Thursday, 23 December 2021

The true cost of your Christmas turkey and other meat

There's a discussion on a Facebook group I am a member of about how the cost of meat this year seems to be higher than ever. Various options have been given as to where you can buy the cheapest turkey or other meats. One person said they saw a bird (she wasn't sure what) on sale for 61€ whilst another lady said she was really pleased to have bought a supermarket turkey for 18€.


The fact is, over several decades now, we have been conditioned into thinking that meat is not especially expensive when the true cost, on all levels, is actually much higher. The 61€ bird is more than likely the correct price where the bird will have had free range (not crammed in an over-crowded barn) whilst not being pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics etc in life and once dead will  not have been injected with water to plump up its size and where everyone involved in its life, slaughter and processing will have been paid a decent wage. To produce a turkey (of any size) at just 18€ means some serious corners will have been cut. How many thousands of birds will have been stuffed into a small area, how many underpaid worker, will have toiled over their short lives earning only just enough money that they themselves can only afford to buy factory farmed meat? And what is the environmental impact of the large amounts of manure produced by such a concentration of birds in one place?
 
 
Intensive chicken farming, Finland
Image credit - Oikeutta eläimille on Flickr

 
The intensive factory farming of animals, which reduces them to purely a mass of financial units, is the only way you can get an 18€ turkey or a £2 chicken or how ever little you pay for a cheap burger or sausage.  Yet I believe many people don't chose to ignore these facts, they simply are unaware of how their meat is produced and this fact makes me both sad and angry. How can people have no idea of what type of life the animals lead in order to put cheap meat on their plates?  Someone elsewhere on Facebook got really huffy with me recently when I showed a picture of mass cattle pens and told me they couldn't possibly be raised like that and it must have been an auction site. I told this person to look up how cattle are raised in places like the Americas but I have no idea if they went and looked. It is just so wrong that we live in a world where factory farming is allowed and people are not taught about it at all. It's all pictures of straw chewing farmers and rural idylls on the packaging which could not be further from the truth.

I didn't reply to the lady who bought the cheap turkey, although I did have to sit very hard on my hands not to.  Part of me thought I should help people realise the true cost of producing (decent) meat and what happens when we demand cheap meat but part of me said let it go, it's Christmas and who knows what other stuff the person buying the 18€ turkey has going in in their life at the moment. I am also painfully aware that if only free range meat with high welfare standards were sold it would be at a price that many people could not afford. No doubt those who are vegetarian or vegan feel this is what should happen so that we are priced out of eating meat but I am looking at the here and now with families trying to feed themselves as food prices rise and we are not going to see a mass shift away from eating meat in the immediate future.

This blog is not about whether we should or should not eat meat I do not want it turning into a be vegan battle cry so I will not publish any comments of that nature. Maybe in the future we will live in a world where we don't eat meat and food poverty will only known about through history lessons but in the meantime many people do eat meat and many are pleased to be able to buy it as cheaply as possible without a second thought for the welfare of the animal or the livelihoods of those who work in the meat industry. How do you make people see the true picture and when you do, how do you make then care when all they want is to eat a fast food burger, a turkey at Christmas or a bacon sandwich?

I did reply to the lady who thought a 61€ bird was too expensive saying that it probably represented a realistic price but neither she, nor anyone else, replied. Do you think I should have said something to the lady who was so pleased to have bought the cheap turkey? What would you have done? 
 


10 comments :

  1. Well written Rosie. I certainly belive it suits that mass farming model that so many people of unaware how it works.

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    1. Thank you Geoff - way to many people are totally unaware of the true costs of producing their food.

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  2. Aren't growth hormones and antibiotics illegal in the EU's food chain, unless the animal has become unwell?

    I think the main issue with the price of food is that wages have stagnated for decades, but all other expenses are forever getting bigger, accept food. Food is pretty much the only place we can often save money, but that does come at a cost of the welfare of the animals unfortunately. Maybe if wages kept in pace with inflation, this would be less of an issue

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    1. It is true that the EU has strict regulations on hormone use etc but this is not true in other countries.

      Wage stagnation has not led to intensive farming but this type of farming is one factor in keeping wages low. Intensive farming, along with deforestation, over use of ground water, pesticide use etc have all been brought about by large companies wanting to increase their profit margins whilst using clever marketing techniques to get the public to buy into their cheap products. There are plenty of people who could afford to buy better quality meat but pick a fast food burger or cheap piece of meat to save money. Once people see the price that meat should be they consider that to be way too expensive.

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  3. I think one may buy what they can afford or like. The reason some can be veggies or vegan may vary. In the end, we have to take account of our carbon footprint daily or monthly as a whole.

    You did the right thing, Rosie.

    Happy Holidays.

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    1. I agree people should be free to buy what they like (affording is a different matter and one that further complicates this issue) but I also strongly believe that people should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase after which time they can choose to buy or not. It's how and when to make those facts available to them that I find difficult when I don't know what they are living through and I don't want to come across all self-righteous or preachy. I know I am amazingly privileged and can afford to make more expensive choices but I also know I actively search out as much information as I can about what I buy.

      Bonnes fêtes (as we say in France) to you to and all the best for 2022.

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  4. Very informative post Rosie! I believe that a lot of people don’t know what really happens behind closed doors of farming and want to close an eye on it for different reason, also as you said, it depends on what you can afford or not food wise. Thank you for sharing and hope you have great holidays!

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  5. It kind of makes me feel a bit better that I chose a more expensive free range turkey for Christmas. I'd have liked to have spent less money, but it's only once a year and I save up weekly with my local butcher.

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  6. I'm glad we never got into the habit of eating turkey. For years I used to make a selection of Christmas pizzas in different doughs covered in all kinds of vegetables and herbs and cheeses. We liked this very much. Then one of our sons in law took up cooking, he does eat some meat and at Christmas he buys free range from an independent old fashioned butcher round the corner, so feels that he is both supporting a nice local business and not eating factory farmed food.

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    1. This is spot on - living sustainably is rarely as clear cut as just going vegan or not driving. All these will have knock on effects that must be taken into account such as employment, countryside management etc. And not doing what society says we should do (just because it is Christmas for example) is a great starting place for living more sustainably.

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