The True Cost of "Free Meat for a Year" and Other Subscription-Box Promotions
They’re everywhere these days, those subscription meat services. You know the ones we mean. They advertise in your favorite magazines and on your favorite podcasts. For just X amount of dollars a month you can get a box of ostensibly humanely raised, "all-natural" meat, fish, and/or poultry delivered right to your door. And it always seems that, at any given moment, if you sign up right now, you get some sort of BONUS MEAT! At the time of this writing, one such service was offering free ground beef for a year; another was offering 2 pounds of ground beef and two packs of bacon—free!—with your first shipment; a month ago, one of these subscription services was offering free chicken wings for life.
Deals like the above sound too good to be true, because they are. You really will get free ground beef for a year, or free chicken wings for life. But “Free” should be in quotation marks, because when it comes to food, nothing is really free. While you may not have to pay for that year of “free” bacon, all the costs associated with the promotion have to be charged somewhere, and in most cases, it’s the planet that’s eating those costs.
While all these meat-subscription services (and other food-subscription services), seem on the surface like convenient, positive results of the modern world, of technology and the Internet, in reality they’re just serving to further propagate something we’re working very hard to raise awareness of and fight against at Force of Nature: the commodification of meat.
What is Commodification, and Why Is It Bad for Food?
In capitalist economies, commodification is the transformation of something into an object of trade. Just about anything can be commoditized—goods, services, even people and ideas. Some commoditization is a good thing—without it, many objects wouldn’t have economic value, and we’d lose the basis of most of the world’s economic systems. But certainly not all commoditization is good; the commoditization of people, for example, is slavery. And the commoditization of necessities of life, like food and water, can lead to exploitation, lowered quality of said items, and environmental degradation.
Take, for example, the aforementioned meat subscription boxes. One of their key marketed selling points is that the meat offered is “grass-fed,” “high-quality,” “humanely raised,” and “free from antibiotics or hormones.” You’ll find terms like these on all the popular subscription box sites. But without actual specific sourcing details, these terms are, well, not exactly meaningless, but vague at best. There are no farms or ranches listed. Indeed, not even the country the meat is coming from is disclosed. This is because profit is prioritized over purpose and it’s not cost-effective to work directly with small farms and ranches.
Farmers who produce commodity foods—whether animals or produce—are forced to accommodate the market. And the market, that is to say the consumer, is usually concerned about price instead of quality. To lower prices, corners must be cut. Animals, even ostensibly grass-fed animals, aren’t always entirely grass-fed. And they’re certainly not raised regeneratively, in a way that sequesters carbon, replenishes soil, and is synergistic with every other lifeform in the ecosystem. And this cost-cutting applies not only to the commodification of meat; it goes for all situations in which food is treated as an item of trade rather than a necessity of human life. The commodification of produce and other crops leads to destructive monocropping, further soil degradation, and the use of pesticides that seep into the soil and water supply and taint the entirety of our food system.
So next time you purchase meat, be a conscious consumer and ask the seller, whether by searching their website or contacting them directly: Where does this meat come from? Who were the ranchers who raised the animals? How, exactly, were the animals cared for? If you can’t find the answers, consider purchasing from somewhere you can. Be informed on what claims actually mean. Look for "100% grass-fed" meats. Simply "grass-fed" cows only spend a portion of their life eating grass, and it doesn't have to actually be in a pasture. The same goes for eggs and dairy. Chickens are omnivores so a "vegetarian fed" chicken egg is a red flag. And organic dairy cows can be fed organic grain in a feed lot.
Seeking out a deliberate connection to your food may not be as easy as entering your credit card info just once and waiting for meat to magically show up on your doorstep every month, and you may not get “free” bacon, but you will be part of a movement working hard to change our food system for the better and reverse the damage that’s been done to our environment.
To succeed in our mission of helping to grow a regenerative supply chain we honor the ranchers who put in the real work to improve the quality of our food and heal our environment. Because of this we will not cut corners and we won't ever offer free meat.