The cost of food has been steadily rising in the last few years and it doesn’t look like that is going to change anytime soon. There is unfortunately no politician or simple legislation to bring the cost of all food down to where it was. This is a cumulative result of one thing after another increasing the cost of growing food, transporting food, labor and inconsistent supply and demand. War, labor cost rises, supply chain issues and the steadfast increase of natural disasters will prevent that trip to the grocery store from getting any cheaper for quite a long time, if ever. This however, is specifically a story about beef.
“Let them eat cake” is credited to Marie-Antoinette who supposedly offered this as her reply to complaints that peasants couldn’t afford bread. The true reason French peasants were starving is because they were forced to mill their flour and bake their bread in their Lord’s mills and ovens, at a very high cost. The suggestion to eat cake instead has become a reference to any wealthy leader entirely out of touch with the reality of their own people. This is not exactly our current situation, although there are a few corporations that are under the this delusion or simply don’t care.
There are over *700,000 cattle ranches and around 94 million cows in the United States. (*statista) With that many ranches you might think meat would be competitively priced. Despite the extremely high demand for meat in this county and the increased cost of labor for processing there is one hiccup in this giddy, there are only four major meat processing companies (two are Brazilian owned) which represent 85% of all processing (USDA 2019). Ranchers raise cows, processors make the steaks and burger that you buy at the store or order at your favorite diner. These processor are who you are buying from when you make a beef purchase. This monopoly is one of the few interventions that could be dealt with legislatively. Despite continued political division not seen since before the Civil War, there is more unity on wanting something done about this issue than you might realize. It isn’t just the consumer having to pay over 20% more for beef in the last year, ranchers are seeing such decreased prices many have been forced to sell. Many of which ran generationally owned farms. The packers however have continued to see major increases in their profits. Enforcing anti-trust laws would reduce this monopoly.
Combining this issue with the increase in inhumane CAFO’s, unfair plant labor practices and concerns about what animals are fed has been a major motivator for many to give up meat altogether.
There is however another option, The Consciences Omnivore Option.
We can both reduce our meat consumption (which does have health benefits) and when possible, get our meat locally, directly from the rancher. Many local farmers sell their meat at farmers markets and many others allow for direct sales beyond the market. Some offer grass fed beef, free range and even organic meat and some will allow you to visit their farms.
Although more local farms are becoming parts of larger corporations and determining if that is the case can take a little bit of research, there are still plenty truly locally owned small farms that could thrive with local support, provide a more humane source of protein and reduce negative effects on the ecosystem.
Audrey L Elder