Since we’ve introduced numerous meat-boxes we’ve been asked a few times about the safety of the meat. Is it safe? Are the animal tested? How is safety regulated? I would like to take this opportunity to answer this question broadly and in the spirit of Cutia Taranului.
These questions carry an underlying assumption that food that is regulated and monitored by centralized authorities is safe. But is that really the case? I would say that no, it isn’t. The media provides us with ample examples of food health and safety problems that occur despite regulations.
We need to take a step back and recall why we need food regulations in the first place. The answer is in scale of food production. There is a big difference between food that is produced on small scale farms vs. food that is produced on an industrial scale. In small scale farms there is a direct relationship between the farmers and the ecosystem that supports them: soil, plants, water, animals, etc. In indusrial production settings these direct relationships are absent. Farmers are replaced by low-wage workers, managers and stakeholders. In Industrial systems the motivation is to maximize profits through efficient production and reduced production costs.
Now ask yourself: Do workers doing boring, repetitive, routing work for minimum wage care about the qualities of the food they produce? Do managers and stakeholders seeking to maximize profit care? If we were to ask them they would probably say that they do, but in reality they simply cannot. It is no one’s fault and it doesn’t imply evil behavior. The incentives of the industrial system induce low quality and minimal safety. Food will only be as good and as safe as is necessary to sell it while maximizing profits. That is the nature of the beast.
That is why food regulations and inspections are needed. They are a disciplinary measure to keep a mis-incentivized industrial system in check. Yet even elaborate and enforced food regulations only reduce the chances of problems, there are no guarantees when it comes to s afety. One thing is, ironically, guaranteed: food that comes out of the industrial system loses its most important qualities: freshness, vitality and nourishment. The more alive and vital food is the more life it has in. The more life is has in it the more perishable it is. The best way for an industrial system to provide safe food is to sterilize it, to remove the life from it so that it can handle storage, shipment and shelf-life. Food is made to look good instead of be good.
Cutia Taranului producers are not industrial producers. They are families that work to grow and create food that feeds themselves and their members. Their livelihood is directly tied to the quality of their produce. They are inherently motivated to care about the quality of their produce. They don’t need an inspector to watch over their shoulders to remind them they need to provide healthy food, they know this with every fiber of their being. The key to good food is more care not more regulation.
I constantly remind myself and would like to remind you not to think of Cutia Taranului as an alternative to the industrial food system. Instead think of Cutia Taranului as an alternative to your grandparents or uncles in the village. They sent you home from the village with vegetables, freshly butchered chickens and eggs. Were you concerned about food regulations when they gifted you with the fruits of their work?
However, we do acknowledge that when it comes to meat, an extra measure of care is required. What we are currently suggesting to meat producers is:
- To constantly improve the growing conditions, food and living conditions of the animals. A good and healthy life for an animal is a good indicator for quality and safety of meat.
- To butcher animals as close as possible to delivery to minimize time of storage (whether fresh or frozen).
- To maintain cleanliness and good sanitary practices in the slaughtering and butchering of animals.
- To conduct veterinary tests for large animals (such as bulls and pigs) and to make the results of these tests available to members who ask to see them.
- To deliver meat either warm (fresh from butchering) or frozen – nothing in between. Producers are not always able to live up to this standard, but they are moving constantly moving closer towards it.
Is there more that can be done?
Probably. This is where you, the members, come in. In the industrial food system you don’t have a say, you can either buy the food or not. With Cutia Taranului you have an opportunity to be directly involved. You can visit the farm. You can see how the animals are grown and cared for. You can see how the animals are slaughtered and butchered. You can ask questions and give feedback. You can (respectfully) share ideas for improvement. You can communicate with us (the organizers) and in the future we are planning to make it possible for you to communicate with other members. If you are able to help a producer make improvements we will communicate those improvements to other producers.
There are no guarantees, responsibility falls on all of us, including you a member who chooses to subscribe to a box. If you truly care about the quality of food that is delivered to you, Cutia Taranului presents an opportunity to actually do something about it. We encourage you to care and inquire about the quality of the produce you receive and make your own informed choices. It is also fine if you do not want to take on this responsibility, but don’t expect someone else to do it for you because no one can. Caring the way you do is something only you can do.