I seem to have really bothered some people with the previous post, New York Times on Small Dairies, Local Food Bias as Anti-Quality.
I probably covered too much ground in that. When I look back at the points I brought up, I can see how people latched on to a few things and criticized them. It seems that just because I wrote something that people didn't expect to read, they assumed I was saying something that I wasn't saying (e.g. flown-in strawberries taste better or factory-farmed pork is OK).
One thing I find odd about the situation: you'd figure that as someone who eats conscientiously and produces, markets and distributes some of the best pigs and pork in the Americas, I probably have some insights into these topics that normal folks don't have.
Here are the points I wanted to make:
- Food is physical. How it tastes is a function of its chemistry. If you really care about flavor, that's what you need to pay attention to.
- What's "local" in America isn't considered local outside of America (or similar places).
- Locally produced stuff that you can buy is often inferior - because the very best stuff gets moved to where the money is.
- Small production is often less efficient - particularly less fuel efficient. Distribution in America greatly favors big producers.
- Small farmers living in rural areas without garbage collection degrade the environment more than their city-living customers suspect.
Of course agribusiness has trouble with perishables like strawberries - so smaller producers can make and distribute better stuff. But in the case of stuff that keeps (and a lot of obviously stuff does), agribusiness can produce and distribute great products very efficiently. American agribusiness doesn't provide much evidence for that - but European companies do.
For example this month's "Saveur" magazine, in addition to talking about our "incredible bacon", mentions a list of notable butters. There's butters in there from fairly small American producers (often organic) side-by-side with butter produced by German agricultural giants (e.g. Meggle brand).
Many of the butters listed are run-of-the-mill European butters - they aren't marketed as premium (or "artisanal") products. They are commodities you find nearly everywhere. I figure the difference is due to most American companies are providing consumers with cheap, low-quality products, while the European companies produce for more demanding customers.
In my own experience, small American producers often can't produce stuff as good as the big European food companies. E.g. there is no American producer I know of that makes marzipan as good as these guys.
I would hope that American dairymen (big or small) would decide that they'd better study what those big European dairies are doing and why - consumers would benefit if there was better product on the shelves. Given their weak competitive position, small American producers need to learn how to make good products, or they'll get pushed aside the day bigger companies produce higher quality products cheaply.
Nobody seems to have gotten bothered about me talking about the odd American concept of "local". For example, I've had many tell me that my pigs are "local" to Seattle - despite there being 285 miles and a gigantic mountain range in the way. In addition, we have a completely different climate, economy and politics - but apparently we are local.
My idea of local is (like my wife's) about 20 miles. Hence, what I'd consider local production (which exists in other countries) isn't going to happen in America for a long time - if only because zoning laws and property prices make it illegal or too expensive to keep, slaughter and process pigs close enough to the city. And if we had to market our pigs on such a small scale, we'd have to go out of business or make inferior pigs. The fact that some consumers will buy based on their taste buds, and not their sense of what's "local" enough means we can stay in business.
The idea that locally produced stuff (that you can find on your local shelves) is often inferior seems to have bothered people the most. If you go to any area that produces food (e.g. Yakima valley, California, Alaska, Iowa), you'll find that the top grade of product is usually getting exported to some market where people pay a big premium for it. Those places are importing it because their own local stuff isn't as good. And the locals who live in the producing areas can't buy the best stuff, as it gets exported. So what's locally available is inferior (even if the locally produced product being exported is the best in the world).
E.g. the Japanese are famous for importing the highest grade of pork, tuna and cherries. Those who happen to live in the pork, tuna and cherry producing regions of the world have a hard time buying the best stuff - it is all spoken for and sent to Japan. What they can buy is necessarily inferior - if it wasn't the Japanese would snap it up. At the same time, a Japanese producer of pork, tuna or cherries (if he even exists) is probably producing goods inferior to what's available to consumers - as they are already importing the world's best.
The best Gravlax I ever ate, made from Alaskan salmon, was in Munich. Europeans import the best. I have yet to similar stuff as good in America, despite it being produced here. Our local stuff is undeniably inferior. The same is definitely true of almonds and marzipan - as we don't even grow the Jordan variety of almonds, we'll probably never make marzipan as good as Germany's (a non-almond producing country where no almond is "local").
I don't see how anyone can dispute the reality of those points, even if you argue that they aren't important to the decision to buy or not buy local products.
It is my understanding of the physical nature of the food experience (and feedback from others) that leads me to say that Wooly Pigs produces some of the best pork in the Americas. We've gone through considerable expense to import some of the world's best-tasting pigs (we are the only ones with them!), and we raise them the way some of the best pork producers in the world (Austrian Mangalitsa breeders) do. Unless your local pig farmer gets the same pigs and raises them the same (or better than we do), your pork probably won't taste as good. Hence, if you insist on buying local pigs, they will probably be inferior. Our frozen Mangalitsa pork is probably better than your fresh local pork.
If we had "local" pigs that as good as the ones I imported, I could have saved myself a lot of effort and expense to get some good pork.
The fuel efficiency issue seems to have bothered a lot of people. I don't see how you can dispute it: America's food distribution system (for factory food) is incredibly efficent, but only for big producers. Animals get killed by the truckload, processed by the ton, distributed by the truckload, etc. As a small producer, I'm painfully aware that because we can't operate in volume we are much less efficient - in a way that doesn't help our quality. Our costs to distribute a pig's pork are very high compared to any reasonably-sized producer.
From the other side: one reason why stuff costs so much at the farmers' market (besides them typically operating like cartels) is that small producers aren't efficient. That farmer has to get $3.85/lb for his chicken, given all the driving he has to do. This is all a consequence of America's sprawl - unless you transport and process goods in big lots, you'll pay through the nose.
Despite my understanding of this, we continue to raise the pigs in a fairly sustainable, humane way that produces the best meat we possibly can. My appreciation of the economies of scale - particularly in distribution - doesn't change that. I wish it was possible to operate more efficiently - but that's not how it is.
When it comes to my own personal choices, I will continue to buy food from ridiculously small farms that produce the best-tasting stuff - even though I know they are burning up a lot of gas to get me that food, and even though I know they've got an ever-growing ranch dump.
 Despite my mentioning of the "Saveur" article a few times in the last 24 hours, the topic of the magazine is butter, not our pork.
 You can actually find books written in German about what to feed cows to produce the best raw milk. The people working at the big food companies in Europe have some idea of what you do to produce good milk and butter. Given America's focus on cheap food, this information isn't typically available in English. I haven't met a small dairyman who could explain to me how and why their system produces the best product (in a chemical sense) given their resources. This puts dairymen who want to produce quality butter at a disadvantage. There's a similar lack of pig fattening information in English, with the result that small American farmers feed things that ruin their fat.
 I'm in the pig business because it wasn't possible to find pigs like the Mangalitsa in the USA or Canada. If they had existed, I would probably have just bought Mangalitsa feeder pigs and finished them, or perhaps a breeding pair.
 Most farmers' markets are not open to all producers who meet certain criteria. They operate like cartels. That costs consumers.