Open Access Presidential Scholars Thesis
A century ago chicken was considered a luxury item. In fact, people would eat steak or lobster when they could not afford chicken and ladies' magazines advised on how to substitute veal for chicken in recipes (Gordon, 1996). In 1928, President Hoover promised "a chicken in every pot", but it was not until the 1960's that the poultry industry really took off. Today, there are 15 chickens in every pot; the average American consumes 71.8 pounds of broiler meat annually (Oberholtzer, 1997). Where does all of this chicken come from? Who grows the chicken we eat and how do they grow it? How much do we really know about the food, in this case the chicken, that we eat?
My interest in this topic began through my involvement in the UNI Local Food Project, which is organized by Dr. Kamyar Enshayan. The goal of the project is to assist the UNI Dining Services, Allen Hospital, and Rudy's Tacos (a Waterloo restaurant) in purchasing a greater proportion of their food items from Iowa sources.
What is the importance of buying food produced locally? Reasons offered in support of purchasing locally grown food include increased freshness, quality, and nutritional value; investment in the local economy; encouragement of agricultural diversity; and reduced reliance on fossil fuels required for long-distance transportation (Lezberg, 1996; Valen, 1992).
Others advocate reducing the distance between producer and consumer in order to increase the visibility of how our food is produced (Rauber, 1994; Lezberg, 1996; Crouch, 1993; Oberholtzer, 1997). In other words, buying food closer to home increases the awareness and knowledge the consumer has of the product. According to Lezberg and Kloppenberg (1996): "For the consumer in the North, the social and environmental repercussions of production are hidden behind product labels, advertising, and brand names. The labels on packaged products contain certain information about ingredients and price, but information about how the food was produced, who produced it, and about who benefited and who stood to lose from its production is obscured" (p. 12).
Only when consumers are aware of what goes into the production of their food, can they make informed, educated, responsible decisions. Ultimately, it is the consumer who supports methods of production by voting with their dollars. But most consumers know little about the path taken by their food before it reaches the supermarket or restaurant.
Crouch (1993) offers this perspective on bananas: "All of the processes of growth and transport that got them to me are invisible, hidden by time and distance, and I am thus shielded from both positive and negative aspects of banana production by being alienated from the whole. This allows me to unknowingly participate in practices that I abhor, such as poisoning of the land and air with pesticides and diesel exhaust, or support of oppressive political and economic regimes. Out of sight, out of mind" (p.5).
Because so much of food production remains hidden, one way to explore the invisible aspects is to use commodity chain analysis (Oberholtzer, 1997; Friedland, 1984; Gereffi and Koreniewicz, 1994). In other words, we can gain information about our food by tracing its path.
Date of Award
Department of Physics
Presidential Scholar Designation
A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation Presidential Scholar
1 PDF file (19 pages)
©1998 - Laura Bainbridge
Bainbridge, Laura, "A tale of two chickens: Exploring the social and economic implications of our food choices" (1998). Presidential Scholars Theses (1990 – 2006). 36.