It was a seemingly ordinary posting on a raw milk listserve I subscribe to in Massachusetts (sponsored by a raw milk dairy, Oake_Knoll_Ayrshires, at Yahoo Groups). On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a farmer offered “Certified organic fresh duckling available first come first serve basis.”
They sounded wonderful: “Locally raised, free-range ducklings from a certified organic poultry … These ducklings are Muscovy, known for having less fat than the traditional Peking duck.” Small ducklings about four pounds, and large one about ten pounds. Cost: $7 a pound, or from $30 to $70 a duck.
If we hadn’t already committed to a turkey at Whole Foods for Thanksgiving, I would have seriously considered one of these ducks.
Yet the first comment on the listserve in response to the posting stated, “I was almost tripping over myself to get out the door to camp out in order to make sure I got one of these. Until I saw the price. Ouch. I just paid $2.25 a pound for turkey. Happy backyard-raised turkey (but not organic, much less certified). As much as my husband and I
adore eating duck (and you better bet we do) I can’t buy one…Seven bucks a pound. Yowza…”
That price concern sparked a major discussion about the role of price in food from sustainable farms. Among the comments:
“Organic feed costs more than double, and I’m finding triple these days, the cost of conventional feed. So I don’t wonder at how you were able to find conventionally fed turkeys at that price.”
"I think presenting the organic movement and the choice of high quality foods as some expensive, elitist endeavor is very wrong. Even when I earned minimum wage, I made buying top quality food a priority because nutritious food gives me the most pleasure in life. I know people on food stamps that think nothing of a $100+ monthly cable bill or paying for cell phones. A coworker thinks my shopping at Whole Foods or the Health Food market in Quincy is too expensive
for her or normal people (not fanatic about nutrition or environment) to consider. Yet I didn’t deride her for saving up to buy a flat-screen plasma TV & HD upgrades, even though she admits there’s barely anything worth watching on TV these days. I gladly give up buying new stuff to pay a bit extra for toxin & genetic-engineering free food, especially if it means the farmer makes more from the transaction.”
“I know that organic and locally grown food is often more expensive than we would like. But the quality and flavor are worth it to me. It is a quality-of-life issue. So I spend $8.50 per gallon for raw milk (much more when you figure in the travel cost). People (myself included) spend that much or sometimes more for a bottle of wine. And for what? Not nutrition! So it’s about priorities.”
“Consider what people pay DAILY at places such as Dunkin Donuts, etc. — makes all the organic/raw food seem like quite the bargain!!”
“I find that it often doesn’t matter what your financial status is when it comes to making healthy food decisions. We have friends who have a SIGNIFICANTLY higher household income than ours, and have all of the material trappings that come with that, but eat horrible, poisonous, processed food and think nothing of it. To them, being healthy is choosing artificial sweeteners over sugar. Their children are always battling ear infections, etc. It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you don’t have your health, and that is why we spend our income on food and alternative healing practices not covered by health insurance. I think that people are so afraid to change because it means admitting they’ve been doing wrong by themselves and their children, or going out of the familiar and changing lifestyles. Like my grandmothers ganging up on me because I don’t feed my children crap like they used give me whenever I visited them as a child. Their reasoning being ‘you ate it, and you turned out fine!’ They don’t realize that I have spent the last 10 years ‘cleaning house’ in my body.”
“I introduced my elderly in-laws to raw milk, and despite having grown up on summers spent at family farms, they still will not even try it, claiming that they can’t trust it!!!! And this, even after reading the multitude of information out there on the negatives of pasteurizing and homogenizing, and its harmful long-term effects!”
It is encouraging to see people come to the defense of the duck farmer. We’ve been so conditioned as a society to see cheap food as a major benefit of our factory system that it can be difficult to accept the reality that food from sustainable farms must cost more because more labor and higher-quality feed/pasture is required to produce food that is more nutritious and safer than the factory food.
The process of coming to that mindstate often includes a personal journey that involves some illness along the way. But it is also a function of marketing. The agribusinesses, with heavy government backing, have marketed cheap food as desirable. But there are all kinds of examples of very successful premium products–cars, watches, furniture…and foods. The duck farmer is on the right path: emphasize benefits and differentiate your product from the mass-produced stuff. As several individuals point out following my previous post, the regulators eventually respond to consumer pressure as well.