Put another way: people who shop at Sam’s Club for “inexpensive” meat are saving nothing. They could buy fresh beef at their local grocery store and pay the same price. They only need to add the labor of shaping the meat into burgers.
But many Americans, maybe even most of us, don’t think that way. We’d rather shop for a “bargain,” even if that bargain is wrapped in expensive three-color printed cardboard and a lot of plastic. (I’m assuming the meat itself was shrink-wrapped in plastic before being placed in its cardboard container.) Cargill knows that Americans love bargains and that they love convenience. (“Look! Someone else has already shaped this meat into patties. Whew! I don’t have to do that job.”)
But Cargill also knows that Americans rarely want to pay the true price for convenience; that is, the price of labor and materials that make “convenience” possible. Still, that’s what Americans want and so that’s what Cargill provides: “convenient” meat at the same price as in the grocery store.
But the only way to do that — I repeat: the ONLY WAY TO DO THAT — is by cutting costs on the product. Where to cut the price? By cobbling together enough “ground beef” from whichever vendor will sell its wastes to Cargill. Put another way: When someone picks up a package of pre-formed hamburgers at Sam’s Club and looks at the price, do they honestly believe they’re getting high-quality meat? Any person with any kind of intelligence — any kind of intelligence — would have to know that packaged meat that costs the same as unpackage fresh meat isn’t the same meat.
My point is this: Cargill is selling what Americans want to buy. I am saddened by the story of what happened to this young woman. I don’t blame her for being angry. (*1)
Americans need to stop lying to themselves about their food. We want inexpensive food, but we don’t want to pay full price. It’s too easy to blame greedy corporate bastards and/or farmers and/of the government. Or all three. My guess is that if Americans actually started paying for high-quality, safe food, and the price of hamburger rose to its real price — somewhere between $15 and $20 dollars a pound — the screaming over that situation would drown out the moaning we’re hearing over this tale of woe in the New York Times.
*1: It is a measure of both her youth and her anger that her response to what happened is, literally, “Why me?” (Her words, quoted in the news story.) The implication is that it would have been okay if it had happened to someone else.