This is a personal view, not a carefully researched scientific paper so the statistics and facts are probably not 100% accurate. However, it is how I see things and I believe correct in spirit if not detail.
The press are reporting the price of meat will be going up as the farmers are having to pay more for the fodder crops that they feed the animals on that are our meat.
Price of our Food
I’ve said for some time that I believe our food is generally too cheap and because of this we devalue it. There is little financial incentive to grow your own food now, the incentives are in other directions, healthy exercise, pride in achievement, quality and freshness etc. In fact food today is less than half the price relative to hours worked to pay for it than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
Agribusiness Reduces Food Costs?
Back before the rise of agribusiness production, chicken was a luxury food that a family might have once a week if they were lucky. We ate much less meat as a proportion of our diet and this was no bad thing.
Meat production is basically inefficient. Animals eat food, including protein and convert it to protein we eat at a ratio of something like 30:1 Admittedly a lot of what they eat we could not eat so the real figure for efficiency is somewhat higher.
Far worse than the basic inefficiency of meat production is the cruelty that is often part of the production. High density production is part of the effort by farmers to increase that efficiency and thereby reduce the cost of production so we can enjoy our cheap meat and they can make a living.
Become a Vegetarian?
Now I’m not advocating that we all become vegetarians. Firstly, I believe that if you wish to avoid the exploitation of animals in your food production then you should be a vegan. No milk, no eggs and so forth. So if you are unhappy with the morality of meat production at heart, that’s the path you should take.
Secondly we are omnivores. We are designed by evolution to eat some meat and to enjoy the taste of it. It’s a testament to the robustness of our design that we can live as vegans, vegetarians or even near carnivores. Ug the caveman had a pretty varied diet, roots and berries were good. Full of fibre, low in sugar and low in proteins, his diet was supplemented by meat protein and fats.
To make it worthwhile for Ug to go to all the trouble and risk of hunting the taste of meat was wonderful. But all that effort to catch his meat made sure it was a supplement to his diet.
Now Mr Modern can drop into his supermarket or burger bar and get that taste he was programmed to really love without having to spend a couple of days sharpening sticks and rocks an running down a gazelle or rabbit.
So we become fat, suffer increased rates of bowel cancer and other health problems because of our success.
Reacting to Higher Meat Prices
Getting back to the start of this, the increase in the price of meat, my suggestion is that we should review and reduce how much meat we eat. There is a lot of protein to be found in pulses.
We often eat stews in the winter. These are cooked slowly and contain more beans than meat but taste wonderful because the meat flavour dominates. Lasagne and pasta dishes also use low quantities of meat in proportion to the meal. The meat is there but in a small amount.
It’s not necessary to eat meat every day. Vegetarian foods can be really tasty and contain just as much protein as any meat meal. Bean burgers beat beef burgers any day in my opinion in the flavour race.
So, let’s react to an increase in cost by eating a healthier and more creative diet with less meat in it. Better still, let’s pay even more for organic or free-range meats where the quality of life of the animal is better.
I was with you on this one all the way – right up until the last sentence! I’m all for reducing our meat intake, choosing meat that has ensured a less cruel and better quality of life for the animal concerned, and always look out for the free-range or organic meat option – but awareness of these sorts of issues is only just beginning to grab the general public’s attention. The cost in the supermarket of say, free-range chicken is already significantly higher that the mass-produced option – if it were even more expensive, then many people would either a) not be able to afford the free-range option and/or b) decide to opt for the mass-produced chicken (in spite of their objections and concerns about how such meat is produced) as they would not be prepared to pay the higher cost. In short, pushing prices to high for a “premium product” will mean that less consumers buy it, and demand for cheap (albeit inferior quality) meat will increase – which is not something that I for one would like to see.
Hi Nick B – I actually meant let’s pay a little more for quality (organic, free range) meat than cruelly made but use less of it.
I think it’s worth paying more for that benefit. On re-reading my post I see how it could read.
I also should have mentioned that cheaper cuts of meat, well cooked are often better than more expensive cuts. Also offal is very under used nowadays. Liver and onions, mashed potatoes and beans – Brilliant.
I don’t blame the farmers, by the way. They are forced by the power of the market into those ‘efficiencies’ . If the market power was all for free range then they could farm as the majority wish to in their heart and still make a decent living.