On my commute home, I listened to the most recent episode of one of my most favorite podcasts “Freakonomics.” This show is produced by two economists from the University of Chicago (who also wrote the best seller, Freakonomics, if you can believe that) and they “explore the hidden side of everything.” This latest episode “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Avocado?” struck me as extremely pertinent to the agriculture industry for many reasons. I will try to give a brief summary here, but it’s best to listen or read the transcript yourself (it’s about a 30 minute podcast).
The story centered around the question of why are we so outraged when an animal dies, but yet typically have less anger when tragedy happens (or is happening) to our own race? The story centered around the killing of a giraffe in Norway which garnered international attention and outrage and then compared that to the relatively small outrage or attention that has been placed on mass murders in Syria or to the human tragedy that is caused by drug cartels in the avocado business (a very interesting piece of the story and one that pains me given my love for avocados). The quote that really peaked my attention was from Steve Levitt:
“I think being nice to animals is a luxury good. I remember when I first went to China 14 years ago to adopt my daughter and we went to an open-air market. And the animals they had to eat and the circumstances of these animals were just, to a Westerner, outrageous… And then when I went back about five years later, to the same open-air market, what just amazed me is that suddenly they had a big section of the open-air market that was devoted to fish tanks. In just five years, China had boomed in wealth. [They went] from literally eating anything they could find, to deciding it was fun to have animals for pets.”
This comment made me think of many of the criticisms and misconceptions I hear of modern agriculture . . . the animals are treated poorly, they don’t have a chance for a happy life, they don’t have room to roam free as they were intended. Have you ever stopped to think about the human side to the story? If our farm and the thousands of others like it, are less efficient and produce fewer pounds of meat or if the corn fields don’t produce as large of crop due to insects or disease, this directly impacts the food a family can put on their table and ultimately quality of life for our race. People throughout the world struggle with food insecurity, and we are constantly trying to find efficient and effective ways to meet the increasing demands of an ever-growing world population. Here in my state alone (one of the most fertile and productive in the world), 1 in 5 children does not have enough to eat (figure from the Food Bank of Iowa).
It seems to me there is some selective outrage happening here too. Why aren’t more people outraged that we can’t produce enough food in this world to feed all the people living in it?
Just some food for thought. Happy weekend!