For me, culture shock always happens in the supermarket. This is because the two countries I travel between most frequently — the United States and my homeland of Australia — are alike in so many ways. We speak the same language and adhere to many of the same cultural norms. And yes, our supermarkets look eerily similar. Yet the products are completely different. It's like being in an alternate universe — same cookie section, different cookies (or, I should say, biscuits).
I had one of these moments two weeks ago, after returning from a three-week trip to Australia. I was shopping for dinner at the neighborhood Kroger when I came across packages of Tyson chicken breasts that were large enough to easily feed three adults. And each package cost between two and three dollars.
I've lived in this country for more than 20 years, and I'm familiar with the pricing of meat. But after almost a month overseas, the price of that chicken seemed perversely low. In Australia, a whole chicken will set you back about $20. And why shouldn't it? It's a whole chicken!
But in America, chicken is cheap, as is other meat. I turned from the chicken to find giant pork loins for $10, easily enough for 10 pork chops. Gone are the days when we relegate a roast chicken or roast pork loin to Sunday supper or a special occasion. We want a roast chicken any time we damn well please, and the chicken industry is happy to supply it.
The adverse effects of ultra-cheap meat provided by factory farming are hard to summarize in one short column. But a group of Georgian farmers, chefs, and activists has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the issue. According to literature released by the newly formed Georgians for Pastured Poultry, Georgia is the country's largest producer of chickens for meat. The state raises and kills 1.4 billion chickens a year in factory farms. That's a lot of chickens. No wonder they're so cheap.
This glut does a number of things. Because meat has become so devalued, raising chickens naturally, through traditional farming methods, is an increasingly difficult business model. Many people claim they can't afford the higher-priced natural meats. That's probably true — if meat is the basis of every meal.
Americans eat far more meat than any other population in the world, and yet we spend a far smaller portion of our income on food. Our meat intake is part of what contributes to our high rates of obesity, colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. According to Georgians for Pastured Poultry, Georgia's factory farming industry also has issues with worker's rights, environmental impact, and animal welfare.
It's hard, I know. It was hard for me, even in my moment of shock and disbelief, to turn away from that $2 chicken. But in Georgia especially, the choice is more than between buying a happy chicken or one that tastes vaguely of misery. It's a choice about our state's economic and environmental health, as well as the health of our families. I'll be seeking out a $20 chicken, saving it for Sunday supper, making stock and casserole from the leftovers, and feeling better about a more plant-based diet the rest of the week.
Congrats on the nominations!
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