM
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