As I write this, almost a half a billion eggs are being recalled in the U.S. due to salmonella contamination. At times like these, I’m glad we get most of our food from homegrown or local sources.
For some time now we have been buying locally grown eggs. And since early this year, we have partnered with a local family (the Cannons) and joined a CSA that provides us with free range chickens and eggs each month. And though the chickens and eggs are more expensive than those from a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), the improvement in taste is like the difference between night and day. Plus we also have the satisfaction of supporting a local grower – a real family with names and faces. While on the surface this may seem like a new idea, it’s really more of a return to the way things used to be.
It’s only been within my lifetime that food, at least in the U.S., has become a mass-produced commodity. In my parents’ generation that wasn’t the case. Even in the 1950’s, when I was young, we had not one but TWO local markets in our little neighborhood. At one, they sold a variety of meats, and Mr Campbell (or his father) would grind fresh ground beef for you while you waited. I’m not exactly sure where his cuts of beef came from, but I am guessing it wasn’t a huge feedlot in Iowa or Texas.
I also remember Mrs Smith who came in “from the country” to sell meat and vegetables, and we always looked forward to fresh pork from them whenever they slaughtered a hog. And no, I didn’t grow up in Mayberry! I’m talking about a city of around 100,000 people in Southern Indiana.
Of course, the arrival of supermarkets, and later super-everything stores, changed all that. I can recall shopping at the A&P supermarket when I was young, before they put little neighborhood markets like the Campbell’s out of business. The food at the A&P was cheaper, there was more variety, and the ground beef was already ground up for you – no waiting! Forget about the taste, it was more convenient to shop there, and cheaper.
So here we are now in 2010, when Wal-mart is the country’s biggest retail grocer, and the latest food recall involves eggs – half a BILLION of them and counting. I do realize that even our local eggs can be infected with the salmonella bacteria. The likelihood of that is rather small, though, and with proper cooking and handling of ALL eggs it really becomes a moot point. I do know the Cannon’s chickens have a good life, because I’ve seen the farm with my own two eyes. And the great taste of their products reflects the care that is given to their whole operation.
I’m not sure what needs to be done to fix our food supply system in America. I do know that what we have now isn’t sustainable, or desirable. We’ve got massive factory farms, and monocultures of genetically similar, and oftentimes genetically modified crops (corn, wheat, soybeans) that are fertilized and maintained with ancient fossil fuels. It’s gotten us cheap food for the time being, but at what real price?
I’d love to have a few chickens myself, but my wife wisely reckons we have enough on our plate as it is. Still, I have heard of folks who get into a poultry-sharing arrangement with their neighbors. John, Donna, Barbara and Ken – if you’re reading this – can you see yourself chicken-sitting? Can’t you just hear the cluck-cluck of your own “happy hens” as they scratch and socialize???
Oh well. I suspect I am going to be out-voted on this one!