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Dec 31, 2008 10:45 AM

what price local? (moved from Ontario board)

had a discussion recently with friends about buying "local foods". one friend claimed that he only bought meat from small local farms and he was willing to pay more money to get the "local" meat. i typically like to get steaks from Cumbrae; but, he even thinks that Cumbrae is too commercial. i've tried some of his steaks and they just don't have the same flavour. he says we just have to change our tastes in meat from the marbley, fatty meats to leaner "natural" meats. i tried to explain to him that humans have been trying to fatten up their livestock for millenia.

i question to you guys, are u willing to change/give up certain tastes and pay a premium for "local" foods?

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  1. not to the extent of some of the pricing i have seen. i was in a new organic meat shop last week and i priced out a small roasting chicken at $24. sorry but that is too much for local and organic for me. can we put a price on what we are putting in our bodies? but really...$24 for a small roaster that would go for about $7 at the local megastore.

    27 Replies
    1. re: robgm

      When you find out that the $7 chicken was produced by a company proudly boasting that it "processes" 400,000 chickens PER DAY, you might feel a bit differently about paying the price for the naturally raised/local chicken. And it's not only about what we're putting in our bodies and the provenance of the bird; it's also about flavour. Local, naturally raised chickens simply taste better or, more aptly put, have the flavour that's lacking in conventionally raised factory farm birds.

      As for grass-fed beef having less marbling than grain-fed/corn-raised/corn-finished beef, this is true. But I've had wonderful grass-only (no grains/corn/corn finishing at all) beef that was phenomenal; you've also got to know how to cook it (never past medium rare for a grilling/roasting cut).

      As for "humans trying to fatten up their livestock for millenia," this is absolutely false. Livestock have traditionally been pature-raised; it's only in the past few decades that corn has become the feed of choice for cattle, the main reason being its historical low cost and the fact that it speeds up the fattening up of the animal so it can get to market quicker. But feeding cattle a corn diet also ensures that these cattle will be fed an accompanying diet of antibiotics because cows cannot properly digest corn and its consumption leads to all sorts of physical distress for the cattle.

      By the way, I usually buy my whole chickens at The Healthy Butcher or Whole Foods and I've never spent more than $17 or so.

      1. re: Tatai

        Sorry, but you can't convince me to pay nearly quadruple the price for a chicken because it lived a better life before it was killed!

        1. re: Rick

          I'm not trying to convince you of anything, but I do know that factory farms inherently breed disease because of moist, excrement-laden, crowded conditions that necessitate a steady diet of antibiotics. If you're fine with this, and are happy eating chicken like chicken never used to taste, that's your prerogative. I'm all for eating locally and sustainably and, while I do proselytize about this to a certain degree, I believe that it's ultimately up to people to make informed decisions based on their own beliefs and lifestyles.

          When I cook chicken, I like to know how it was raised and what it was fed (or not fed). The cooked results provide me with flavourful chicken that tastes like chicken used to taste.

          1. re: Tatai

            You are entitled to your "beliefs" but the facts on which you make your "informed decisions" should be kept up to date.
            Since the FDA banned the antibiotic Baytril in 2005, none of the commercial chicken producers is using antibiotics.

            The taste of chicken, or as you call it "the way chicken used to taste," often has more to do with the breed of chicken and the age at which the chicken is killed than any other factor - save of course the skill of the cook.

            1. re: MakingSense


              Please be aware that discussion boards are international and the situation where you are may not be the situation where I am or where Tatai might be.

              I assume , by your reference to the FDA, that you are in the US. Whilst I have no detailed knowledge of the situation about the regular use of antibiotics in your country's factory farming industry, there seems to be a lot of internet references, from 2008, to a company called Tyson Foods and its regular use of antibiotics with the chickens and eggs they produce.

              Some years ago, I made the choice not to buy factory produced chicken or eggs. Apart from the ethical/welfare issues (I do donate to Compassion in World Farming -, I find that free-range or organic chickens taste better and, yes, it is also to do with the fact that those producers use different breeds and slaughter them older than the factory produced stuff.

              1. re: Harters

                US consumers trust information that they receive from this board and should get ACCURATE information from it.
                Even though there are many international participants, Chowhound is US-based and the majority of its participants are in the US. I think most of us make the assumption that the info is related to US laws unless otherwise stated.
                The posting I responded to gave the erroneous impression that antibiotics are used in chicken production in the US. This is misleading since the poster was not clear about WHICH country s/he was talking about. Perhaps his/her country does allow the use of antibiotics and hormones - BOTH of which are illegal in the US.

                Some people use pejorative terminology and descriptions for both commercial poultry production and the chickens commonly available to the majority of consumers.
                The use of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tactic of rhetoric used to influence public perception by disseminating negative information designed to undermine the credibility of their beliefs.
                There is no reason for US consumers to believe that ordinary chicken in US markets is unhealthy, laced with antibiotics or hormones, or should be unsatisfactory.

                Those who make other choices and can afford to do so, are free to do it, but they should give accurate, timely, and relevant facts.
                If they are giving facts for a country other than the US, it is helpful to state that so that we poor Yanks aren't confused.
                It's hard enough to keep our arcane regulations straight.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  Thank you for your reply.

                  Just to be clear for you, I'm British and live in the UK. I normally steer clear of clearly American threads for the reasons you mention where my European outlook and experience will probably be neither helpful, welcome or relevent. However, this seemed a more general threwad to which I felt I could usefully contribute without having to disclose my nationality (something which I have absolutely no intention of generally doing, not least because I would find it offensive to be treated as a second class citizen). For info, my real name, location and email appear in my profile for anyone to see if they are interested. However, if ever the board want to decide it no longer welcomes foreigners here, then I'm gone in shot.

                  1. re: Harters

                    Thanks for your response, Harters. I am Canadian, from Toronto, the board on which this thread originated. I am not familiar with FDA rules, either, but would be pleased to know whether all antibiotics have been banned in the U.S., or just Baytril.

                    Here in Canada, antibiotics for poultry are still in use.

                    1. re: Tatai

                      Antibiotics and hormones are banned, Tatai. They can't be used in poultry production in the US. Hormones are also banned in the EU but I'm not sure about antibiotics. I imagine that they are. I'm surprised to hear that they can be used in Canada.
                      Some producers label their chickens "hormone-free" which is silly and misleading because it makes consumers think that other chickens MIGHT have hormones which they don't. They might as well label them "rat-poison-free."
                      There is a current controversy in the US with Tyson's which tried to skirt the rules by using another type of hormone in the eggs for their chickens before they hatched. The FDA jumped all over them and they're battling it out. The FDA either won that one or will win it.
                      Fortunately, the FDA is pretty good about enforcement once there are rules in place. Sometimes getting the rules in place is the hard part.

                    2. re: Harters

                      Unfortunately, Harters, many CH readers aren't going to check your profile and they'll assume that your information or that of other international posters is valid for the US as well.
                      As you know, the rules are often quite different and we tend to be a bit insular in the US. It's a good thing for us to know that what we take for granted ain't necessarily so outside of our boundaries and that there are other ways of doing things that we might do well to adopt here in the US.
                      The contributions of international posters adds a great deal to CH.

                      That being said, it is confusing if readers think that the info on CH is the correct info under US laws.
                      An example is the fairly common belief that chicken are given hormones when they have been outlawed in both the EU and the US for years. Somehow this myth persists.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        I know that we are drifting off the original topic here, but can anyone advise further on the Tyson Foods issue which I mentioned up-thread.

                        I'm now confused. Making Sense advises that antibiotics are banned in the US. What I don't understand is, in that case, why Tyson would advertise its products as "antibiotic-free" (which is what the online entries indicate the issue is about not "hormone free"). I further don't understand,either, why they've been required to stop saying it's antibiotic free - the assumption I make from reading online is that antibiotics are actually used.

                        The European Union banned regular use of all antibiotics in poultry production from 2006. I can't find a reference about hormones but am sure that has been similarly banned.

                        (Tatai - I'd realised you were probably another foreigner from your writing style. A look at your posting history tended to confirm. Great eating city, Toronto - I'm envious :-0 )

                        1. re: Harters

                          No US producers of chicken can use hormones.

                          In 2007, the USDA decided that Tyson was misleading the consumer with "antibiotic-free" labeling because antibiotics were added to feed. Now Tyson is trying to get that ban overturned because they're only adding antibiotics to the fertile eggs, not the feed. The concern by the USDA and consumer groups is that antibiotics in food production can cause resistant strains of bacteria to flourish, possibly causing a pandemic. As with other posts regarding food safety, some people have depressed immune systems, and they would be at the greatest risk.

                          That said, garlic has antibiotic and antimicrobial properties, but is considered a spice.

                          To be perfectly honest, I would rather see more omnivores eating whole chicken roasted, from any source, than boneless-skinless-tasteless chicken parts pre-breaded, seasoned, fried, and packaged with no need to even reheat due to the preservatives.

                          1. re: Harters

                            Antibiotics are not banned in poultry in the US, only certain ones are. Tyson's was accused of false advertising by other poultry producers, and rightly so.


                            1. re: Harters

                              You are more educated than most consumers, Harters, and know that hormones were banned several years ago.
                              Most consumers in the industrialized world have long since come to assume that our food supply is generally safe. (OK, I'm not talking to some of you skeptics.)
                              The marketing "geniuses" have new tricks to prey upon the trendy consciousness about food worries, organics, etc.
                              Imagine an ordinary consumer finding 4 brands of chicken in a supermarket with one brand bearing a label touting it as "hormone-free."
                              That consumer's brain might quickly jump to the assumption that the other 3 brands might contain hormones because - unlike you - he is unaware that NONE of the chickens can contain hormones under the law.
                              This is called FUD-marketing - sowing Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt to undermine an opponent's product or position.
                              The FDA and the Federal Trade Commission are usually alert to this type of marketing and demand that labels be changed to reflect reality.
                              Marketers do the same with "antibiotic-free," "high-fiber," and other desirable and trendy traits.
                              I was particularly find of "whole grain" chocolate chip cookies. They were still Chips Ahoy. Commercial fattening cookies, for goodness sake. How much benefit was gained by a little "whole grain"?

                              Unfortunately, in the case of Tysons, it appears that they do not use antibiotics in their chickens but may be using them in the eggs as Caralien points out and there may be some problem as well with feed.
                              I know nothing more than what is available on the internet about ongoing litigation so I hesitate to pass judgment.
                              As you well know, these issues are very complicated and about 90% of the stuff on the internet is either wrong or outdated.
                              At the very least, it appears that Tysons is attempting to skirt the regulations which makes me uneasy. I don't buy their products.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                Another clarification that might help in this debate (for the Americans, anyway) is that the FDA specifically regulates additives to animals that are believed to have an impact on humans (directly or indirectly), whereas the USDA regulates the additives that aren't linked to human outcomes. The Baytril elimination occurred largely due to pressure from public health organizations that feared the use of this particular antibiotic would impact human resistance to disease and prescribed antibiotic use. However,
                                (as of 2008) Tyson is not permitted to use the "raised without antibiotics" label by the USDA, because it still does use ionophores in its feed.

                                I agree with MakingSense's point about FUD, however, I do think the public should be more aware of how their meat is being raised. I can attest to being horrified (to put it mildly) by the conditions I personally viewed at one of the largest pork production "farms" in the US. Even as a poor graduate student raised in the deep south, it was enough to stop every morsel of CAFO-produced pork from ever entering my mouth. I get the point that alternatives aren't widely available, and that we wouldn't be able to satiate our nation's yearning for meat without these operations, but perhaps our goal should be moving away from them (eat less meat? start supporting other alternatives).

                                However, in regards to the $24 chicken, I wouldn't pay that. We raise organic chickens in our family (even my sister-in-law, who lives in a rental house in urban Cleveland, OH) for around $1.80/pound (after processing), and we sold them "locally" on craigslist for $2/pound (ours were large though - around 7 - 13lbs each, on account of their 10 week lifespan). There are many networks to investigate to find reasonably priced organic meats, and it's well worth your effort if you're concerned about the origins of your meat.

                                1. re: RosemaryHoney

                                  "There are many networks to investigate to find reasonably priced organic meats, and it's well worth your effort if you're concerned about the origins of your meat."

                                  Excellent point. The choice is not just between an overly priced $24 chicken and cheap large factory farm chicken (and if it were, I could do without). It might take time but finding alternatives is worth it. I have to say it's never occured to me to look on Craigslist for my chicken. Do many people find you from it?

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    Well, we sold what we wanted within 4 days of the original post. I post in the "farm+garden" section, which has a variety of things posted, from tractors to manure to goats. I'd purchased a 1/2 pig from a seller there, and then got the idea to post our chickens, and it worked out really well. I'd imagine you could also post a "looking for free-range chickens" there, and get several responses from people like me, who may have a few extras they are willing to sell.

                                    1. re: RosemaryHoney

                                      I'm going to check this out on our craigslist. I never realized there was a farm and garden section. Thanks.

            2. re: robgm

              Am I the only one who finds it totally ironic that a chicken or a tomato raised 15 miles away should cost me more than one that was shipped hundreds of miles?

              I buy local when I can and when I know it will make a difference in quality or taste, but I am a bit annoyed at what I sometimes see as excessive prices. There are some poultry purveyors at our local green market who charge close to $20 for a 3-lb bird when I can get one raised similarly at WF for less money, even after the shipping and middle-man charges.

              1. re: chicgail

                Animals are not the cheapest to grow humanely, and uncaged or free range may still be raised without sunlight in a giant, covered barn-like pen lacking real movement (closer to sardines in a can without tethers). 50 bags of non-GMO organic feed versus 5000 bags of non-GMO organic feed will be cost more per bag with quantity/scaled discounts for larger purchases. All of this is passed onto the consumer.

                Simply based on proximity and transportation, the cost should be lower. Add in overhead costs for a large producer compared to a small farm--factoring in economies of scale, it does.

                1. re: Caralien

                  But it's not just based on that, is it? "economies of scale" and all that? It's more expensive per person for a smal, indie restaurant to feed 20 tables a night than a big chain to feed 300 a night, isn't it? And usually local growers/farmers take more care and don't feed their animals the "lowest common denominator" feed, etc.

                  1. re: rockandroller1

                    Chicgail was commenting on the price for similar chickens from further away being more expensive that similar chickens raised closer.

                    Providing an assumption that all things are considered equal regarding quality for "natural/free-range/organic" chickens (chicken breed, quality feed, housing, cleaning, care), a producer of great quantities will have lower individual costs than a small producer primarily due to economies of scale.

                    With terminiology not being adequately regulated, it may harder for the consumer to know specific differences between products. Whether all large producers take advantage of their customer's ignorance and serve them adulterated junk and all smaller producers are necessarily better is not my opinion. Both have charlatans in the mix, but there are large, naturally-inclined growers and as well as small growers who do what they can honestly and within what's considered acceptable.

                    From an environmental stance, it makes sense to buy local. It also tastes better, and makes me feel better knowing that I've actually met the farmer, something which doesn't happen at WFs or TJ's. I prefer to get eggs from an honor box under a hand-painted sign stating EGGS!, and have found the average price for those to be $2-$3/dozen on either coast of the US, a price cheaper than at the standard grocer.

                    1. re: Caralien

                      Actually, I was saying that the price for similar chickens is LESS expensive from far away than they are locally grown.

                      It may well be the economies of scale, all things being equal.

                      You talked about getting eggs from an honor box under a hand-painted sign. I wonder if I went to the farm to purchase a chicken if it wouldn't be substantially cheaper than getting one brought to the cache of a green market in the city. I would suggest that there may actually be a mark-up at such a market because of the willingness of the patrons to pay that premium.

                      1. re: chicgail

                        To clarify: large producers get economies of scale & can pass on cheaper prices to customers. They can make more chickens, exist on slimmer profit margins, get a better distribution, and supply nationwide chains.

                        Small producers don't get economies of scale, and are probably the closest farms, with higher priced meats. The inability to get into places like WF to sell their wares because they can't produce enough to sell to the middle man (WF) the lower price WF wants to sell it at because it hits their meager profit margins. Generally speaking, the small farmers are charging the customer the cost of producing the chicken including overhead, transport, etc. The small, local farm, costs more per pound because it costs the small farmer more to grow it compared to the large producer. There may be some illicit marketing and pricing, but it's less likely, particularly in this economic climate. There are not a lot of fabulously weathy small farmers.

                        Eggs are cheap to produce; once your hens are of age, they make eggs, far more than the farmer can use (or raise). It's like the bounty of tomatoes, lemons, oranges, even your neighbor gets (depending on climate, of course).

                        1. re: Caralien

                          Everything you say makes sense.

                          I didn't mean to imply that small farmers were charging inappropriately -- certainly not that they were getting rich, but rather wondering if elite farmers markets offer a different cost/demand environment that allows for higher pricing than if one were buying directly off the farm.

                          1. re: Caralien

                            Here in Ontario, most small farmers need another job to keep afloat. But economies of scale can work the other way too.

                            We have local truck farmers who exist on smaller acerages by keeping their input costs to a minimum. That means little or no chemical intervention because of budget and the fact that small plots can be maintained manually - hoeing, weeding, mulching etc. I supply the transportation and storage by knocking on the door and keeping the purchase in the basement or freezer. Sometimes I supply the labour at "Pick Your Own" operations. I even supply plastic packaging by reusing supermarket bags. Inspection and grading? No problem when dealing with tens not tons.

                            One of my favourite vendors drives into town twice a week and offers a remarkable selection of the highest quality at the roadside: he flows with the season, moving from lettuce to peas to beans to potatoes to corn to squash and cabbage - small crops but lots of crops - all of it picked hours before. As one row of corn or beans matures and goes to market another is coming on for next market day. Experience has taught him to "sell out" not "throw out" which is what our supermarkets are reduced to. I should go to jail for what I pay, yet he does well as do others in the area.

                            Knocking on the side door gets me produce, eggs, beef, lamb and pork. The meat can usually be had a few cents above stockyard cost plus 15 cents a pound for processing at a local government-inspected abbatoir.

                            Now if John had to get up late Friday, stuff everything into a refrigerated van, and drive two and a half hours to St. Lawrence Market, pay for a stall, set up for 6 a.m., pay one or more staff, dismantle and drive back at night what would happen to his price? That's why you'll never see his produce at his current prices in the city.

                            We could not afford to eat like this when we lived in Toronto - now we can't afford not to. My experience has overwhelmingly shown our local farmers' prices to be lower than large scale operators.

                            My personal downside is that I can't find many specialty items, a good loaf of bread is impossible to come by, and the cost of other groceries and gasoline is exorbitant.

                          2. re: chicgail

                            have you considered that the mark-up on the greenmarket chickens, on the part of the farmer, may be to cover the greenmarket dues/stall fees, and staffing? in some urban areas farmer's market fees can be quite high, and it's assumed that the urban customers will pay for the convenience of a "one stop" greenmarket, rather than driving around to a half-dozen or more semi-local farms. . . :)

                2. The weight of issues swarming around "local" gives me a mucho grande headache. I tried a "100 mile"-ish diet this past year to help out my kid's school projects. We agreed that reducing the mileage of diesel-guzzling food transport mattered more than consuming chickens, steers, and pigs that "lived and died well." Cumbrae scaffolded profit on guilt, conceit, and snobbery. The current downdraft will probably sink 'em. Time for a new approach. I'm looking at buying clubs but dread the politics and uppity holistic commissars who tend to run 'em. Pay more, get more has lots of meanings. If enough people enter the local/ sustainable market, the price/quality quotient will probably work itself out. Clearly, though, "boutique meat" isn't the way ahead.

                  1. I'm pretty lucky, I get very good, sustainably raised beef for free because my boyfriend's uncle raises cattle.
                    Most of the time I try to get my food as local as possible, but we're on a tight income and we'd rather eat imported than not at all.
                    However, as much as I do enjoy the local cheeses here, I must have my French, Italian, German, Swiss, English, Spanish, Quebecois... cheeses every once in a while!

                    1. The original comment has been removed
                      1. I think not all grass fed beef (I sure hope that's what you mean by "leaner" and "natural" is created the same. I have enjoyed some grass fed beef that was mind blowingly tender and rich; however, 'local character' means, though, that there's gonna be some ranches that lean towards rangy, lean beef. Raising livestock is a skill like anything else, and breed, animal feed, animal activity etc all come into play.

                        I am absolutely willing to eat less meat in order to afford better meat. I expect some flavor variation. I believe in trying until you find what you like and can feel good about.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Vetter

                          "Raising livestock is a skill like anything else, and breed, animal feed, animal activity etc all come into play."

                          Beyond that, there's the question of what are they optimizing for? Taste? Conversion efficiency? Texture? Time to harvest? etc...