How cheap is that chicken?

perdue chickenOn February 4, Spartan Staffing, a company known “For Great Jobs in Manufacturing and Logistics,” posted that they were seeking 30 people to fill jobs at a chicken processing plant in Beaver Dam, Ky., population 3,409.

Job duties would include loading products onto a conveyor, lifting totes of chicken that weigh 50 pounds or more, and counting product. Candidates should be able to work 8 to 12-hour shifts, lift 35 to 75 pounds continuously, and be willing to work in a cold environment.

Starting salary is $9.36 an hour. $19,468.80 gross yearly pay.

Those 30 people will be well under the federal poverty line for a family of four. A worker’s salary could DOUBLE and taxpayers would still be on the hook for his children’s KCHIP health insurance. She can get a $3/hour raise and taxpayers still would pay for her family’s food. In addition, we will pay for the children’s preschool, lunch and breakfast at school, supplemental food for children under 6 and pregnant moms, and summer meals. The families will qualify for home energy assistance and home weatherization, in addition to Medicaid.

I can’t believe the community in Western Kentucky is thrilled to have a factory paying adult workers a mere $2 more per hour than a fast food clerk. Scores of people making $19,400 a year can hardly contribute to a thriving community.

It seems especially ironic to me that the 2010 company annual report states that

“in a country as rich in resources as
ours, no one should have to go hungry. That is why
Perdue partners with Feeding America (formerly known
as America’s Second Harvest) and its network of
community food banks and pantries to ensure the safe
and effective distribution of our product donations. We
are committed to making a minimum annual donation to
Feeding America of one million pounds or $1 million
worth of food.”

My guess is those donations are all dark meat that are clogging up the Perdue supply lines anyway. And the 30 workers that will fill the jobs with Spartan will no doubt be eligible to receive some of those leg quarters.

So before we dash to Costco to buy boneless, skinless chicken breast for $1.99 per pound, let’s consider the real cost of cheap food, and think about where we want to spend our money.

While I don’t begrudge paying taxes to support my neighbors in need, I feel a little less enthusiastic about buying “cheap chicken” from a company that leaves me supporting at least 30 employees’ families and allows Jim Perdue to purchase vacation homes. The 2010 Perdue annual report revealed the company had $4.76 billion in sales.

Instead, I will buy chicken that is raised on Kentucky pasture, not on a factory farm. It will cost more to process in a small plant than in a factory where people are paid poverty wages. But my chicken will have less fat and more flavor than that factory chicken. So there’s a bone. As far as I’m concerned, eating around a bone just slows me down. I’ll eat less. It’s all good.

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6 Responses to How cheap is that chicken?

  1. Living in the area, I can assure you a good many of the jobs (at least on a temporary basis) are filled by immigrant workers, either Mexican or Central American. They are the only ones that will work for those wages. I do not know how many are legal. Would raising the pay also increase the attraction to white American citizenry for the jobs?

    • sfritschner says:

      The math seems pretty clear to me, but I think that’s a question for economists. The 2010 census shows that the Hispanic population in Beaver Dam has increased more than 500%. That could be a boon for people who appreciate the diversity it brings to the community, not to mention the food. But if we deduce that a) Kentucky is a mostly-red state and b) mostly-red people tend to oppose immigration, it does seem to put one in a bind. I hope my neighbors in Western Ky. welcome the immigrants and if the immigrants like making $19K a year, so be it. But then what do we do with complaints about how immigrants living on the dole. They’re on the dole because we insist on $1.99/lb boneless skinless chicken breast and Mr. Perdue and his family enjoy a lifestyle among the 1 percent. It’s an issue too big for me, except that I can help school districts buy more pasture-raised chicken, buy it myself, help the University of Louisville find it and in all ways try to move the needle on the local food system while pointing out to people that the legbone’s connected to the thighbone. Cheap food has repercussions.

  2. J D says:

    Where does one buy pasture-raised chicken and other locally grown foods?

  3. Pingback: The Berry Center at Work - Front Porch Republic

  4. Jill Baker says:

    For those interested in the true cost of chicken:

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