What should a chicken cost? Mr. Steward, you sell a chicken for about $15. I can buy one at the supermarket for $7. Why should I pay more?
Thank you for asking.
Mine is better. Need more detail than that?
Efficiency. Everyone who has seen Fight Club knows that waste is a thief. Efficiency is key. Profit is the reward for efficiency. If I, as a chicken producer, can make my chicken more efficiently I can either lower my price or keep it high so I can make more money. My profit margins are ultimately driven by either my direct competitors or by consumer substitutions (beef vs. chicken). I am driven to increase efficiency to punish my competitors…rewarding consumers who buy my product. You with me so far?
But what happens when we allow our motivation for efficiency (profit) to override morality?
Not only are the chickens packed in, they are typically fed the remains of other manufacturing processes, not whole grains, and subtheraputic levels of antibiotics. They get the remains of the corn that has already been made into ethanol, corn oil, corn syrup or ??? They are not in the sunlight. They don’t have their large talons in the grass.
Because I am a moral man I cannot go beyond a certain level of efficiency. These are biological, not mechanical structures. My chickens are healthy, given enough room to grow and play, and are given a healthy diet consisting primarily of locally grown whole grains sans antibiotics. As they eat grass, alfalfa and bugs they make a mess. I move them away from that mess daily onto fresh grass, alfalfa and new bugs. This is good for the chicken and great for the soil and local ecology but fairly inefficient. I am not trying to feed the world…maybe 25 families. My lack of scale and efficiency raises my sale price. You can either be efficient or moral. I chose not to compromise my morality.
If you, as a moral consumer, think it is important to buy a healthy chicken that was raised in a way that is beneficial to the environment you will not only be willing to pay more for this bird, you will refuse to buy from efficient, but immoral producers. An unmedicated chicken raised on pasture in small numbers, fed whole grains and treated respectfully costs more money. It also tastes better and is healthier to eat. That’s a lot easier to swallow.
This thinking may also apply to t-shirts but that’s another conversation for another day.