Thursday, November 1, 2012

Food is Not Free or Easy

This week’s storm and its potential impact on farms and processors along with the already increasing price of beef and predicted price increases for pork (1, 2) remind us that meat “does not grow on trees,” as my mother used to say about anything I was wasting. The production of food takes effort and resources such as fuel, rain, farmers and processors, to name a few. Stresses to the food system can have a major impact on the price and availability of items we take for granted or easily disparage. Although most of us are currently overfed, that could change.

These stresses to the supply system should remind us that food is something for which we must work. Everyone deserves to eat affordably. Modern production methods help keep food affordable, sustainable and accessible. Many others are not so fortunate. For instance, I was told by a poultry consultant in East Asia that some poultry farms in those countries throw the dead birds over the fence. These birds never go to waste, as people come quickly to collect them for consumption. In one African country, where Iowa State is helping develop a pork industry, the country's king reported that the population starts bush fires to burn the bush meat out the wild, to feed their families.

Food security and having a food supply robust enough for all is not just a concern for the “third world.” This week, as folks work to recover from Sandy, they will go to their local grocer. The shelves may be a little bare, but there will still be food, thanks to the system we have built in this country. Some meat producers even stepped up production in anticipation of hurricane Sandy (3). Also, thanks to the efficiency and larger size of the facilities, they weathered the storm well and had minimal if not no damage. Producers are resuming production as usual and are planning to make deliveries to affected areas in the Northeast as soon as logistically possible (4). Too many disparage the modern system, suggesting we should go back to the “good ole days.” In the “good ole days,” a storm like Sandy would likely leave most people in the East Coast hungry for the period immediately following. Recent events emphasize the need to strive for high quality and efficient production, from farm to fork. So for example, the next time you reject a hamburger because it contain low-fat, high-protein beef (AKA “pink slime”), consider how lucky you are to have the luxury to choose.

1 Maday, J. (2012, October 31). “Beef again leads to food-prive inflation.” 2 Waters, T. (2012, October 22). “Record high US pork stocks signal trouble for consumers in 2013.”
3 Gabbett, R.J., (2012, October 29). “Poultry and meat processors batten down for Sandy.”
4 Gabbett, R.J. (2012, October 30). “The day after: processors came through Hurrican Sandy safely.”

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