Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Students gathered this Tuesday for a feast of local meat, as well as a panel discussion on sustainable food issues. Both events were hosted by the Good Food Project, which focuses on promoting local, sustainable food on campus and in the greater Philadelphia area.
Members of the group took part in the cooking, brining, and preparing of an 80 pound pig that was raised at Breakaway Farms, an organic farm in Lancaster County, PA. This farm specializes in “beyond organic farming”; its products contain no antibiotics or hormones. The pig was brined and seasoned by Good Food, then roasted in a cinderblock and metal structure on Mertz field for five hours. Once cooked, the pig was then transferred on its steel lattice from Mertz field to Bond Memorial Hall for the meal.
Dovetailing this event was a panel discussion on the issues surrounding sustainable farming and consumer choices in the meat industry. The panel was moderated by Professor Hans Jakob Werlen of the German department. The panelists were Jesse Hoff ’11, Burks County farmer Paul Crivellaro, Ohio cattle farmer Chuck Thomas, and Chester County farmer Joe Stratton. They informed students, staff, and faculty in attendance about the various issues surrounding meat consumption and production in the United States.
Discussion was mostly centered on the economic and regulatory standards that have restricted small farmers, and how consumers are an enormous part of the decision making in the meat industry. Questions from students, faculty, and staff helped fuel the conversation. Many seemed concerned about the relationship meat farmers have with consumers, versus meat distributors and grocery stores.
The panelists emphasized the importance of building relationships with consumers that would translate into business opportunity and the education of consumers. Above all, they stressed that the best thing that consumers can do is be aware of what they buy, and where it comes from.
“You have to be educated as a consumer,” Thomas said. “You have to pay attention to what you buy.”
The panelists also spoke about the true cost of food today, and what the future of the sustainable food movement will look like over the next fifty years. While the monetary of value of food is currently kept low due to large scale farming practices, the cost of negative effects on society should be factored into this price.
The panelists made clear that when consumers are faced with the choice to buy inexpensive meat from unclear, processed sources, or to choose sustainable techniques, the lowest price is often the winner. However, with the growing popularity of the sustainable food movement in many communities, small farmers are looking to find a “niche” market that will keep them afloat, as Stratton stated.
“Everything today is numbers in farming,” Crivellaro explained. “The consumer votes with their pocket book every time they walk into a store.”