I told a story a little while ago and received an interesting comment; here’s most of it:
Local food, organic food, “real” food produces less per unit of land farmed without a demonstrable improvement in nourishment. Do you really want to have to expand the amount of land in cultivation to feed the earth? Wholesale going “local” means having more limited diets. As long as this is limited to zealots and those who want to be accepted by their organic friends, and for whom the amount of their income spent on food is negligible, that’s great. It’s a lifestyle expense. But if you want to feed the prisons, the hospitals, the schools, and do it on a budget, this is an awful, awful approach.
Last night, my wife and I watched a Redbox movie on the tiny 15” television in our bedroom. It’s called “War Dogs,” and it’s about a pair of 20-something arms dealers who have wacky and unlawful adventures in procuring weapons for the U.S. military. The movie’s anti-heroes make a living by scouring a website that should produce a cold sweat in anyone that’s ever been involved in any way with government contracting: FedBizOpps. This is a website that lists practically every requisition for products and services needed by the Federal government — from office supplies to military hardware — and invites contractors to bid on the work. After watching the movie it occurred to me that the government probably uses the site to buy food as well, so I went digging and came across an object lesson in why Local has a gaping hole in its strategy for global domination of agriculture.
Big Food, Tiny Prices
Interestingly, nearly all of the food requisitions I came across were for the Bureau of Prisons. Even the small orders were for staggering amounts of food: 5,000 lbs of ground beef here, 2,000 lbs of chicken leg quarters there, 2,500 lbs of turkey breast over here. There was one contract for a straight bid on 20,000 lbs of beef burritos. The smaller offerings typically involved at least 10,000 lbs of meat. The larger orders shot north of a quarter-million pounds. And the only thing more shocking than the amount of food involved was the price.The most recent award (January 6, as of this writing) for well over 100,000 lbs of various meats was awarded to two suppliers for a combined total of about $30,000. Another, awarded just 24 hours prior, involved 127,000 lbs of beef, pork, and chicken plus about an equal weight of frozen vegetables and various packaged food, including 70,000 lbs of pancakes. This one was awarded across nine suppliers at a total value of about $190K. Fun sidebar: $50K of this was awarded to a company in Texas that paid a $100K fine in 2002 after pleading guilty to selling adulterated meat.
This is staggeringly cheap food being sold to the federal government by an awful lot of companies with the word “Importers” in their names. I was surprised by how few of the procurement items made any mention of a requirement for USDA inspection.