The Sustainable Food Movement: Where’s Our Focus?

“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” – Mother Teresa

We can learn a lot from that quote. In the sustainable food movement there is an inherent responsibility to protect the environment, soil, animal wellbeing, farm workers’ rights, and our local economies. How we work towards a more sustainable food system can take many different roads. One question to consider is “where do we want to focus our time, work, and energy to reach our organizational, community and societal food sustainability goals?”

Do we want to focus more of our time and energy fighting for something or fighting against something? Are we spending more time fighting for food security or fighting against food insecurity? Are we spending more time promoting and celebrating organic and sustainable farms, ranchers, and artisans or fighting against conventional, chemical-heavy industrial “food” operations? Are we spending more time sharing information about regenerative agriculture or fighting against companies that are depleting our soil and damaging our environment? Are we spending more time pointing out why CAFOs are terrible or more time promoting the benefits of holistic management?

There is indeed a balance to these dualistic focuses. We absolutely must tell those that are doing wrong how to change directions for the greater good. We also must let them know how to do it the right way.

Informing the public about the full truth of our food systems (the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly) is essential. Then, once we know the problem or challenge, the question is do we focus more of our time on the problem side or more on the solution side of the issue? Ensuring that these two yin and yang energies are balanced will help us be successful in our vision for a more sustainable food system.

How much time do we, as a collective, spend fighting against what we don’t like or want (e.g. Monsanto, bad ag policies, etc.) compared to how much energy is spent on promoting GMO-free food and all that is right with organic and sustainable agriculture? Are we spending too much time fighting against and not enough time fighting for?

We can to remind our friends and supporters of the solutions as well as the powerful organizations and farmers that are working for sustainable food, just as much, if not more, than we remind them of the corporations and politicians that are causing the problems. If we point out something that is wrong, then we can also give our readers some inspiration to help solve the problem as well as some steps they can take to support the sustainable food movement.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“An Egg is an Egg” – Are We Comparing the Right Things?

“As far as I’m concerned, an egg is an egg,” a general store clerk once said to my friend as she was buying a dozen organic farm-fresh eggs. “I don’t know why you buy those, they are more expensive.” My friend, of course, bought them anyways and reminded the clerk that if she and others opt to spend more money for farm-fresh eggs there might be something to it. Comparing an organic/pasture-raised/farm-fresh egg to an industrial operation-produced egg is easy to do on the surface when comparing price, but doesn’t make much sense when the whole picture is developed.

“They are fresher, better quality, and have better looking yolks,” explained one of my coworkers as the reason she prefers farm fresh eggs over industrial produced eggs. When have you ever heard someone compare a Pinto with a Mustang? Probably never. The difference in quality is too great. Comparing an inferior car to a superb machine that people admire doesn’t make much sense and is more likely to be discussed as a joke than a real meaningful debate.

Buying the farm-fresh/pasture egg is just as much about what you are buying as much as what you are avoiding. To explain this, here are my definitions of both types of egg options: 
Farm-fresh/pasture-raised eggs
(this is my definition, see this article for some nitty gritty labeling and terminology): Come from chickens that have access to roam and hunt for bugs and eat what they find on the ground, are fed organic or similar feed, live a happy life (get to be a chicken), produce deep golden yolked eggs. These eggs contain vitamin D and are just a few days old when they are sold.
Industrial operation-produced egg (again, my definition): Eggs where we really don’t know what the chicken was fed (you are what you eat ate), we don’t know if it even got to go outside, it probably lives in a cage or super crowded facility and cannot really be a “chicken,” unknown level of chemicals that are used in the feed, the egg is aged considerably, in most cases it is weeks old.

I asked one of the egg farmers at our local farmers market about the main difference between the eggs they sell and industrial eggs. One of the main differences she cited was that industrial eggs are going to be older. Many industrial operations wash their eggs before shipping. When they do this they are washing off the bloom which is the protective coating that keeps the insides of the egg clean and undisturbed. The bloom stops bacteria from entering the egg’s pores. It also keeps the moisture in. Washing the bloom off opens the door for the egg to age faster and decreases its freshness. If that’s not enough, the industrial eggs will be older just for the simple fact that they are probably trucked in from out of state and have been sitting in a refrigerated environment for days or weeks longer than the farm-fresh egg.

Will the farm-fresh/pasture raised eggs have a higher price at the market? Sure, but a Mustang will also be more expensive than a Pinto. Even with the higher investment cost, high quality eggs are still an affordable source of protein and nutrition. Even at $4.50 a dozen, you are only paying 38 cents an egg. Assuming you eat two eggs with a breakfast meal, your protein from a pasture-raised chicken eggs comes in at under $1 per meal.

An egg is an egg? Well, an industrial egg is and industrial egg and a farm-fresh egg is a farm-fresh egg. But talking about the two as comparable options is not even close to being accurate. Comparing an egg scramble chock full of farm-fresh, pasture-raised eggs to a holistically managed grass-finished beef burger would be a juicier discussion.

References/Acknowledgements/Helpful Sites I Came Across and related sites readers might also find useful: