Letters

Can we find a happy medium between ConAgra and Auntie Em? Readers respond to Ira Boudway's "Big Agriculture's Big Lie."


Salon Staff
July 20, 2005 11:04PM (UTC)

[Read "Big Agriculture's Big Lie," by Ira Boudway.]

So, small and localized farming won't "significantly" raise consumer prices? Author George Pyle needs to study a little history. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s housing typically took up about 20 to 25 percent of household income, while food could take -- depending on where one resided -- between 30 and 40 percent of household income. And it wasn't just fruits and vegetables. Like all economies of scale there was a ripple effect: More expensive grain meant more expensive meat and poultry. Why do you think the proverbial "steak dinner" was such a big deal on TV shows in the late '40s through the late '60s, and is portrayed as one in modern, period-based films and TV shows?

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I'm 40 years old and come from a working-middle-class family. I remember how much of a luxury it was to have a whole baked chicken once a week. Mr. Pyle is primarily correct in all of his points, but I think he's gilding the lily a bit with regard to the impact on consumers of a turn away from industrialized farming.

Aside from a very dramatic increase in prices at the checkout stand, we would all have to kiss the majority of fast-food and other restaurant chains goodbye (perhaps not such a bad thing). When I was 7 years old, getting a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken was a big deal even for my blue-collar, union-wage grandparents. I can only imagine what it would cost in Mr. Pyle's world, assuming it would exist at all. And with all due respect, his solutions are bunk. There has to be a happy medium between ConAgra and Auntie Em, and we'd better find it soon.

-- Rob Anderson

One alternative to buying local agricultural products worth considering is growing more of your own food -- and I'm not just talking about a tomato plant in a pot on the patio.

Granted, it's not practical in urban areas, but raising a half-dozen chickens in the backyard for organic, cage-free eggs is a lot less difficult and takes a lot less space than people realize. Many people enthusiastically plant and tend a little 8-by-10-foot garden in the backyard but never even consider that they could get all the eggs they'd ever need or want in the same amount of space, deriving more nutritional value from eggs than they'd ever get from a few herbs and a hill of summer squash.

Plus, once you've had fresh, you'll never go back to old, bland factory-farm eggs!

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-- Todd Quinn

I don't understand how removing "subsidies" and attempts to limit production will raise prices. Removing subsidies and controls were at the heart of the Freedom to Farm Act, which had the announced intent of raising production, which it did, and crashing commodity prices, which it also did. The Republicans at first loved it, then blamed it on Bill Clinton and scrapped it, and now talk of bringing it back.

I don't see how third-world countries can expect to sell their agricultural products at high prices in a free market, and then convert their income to purchases of cheaply priced foods in the same markets. The only example that fits that scheme would seem to be Afghanistan, which has a booming cash crop of opium poppies. Are those profits being used to provide ample foodstuffs for the Afghan people?

And as for buying locally grown produce, good enough idea, when it's in season. But people are not going to can large amounts of fresh produce for use the rest of the year. And there are not going to be numerous small, local canneries that will do custom canning for homeowners. This won't happen any more than farmers returning to one-bottom plows pulled by teams of mules.

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-- Jim Nash

It's always bemused me that those Americans who are the first to cry "socialized medicine!" are also the people who most support the current practice of subsidizing farms -- socialized agriculture.

The pity of it is the way it distorts and disrupts the efforts of other farmers elsewhere in the world to create a good life for themselves from their own labor.

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-- Felicity Carter


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