Yes, You Are Worth More Than Junk Food


salmon nicoise
Salmon nicoise salad from the wood-fired oven.

Yes, I really do get that question, “Do you eat this way all the time?”  Often it comes during one of our farm-to-table dinners or when we’re finally sitting down to a late staff lunch.  The answer is a resounding YES.  We eat what we grow or what we source through our network of local producers.  We eat seasonally and fresh.  We make each meal entirely from scratch.  And that’s while maintaining a 12 to 18-hour work day. 

I’m astonished by how many people I meet who say they cannot afford to eat healthy and local.  The rebuttal of eating wholesome comes automatically, as if it has been empirically proven and is therefore irrefutable.  Well, I’m sorry, but it is just a myth.  It’s not true at either the personal or the big picture level.  Let’s peel that onion together for a moment.

First, eating healthy is not more expensive than eating (falsely) cheap prepared foods.  For instance, Steve used to be able to take home a rotisserie chicken from the store and consume the whole thing for dinner.  Jane (one of our CSA members) on the other hand bought one of our homegrown frozen chickens, paid at least seven times the store-bought price and had this type of yield for two people:

“This ONE chicken from Farmstead Creamery has been turned into:

1. Roast Chicken, Cauliflower, Spinach
2. Chicken Apple Brie Sandwiches
3. A big pot of Chicken Vegetable Soup
4. Two Chicken Mushroom Pesto Pizzas
5. Two cups of Chicken Salad
6. A crockpot full of Chicken Stock (which will net about 12 cups of broth)
7. And there is still 5 more slices of breast meat in the fridge for more sandwiches

Tom and I will have at least 10 meals or so from this ONE chicken… plus, the stock will be frozen and eventually turned into 3 more pots of soup. Fresh, organic, delicious, nutritious, safe and unbelievably economical.”  ~Jane Precht, Facebook post

So, who got the better deal on the chicken?  What makes this difference?  Chickens raised on pasture with a diverse diet yield meat that is much more nutrient dense than a factory-raised chicken (which can be upwards of 35% water when purchased in the grocery store).  In essence, Steve had to eat more chicken per meal because his body knew there was less usable fuel for him than the homegrown chicken Jane and Tom enjoyed.

Because I have the ability to raise my birds longer instead of being motivated to have a high turnover rate in the flock, I can let the birds grow larger and more muscled.  I can also raise breeds with greater flavor and robustness that would never tolerate being locked up in a poultry barn.  My birds were able to be real chickens, and that shows up on the plate, every time.

Now let’s start to look at the bigger picture.  Here’s my message to you:  YOU ARE WORTH MORE THAN JUNK FOOD. 

We have this cultural notion that we should stretch our food dollar.  Folks are even proud of it!  But if you really internalize how much what we eat affects our health, then the food dollar is the last thing you would want to stretch in the family budget.  Genetics have been shown to play about 3% in our life and health span, whereas lifestyle choices (especially eating choices) make up the rest.  What we eat affects our life now and in the future.  There is no way to escape that.

Cheap food suddenly doesn’t look cheap when you consider the health crisis that will follow, whether this is with diabetes or heart disease or obesity or cancer and so on.  No one wants to contract any of these diseases.  They create misery in our lives and the related expenses (both to the individual and the health care system at large) are astronomical.  Put this way, it does not make sense to stretch the food dollar only to lose a life’s savings in medical bills.

Now let’s step back a little further.  This time we’ll use eggs as an example.  Almost everyone can tell the difference between a real, small-farm-raised egg and a battery-cage factory farm egg.  With the former, the yolk is golden-orange and stands right up in the pan.  With the latter, the pale kind-of-yellow yolk sags listlessly.  There is also a distinctive difference in flavor.  So why do folks still buy the 99-cent eggs from imprisoned hens?  “It’s a better deal.”  A better deal…really?  Let’s unpack that a little.

The gastly mistreatment of the birds in factory farming situations should be enough to convince any of us that these institutions deserve none of our hard-earned money.  But even if you haven’t drawn the line there, think about the people—the people who own and work those chicken barns.

Poultry CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) were touted as a way to save the family farm.  “Can’t make a living milking 40 cows anymore?  Put one of these in, and you’ll have a certain revenue stream.”  That was the pitch that the big egg conglomerates made, and the numbers looked good.  Many farmers were convinced because they were desperate to find a way to keep their family farm in the “get big or get out” push that was happening across the nation.

These farmers were so convinced that they went into debt to build these poultry barns on their farms.  But then the dire underbelly of the situation came into play.  They had to buy the chicks from the egg corporation, as well as the feed, and then sell the eggs back to the corporation.  All the pricing was controlled by the corporation, not the farmer.  Have you ever heard the song “St. Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store”?  That’s what happened to these farmers.

And many of them have since lost their farms as they were squeezed out.  THAT is how 99-cent eggs happen.  It is not actually possible for a farm to raise a dozen eggs for 99 cents, especially since hardly any of which comes back to the producer.  That price is false.  It’s not from efficiency or scale, from streamlining or cost-sharing.  It comes from squeezing out the farmers.  In Wisconsin alone, we lost over 600 farms in 2018.  And as family farmers lose their land, their suicide rates skyrocket.  So, what do those 99-cent eggs really cost?  Are they worth all the misery, anguish, even death?

So I challenge you to really take a look at the social opinion of whether you or I can afford to eat healthy and local.  It might not be an easy thing to do, but you are worth it.  We each vote with our fork for the future we wish to see.  I’m committed to keeping healthy, local choices alive for that future.  And yes, I really do eat this way all the time.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura and chicken
Laura with a chicken

Laura Berlage

Laura writes our weekly “Down on the Farm” column (launched in 2012), which is featured in several local newspapers. They not only share stories from the farm but also invite you to think about the impact of our daily choices.