Top Priorities

a die with the words money, time, and quality on its sides

I’ve tried to stop saying things like “I can’t afford X” or “I don’t have time for Y” because they both really mean the same thing: It’s just not a priority for me. I do have time, and I do have money. Both resources are limited, of course, but I decide how to spend them.

Humane-certified meat is relatively expensive, as is organic produce. This leads to the complaint that the various emerging healthy food movements (I’m including the local and slow food movements as well) are elitist and don’t account for socioeconomic differences. It’s partly true: some families really can’t afford certain types of food, or don’t have access to it. However, Americans now spend 11% of their income on food–the lowest of any country, and the lowest ever in U.S. history. And yet we’re somehow both overfed and undernourished.

Why is this? Partly because we tend to buy food that spares us all the time once spent in preparation. The choice is convenience over quality: a frozen entrée can seem like a godsend after an exhausting day of work.

Another factor is price. Imagine you’re standing at a poultry case comparing a chicken from Perdue with a far more expensive “certified-humane” chicken from Murray’s. For most people, the process ends there, because price is more important than some abstract benefit to animals. Others may pause to weigh the issue of quality, believing that the Murray’s chicken tastes better or is better for them.

In the end, every bite we take reflects a choice we’ve made, a choice that reveals our priorities. Consciously or unconsciously, we make our food decisions by factoring in (or factoring out) a number of variables. Depending on the person, these may include price, convenience, health, animal welfare, and environmental impact. (The Slow Food movement, for one, attempts to re-conceive this equation.)

People usually do due diligence when buying a new car, finding a doctor, or choosing a school, and often decide to pay more for quality. We might spend extra for a safer car, a more experienced surgeon, a school with a lower teacher-student ratio.

This is precisely how I think of humane-certified meat. I’ll pay more for it because it tastes better, doesn’t introduce antibiotics or hormones into my body, and is produced by a system that doesn’t torture animals or harm the environment.

I’ll even spend more time looking for it. And more time preparing it, too. A girl’s gotta have her priorities.