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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Poll Results: Whats more important?

On the surface, I guess it seemed that this poll was really a bit of a no-brainer.

The options were: Organic; Free Range; Both; or Neither.

Essentially what was being asked was:
What matters more: our health; the welfare of the animals we exploit; both; or neither?

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming 50% of readers (4) voted for both. 25% voted for organic, 25% for free range, and no-one voted for neither. Whether this is indicative of the moral norm of the traffic through this site or the simple failure of the poll to really pose a challenging moral dilemma cannot be known. If I had qualified this with the consequences of these choices, particularly the financial impact, then would the survey result have been the same? Or was the number of responses too small to draw any real conclusions from?

I'll say this much: If we could, most people would chose products that are both free range and organic, because most people have it in them to care both for the well-being of the creatures that we eat as well as their own long-term health concerns. But in reality, as I've said before, most families in NZ can't afford to exclusively eat free range or organic meat and produce. The extra costs of producing food this way - the real costs of producing healthy guilt-free food - are more than most of us can absorb in these days of higher interest rates, soaring fuel costs, and the general trend towards recession and the tightening of the purse-strings. The fact is, of course, that we have become accustomed to these cheaper prices for mass-produced food simply because the produce market is driven by intensive agriculture, fueled by cheap oil and the indiscriminate application of fertilisers to thousands of acres of farmland, the true costs of which are now starting to show themselves. For several decades, we have been indulging in this short term gain for what will amount to a nett loss in terms of the environmental and health costs which we are seeing appear now.

So why can we not afford to pay for food that is natural and humane, when it is the food we would have been eating barely a hundred years ago? Ironically, it would seem to be the same consumerism that has made everything else so desirable, cheap, and wasteful. So many families are mortgaged to the hilt and bogged down with credit card and HP debt in this country that we now struggle just to provide the basics. But just like trying to spread the word that it's worthwhile to grow a garden if you can, and that the more we can live as smaller communities sharing what is good between us and the less we rely on mass consumerism the better off we'll be, it's a monumental task for most families to try and wipe out their debt and take steps to break away from the economic models that chain us to our possessions, our desires, and our debt.

Which brings us back to the poll. No-one voted for Neither. Of the whopping 8 votes that the poll received, everyone wishes that they had the option of buying and eating better than what the mass market offers. But there is a cycle of economic hardship and financial ignorance in NZ that needs to be broken. The only question is, will that happen as a matter of market forces, as a result of the potential recession which is threatening, and in the process hurt everyone from big business to mum and dad?; or will it come from the ground up, from people's desire to rise above the economic machine that ties us down? With babies crying in one ear and creditors howling in the other, it's pretty hard to predict.


Giffy said...

As I become more interested in cooking and food in general, I find that the importance of organic, free range and local has increased.

I'm sure it is partly an education issue.

It *is* more expensive though. Hmm.

Also, so's you know, a toxicology lecture I attended discussed organics versus pesticides and the general consensus is that NZ is very good re:pesticide use. The natural pesticides that some organically grown plants produce can exceed artificial pesticide levels (the example given was parsnips). The main message was, don't think too hard about possible dangers in life or you will never leave your plastic bubble.

Dan said...

You're right, it is about education, and what we're brought up to see as important. At the moment it's pursuit of the almighty $ that takes priority over taking care of the planet or ourselves. At the end of the day, you just have to do the best you can and not worry about it too much, because the stress is just as likely to kill you as the antibiotics in most of the chicken we eat. Ah, the pleasures of thinking too much!