Economies of Scale

Oooh, big scary E.coli is back on the radio again. Every half hour farmers and grocers are quaking in their shoes as Peter Mansbridge wannabes dramatically interview food inspectors, feed lot owners, or one of those people we pay a lot of money to sit in Parliament and make sure things are right with the world.

Blame is being tossed around on the news like a hand grenade with a broken pin. Blame the inspectors, blame the government, blame the big box stores, blame the workers at XL Foods. But hang on just a second. There’s one player in this puzzle that I haven’t heard blamed. Why aren’t we blaming the consumers?

We believe we are so entitled. We deserve 80″ flat screens and $15 sweaters and 10 pounds of chicken for less than the price of a Starbucks. Bigger is better is cheaper is better. But is it really?

We are willing to buy fish that has traveled half way around the planet if we can get it for less than something fresh off the boat at the wharf. We have no qualms about subjecting 6 year-old children to slave conditions, abuse, and ridiculously small wages as long as it means we can afford a fashionable pair of shoes. We will buy 10 pounds of beef for less than it costs to produce it, even if it means eating an animal that stood in shit for the duration of its miserable existence, crammed into a space too packed to move, and forced to eat everything from corn (that it was never designed to digest), to other cattle, and a battalion of antibiotics designed to neutralize the bacteria-laden environment where it eats, sleeps and breathes. Sure, that is cheap meat, but why are we surprised when it suddenly makes us sick? You’d be sick if you stood in that environment too, let alone eating something that lived in it!

Factories that produce meat don’t deal in individuals. They grind up animals and mix them together. Time is money, and workers are certainly not paid to notice or acknowledge problems. Animals go in, meat goes out. Humans are part of the machine, and sometimes, oops… so is E.coli.

This is the price we pay. We are willing to destroy the environment, to abuse animals, and to take health risks just to save a few dollars. Most people, when accused of such a thing, would either outright deny the damage, laugh it off, or insist that they can’t afford to do the right thing.

But can you afford not to?

Ask any 3-year old what cows eat. You’ll hear the tale of a contented animal munching on lush, green grass and spending it’s days in field and pastures. Unfortunately that is now what we call “alternative farming”. It grows beeves too slowly to remain the norm.

I predict that in 20 years we will face one of two potential fates and those fates will be entirely dependent upon our spending habits.

If we continue to buy cheap products that use unimaginable amounts of fuel to get from point A to point B, we will, quite simply, become extinct. We will shop ourselves into oblivion and die happily sprawled on our giant-sized recliners in front of our giant-screen TVs with a giant Coke and a giant MacBurger on our laps while bacteria eat our guts and global warming cooks us alive.

But there’s also option B. We can start buying everything locally, supporting small farmers, artisans, craftspeople, buying objects that can actually be fixed when they break, and giving gifts that support a sustainable economy instead of supporting the slave trades in foreign countries or the chemically-enhanced food processes of our own. If we take option B there just might be hope, but more than ever we need to think locally… the global part will naturally follow.

Do yourself a favour. Go to your local farmer’s market or butcher shop and buy something from the person who knows where your meat spends its days. Go to a craft store and purchase a sweater that was knit with fingers instead of machines. And next time you’re in the supermarket, if the label says that an item was made or grown in any place more than 100 miles away, put it back and take the time to find a closer alternative.

Even if locally produced goods look like they cost more, the real cost of not making that choice could be everything. Just ask the Canadians currently battling with E.coli. There’s a good reason that some places sell toilet tissue in bulk just a few aisles down from their meat.

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