Navigating the New Food Movement

The New Food Movement

Navigating the New Food Movement: Some food-price perspective

Some perspective on U.S. food prices

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 31st annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 will be down by 24 cents, coming in at $49.87 vs. last year’s average of $50.11. The big ticket item – a 16-pound turkey – came in at a total of $22.74 this year. That’s roughly $1.42 per pound, a decrease of 2 cents per pound, or a total of 30 cents per whole turkey, compared to 2015.

That good news for consumers comes even as CNN Money takes note of stock-price increases for several upscale grocers rising in response to the election of President-Elect Donald Trump. CNN interprets the trend as the market betting Trump's economic plan will lead to more inflation, particularly inflation in agricultural commodities and, eventually, food prices. And any hint of significant food-price inflation typically spurs calls to improve Americans' "food security" by, among other measures, guaranteeing basic income levels and increasing food-relief programs.

But how bad is America's food inflation?

USDA makes a series of charts available that disect its food-expenditure figures over time. They demonstrate that although food prices have inflated over the years, American consumers continue to enjoy food at a relative share of personal income that's a fraction of other countries, and is overshadowed by other consumer expenditures.

Food spending compared to others

Food spending compared to others

 

Navigating the New Food Movement: Inside the buying habits of college students

Are college students a lucrative market?

As Nebraska's 140,000 college students settle in for the new academic year, marketers eye their impact on the food system — and their bottom line. From Cody, Neb., population 156 people, where volunteer students are manning the town's last grocery — now a non-profit — to Toronto's Sheridan College, where time-stressed college kids can order their university food via app and avoid standing in lines, to small college towns throughout the country where local businesses hope the return of students will lead to higher sales. "We've got students [here] who, like most college students, have discretionary income," a Maryland marketing professor told the Baltimore Sun. "They're going to buy food, they're going to buy music, they're going to buy clothing."

But is the campus outlook all that rosey?

Navigating the New Food Movement: Will you pay the consequences for helping sell fairy-tale farming?

Are you complicit in selling fairy-tale farming?

Mercy For Animals, the nonprofit animal-rights group behind several recent undercover animal-cruelty videos, which Farmer Goes to Market has reported on, has officially called the match: Cage-free eggs are now inevitable.

In a blog post written nearly a year ago, the group"...dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies," quoted the United Egg Producers president as conceding the U.S. egg industry now has no options but to go cage-free.

How did Mercy for Animals take UEP, over the course of less than a decade, from spending $10 million to fight California legislation requiring cage-free to agreeing to back a system nationally that it not only predicts will increase egg farmers' housing costs by two to three times, but also stands a good chance of actually making chickens less healthy, less productive and more stressed?

Navigating the New Food Movement: Why farm cruelty videos attract viewers, and why you should care

Mercy For Animals, the nonprofit "...on the frontlines fighting to protect farmed animals, ...dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies," put out its latest cinematic drama in late June. The footage, shot this spring by a hired MFA plant pretending to be a farm worker at Washington's Briarwood Farms, a supplier for egg distributor Eggland’s Best, edited together footage of people engaging in questionably cruel behavior with somber and brooding images of caged chickens, artfully gloomy background music and poetically suggestive narration. It all combines to further the group's constant narrative: The system of caged-hen production is unacceptable.

This June video followed the same model of MFA's past works targeting not only poultry, but also pigs, milk cows, turkeys, veal calves, and even ducks. They all skillfully use isolated depictions of animal cruelty (some real, some implied or staged) by individuals to cinematically indict the wider system of intensive animal production or individual practices like caging hens, keeping pregnant pigs in individual stalls, beak-trimming to prevent cannibalism, or confined housing.

Their ultimate goal? To name and shame suppliers to large companies, who can then be pressured to announce changes. Those announcements can then, in turn, be used to coerce smaller, less powerful retailers and food producers into submitting. All are designed to make food production more burdensome and more expensive, even as they do little to really improve animal welfare.

Eggland’s Best's director of quality assurance told Fortune he was skeptical about the authenticity of this latest video. He said MFA contacted Eggland’s Best numerous times prior to publishing the video, promising that if the company publicly committed to cage-free eggs, the group would edit the narration to spin in favor of the company. If not, the story would position Eggland's as cruel and inhumane. “It seems a little bit like this is a set up,” the director said.

"Following pressure from caring consumers," the video narrator of the final video breathlessly intones, "many of the biggest companies in the world, including McDonalds, Kroger, Walmart and many others, committed to stop cramming hens in cages. But not Eggland's best."

Meanwhile, the Independent Grocers Alliance, which represents over 1,000 retailers nationwide, joined the growing list of retailers who have caved to the group's pressure, announcing, "It is our goal to source 100 percent cage-free eggs for IGA by 2025 based on available supply. IGA, its retailers and its wholesalers do not tolerate animal abuse of any kind, and we expect our suppliers to adhere to accepted industry standards."

Although it's understandable to be sympathetic to a retailer who feels they can't win against the public spectacle of a well-financed juggernaut like Mercy for Animals, pushing back against this corporate extortion is critical to the health of the food system in the long run, says lawyer and award winning author, Wesley J. Smith. A senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and an expert in bioethics regarding both animals and humans, Smith's A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement tears apart both the tactics of the animal rights movement and its underlying, flawed philosophy.

"Animal rights activists have very successfully positioned themselves in public society in a way that is false," Smith told us shortly after publication of his book. "Most people think it's about just being nicer to animals, which of course is an important human endeavor. But the purpose of the animal rights movement literally is to end all domesticated animals and put all animal industries out of business."

MFA's video protestations about poor animal welfare notwithstanding, animal-rights groups like Mercy for Animals aren't really interested in the welfare of animals, beyond how much it furthers their animal-rights mission. In fact, Smith argues, animal-rights activists hate the animal-welfare movement, because it recognizes a moral superiority of humans that gives them dominion to judge welfare by their own standards. "In animal rights dogma," he says, "animals and humans have equivalent moral value. What animal rights activists have done is they have hidden much of their true agenda behind the good reputation of animal welfare."

Corporations like those that MFA praises in the video which have acquiesed are playing into their strategy, walking a dangerous line by agreeing to standards that science demonstrates have little to do with welfare, but ultimately advance the ideology of animal rights.

MFA attracts viewership and sympathy by cinematically creating an illusion that animals are human, worthy of equal moral consideration, and then evoking pity for them and outrage on their behalf from the consuming public. Those emotions are then channeled to further the mission of dividing the food chain against itself. They know that when the modern food chain is united in its shared goal to feed everybody as efficiently and as effectively as possible, there’s no stopping it in that goal. In fact, consumers who understand what’s at stake won’t let it be stopped. But when those animal-rights groups successfully pit consumer against consumer, consumer against retailer, retailer against farmer, big farmer against little farmer, pet owner against animal farmer, and on and on, they can pick off otherwise unwinnable targets one by one. Understand that argument, and retailers can begin to understand there's no adequate defense in the middle ground of appeasement.

Grocers: Where does this all stop, in your opinion? Is this newfound attention to animal cruelty really consumer-driven, or is it artificially created by a small minority? Were you to resist on your consumer's behalf, what support would you like from the farm commodity groups? Farmer Goes to Market will follow up on these questions and more. In the meantime, leave us a comment below or, if you prefer to remain anonymous, send us an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Navigating the New Food Movement: What are they really selling at the farmers market?

What are farmers markets really selling

The farmers market, laments the Washington Post recently, just isn't what it used to be. The more than 8,000 such markets across the country were supposed to be public spaces where, as the Post says, average consumers could make "an investment in the future of local and sustainable agriculture." Farmers Markets were meant to fill in the "food desert" holes in the food-distribution chain. They would, in the words of former Undersecretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan just four short years ago, take up the slack where full-service groceries like yours had abandoned serving the local citizenry, often the poor and minorities.

Turns out that's not the way it's working. Instead, as Virginia farmer Zach Lester complains to the Post, "[Customers] arrive for a bite or some booze, maybe a pizza at Red Zebra or a bottle of gin from One Eight Distilling.

“A lot of people that walk through markets are not shopping," he says. "They’re there to meet. They’re there to socialize.”

It shouldn't come as a surprise.

Farmers markets may be about politics inside USDA and within regional "food policy councils," but for shoppers, they, along with the wider notion of "community supported agriculture" are really about a yearning to rediscover pastoral and local values they can't find in supermarkets, writes University of Wyoming marketing professor Melea Press.

Community supported agriculture, Press writes, enlist the same classic ideas about American pastoralism that, first, drove urbanites into the suburbs in the 1950s and then tempted them back to the land in the '60s and '70s. CSA and the farmers market share several traits of a longing for pastoralism with those trends:

  • They promise an escape from the "noise, filth and moral degradation" of the city.
  • They give shoppers a chance to be part of a small and manageable community in a big, impersonal world
  • They give shoppers the chance to draw closer to nature— even, ironically, as they shop.
  • They give them a sense of certainty about their food in an increasingly uncertain world by meeting the producer face-to-face.
  • They indulge their sense of moral superiority.

Farmers markets, as a part of the whole concept of "community supported agriculture," according to University of Wisconsin professor Craig Thompson, are built to focus consumers not on the food it delivers, but the experience of being involved in it.

Think about it this way, Thompson writes: If you set out to purposely design a food system that offered only limited selection, at limited times of the year, at higher prices, determined largely by what the producer had to sell rather than what the customer wanted, pushing items you often aren't familiar with and don't know how to use, you couldn't do better than a community supported agriculture program.

The irony, according to Thompson, is that those very disadvantages of farmers markets compared to supermarkets are the strengths that draw shoppers to be there. Shopping through community supported agriculture is a form of austere "ethical consumerism." Ethical consumerism tells consumers they can use their dollars to make a difference in terms of sustainability and social justice—or, more cynically, hide their status-consciousness in social-responsible pretense. But he believes both of those interpretations of ethical consumerism miss the mark in defining farmers markets. His in-depth interviews of farmers and customers suggest it's the very inconveniences and aggravations of community supported agriculture that "enchant" the experience with shoppers. In stark contrast to ‘Disneyfied’ and ‘McDonaldized’ consumption that's prepackaged, microwaved and forced, shopping the farmers market disrupts and exeptionalizes the traditional food-shopping experience and, by extension, the morality of the consumer.

 

Partners

Supported by the Nebraska Corn Board

The Nebraska Corn Board, on behalf of 23,000 corn farmers in Nebraska, invests in market development, research, promotion and education of corn and value-added products. The board aims to work closely with the farmer-to-consumer food chain, to educate everyone about the role corn has in our everyday healthy lives. The Nebraska Corn Board is proud to sponsor the Farmer Goes to Market program to help bring its mission of expanding demand and value of Nebraska corn to the consumer, through the strongest touch point in that chain: the Nebraska retail grocer.


In patnership with the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

The Nebraska Grocery Industry Association was formed in 1903 by a group of Omaha grocery store owners, wholesalers and vendors to allow them to promote independent food merchants and members of the food industry, and to promote education and cooperation among its membership. NGIA continues to represent grocery store owners and operators, along with wholesalers and vendors located throughout Nebraska, by promoting their success through proactive government relations, innovative solutions and quality services. NGIA offers efficient and economical programs. NGIA also lobbies on both a state and national level, ensuring that the voice of the food industry in Nebraska is heard by our representatives.


Supported by the Nebraska Farm Bureau

The farm and ranch families represented by Nebraska Farm Bureau are proud sponsors of the Farmer Goes to Market program. We take great pride in supporting Nebraska's agricultural foundation. A key part of that effort is to make sure we produce safe and affordable food. This newsletter is an important part of our effort to connect the two most important parts of the food chain -- the farmer and the grocer -- with the goal of increasing consumer awareness and information about how their food is raised in Nebraska.