A SIMPLE SCENE PLAYS ITSELF OUT at our local farmers’ market — an earthy-looking person walks up to a farmer selling free-range,

A SIMPLE SCENE PLAYS ITSELF OUT at our local farmers’ market — an earthy-looking person walks up to a farmer selling free-range, organic meat or eggs and starts to chat. Yes, the animal roamed outside. Yes, the farmer personally saw to its organic pedigree. Of course it was harvested humanely. Finally, yes, the farmer has exactly what the shopper wants. Then the price is named and the hemming and hawing begins.

The checkbook is in the car.
The shopper needs to finish walking around.
The spouse may have already bought the chicken or turkey or steak or duck eggs.

The face on the farmer tells the tale, sometimes with a wry smile, of having heard it before. Earthy person talks a noble game but has balked at backing their stated belief with hard-earned cash.

I understand. Last fall I watched an enthusiastic discussion about a heritage gobbler that was processed just the night before turn into an awkward shuffle when the 15-pound bird clocked in at nearly $90. A dozen duck eggs is steep at $8 or $9. Last week, I watched a sheepish retreat over a $24 chicken.

It was a fresh bird, a little more than five pounds. As the farmer slipped it off the scale and moved to put it back into a cooler, I stepped in and told her I would take it. I had to think twice. I mean, $24 is a lot to pay for one chicken. On peapod.com, for example, I can get an all-natural (whatever that means) antibiotic-free chicken for about $7 plus a small charge rolled into the delivery cost of a larger order. At the local discount grocer, I can buy what one might call a no-special-claims bird for even less.

The farmer gave me some cooking advice. We took our bird home for dinner. Roasted with root vegetables, it was darn tasty. Very meaty, tender and not at all dry. It didn’t taste more chickeny as I believe Michael Pollan has said. It certainly was flavorful.

It surprised me that the price of that roaster hit my mind much harder than my pocketbook. I’m a pretty decent cook. Yet I found myself thinking carefully about preparing that bird. At $24, I was extra vigilant to yank it from the oven the minute it was done. Normally, I would never bother to make stock (the secret ingredient in many tasty restaurant meals) with a measly chicken – too small. Not this time. You see, $24 is a hell of a lot to pay. I made sure to use those bones.

My farmers’ market hen made me think about how many peaches or plums I would let rot on the counter if each one cost maybe $4 or $5. Probably none. Food waste—one of the biggest problems we face—would drop radically if food cost more.

I think the woman who sold me that chicken probably needs to charge $24 to cover costs and make a little profit. Her prices are likely fair based on costs. Yet, they also point out a big problem. Food justice. It’s a term heard more and more often.

Let’s say you believe that a free-range, organic, pampered and gently slaughtered animal (if slaughter can ever be gentle) is better than a conventionally raised animal. Does that mean that only those at a certain income level get to eat meat … or as much meat as they want? Does everyone else get beans?

Yes, there are some programs to stretch SNAP dollars used at farmers’ markets with matching funds. That covers but a few people. The reality is that most people, even middle income earners, can neither afford nor justify a $24 chicken. Sorry for the pun, but it’s food for thought.

In 1928 Herbert Hoover called for, “…a chicken in every pot.” American agriculture — yes, what many derisively call industrial agriculture — delivered. If you want to change how that chicken gets to the pot, you better be prepared to pay the farmer what she needs to keep one roasting in her own oven. And to accept that it’s never going cost $7.

organic meat or eggs and starts to chat. Yes, the animal roamed outside. Yes, the farmer personally saw to its organic pedigree. Of course it was harvested humanely. Finally, yes, the farmer has exactly what the shopper wants. Then the price is named and the hemming and hawing begins.

The checkbook is in the car.
The shopper needs to finish walking around.
The spouse may have already bought the chicken or turkey or steak or duck eggs.

The face on the farmer tells the tale, sometimes with a wry smile, of having heard it before. Earthy person talks a noble game but has balked at backing their stated belief with hard-earned cash.

I understand. Last fall I watched an enthusiastic discussion about a heritage gobbler that was processed just the night before turn into an awkward shuffle when the 15-pound bird clocked in at nearly $90. A dozen duck eggs is steep at $8 or $9. Last week, I watched a sheepish retreat over a $24 chicken.

It was a fresh bird, a little more than five pounds. As the farmer slipped it off the scale and moved to put it back into a cooler, I stepped in and told her I would take it. I had to think twice. I mean, $24 is a lot to pay for one chicken. On peapod.com, for example, I can get an all-natural (whatever that means) antibiotic-free chicken for about $7 plus a small charge rolled into the delivery cost of a larger order. At the local discount grocer, I can buy what one might call a no-special-claims bird for even less.

The farmer gave me some cooking advice. We took our bird home for dinner. Roasted with root vegetables, it was darn tasty. Very meaty, tender and not at all dry. It didn’t taste more chickeny as I believe Michael Pollan has said. It certainly was flavorful.

It surprised me that the price of that roaster hit my mind much harder than my pocketbook. I’m a pretty decent cook. Yet I found myself thinking carefully about preparing that bird. At $24, I was extra vigilant to yank it from the oven the minute it was done. Normally, I would never bother to make stock (the secret ingredient in many tasty restaurant meals) with a measly chicken – too small. Not this time. You see, $24 is a hell of a lot to pay. I made sure to use those bones.

My farmers’ market hen made me think about how many peaches or plums I would let rot on the counter if each one cost maybe $4 or $5. Probably none. Food waste—one of the biggest problems we face—would drop radically if food cost more.

I think the woman who sold me that chicken probably needs to charge $24 to cover costs and make a little profit. Her prices are likely fair based on costs. Yet, they also point out a big problem. Food justice. It’s a term heard more and more often.

Let’s say you believe that a free-range, organic, pampered and gently slaughtered animal (if slaughter can ever be gentle) is better than a conventionally raised animal. Does that mean that only those at a certain income level get to eat meat … or as much meat as they want? Does everyone else get beans?

Yes, there are some programs to stretch SNAP dollars used at farmers’ markets with matching funds. That covers but a few people. The reality is that most people, even middle income earners, can neither afford nor justify a $24 chicken. Sorry for the pun, but it’s food for thought.

In 1928 Herbert Hoover called for, “…a chicken in every pot.” American agriculture — yes, what many derisively call industrial agriculture — delivered. If you want to change how that chicken gets to the pot, you better be prepared to pay the farmer what she needs to keep one roasting in her own oven. And to accept that it’s never going cost $7.