Recently I watched Food Inc. for the second time. There was a quote that caught my ear from Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. I’m paraphrasing but essentially it was that when he is at the farmers market people come up to him and are outraged that a dozen eggs from his farm costs three dollars, but they are holding a can of soda that cost 75 cents.
I enjoyed Food Inc. the first time I watched it. Actually, “enjoyed” isn’t the right word. I was disturbed and depressed by the movie, but it was very well done. There are many issues weaved into the story of how our food industry has evolved over the past 70 years. Slaughterhouses and unions, monoculture farming, the role of government in food safety, etc. But that one quote resonated with me.
There is another scene in the movie where a family goes through the drive-thru at Burger King. They buy a number of items off the dollar menu. Later they go to a grocery store and try to find foods for similar prices. The youngest begs for some pears which are 99 cents per pound. They determine that they would only get 3 pears for a dollar at that price and chose not to buy any, disappointing the little girl. One burger from the dollar menu > 3 pears. The oft-used refrain of “we don’t have time to cook, and we don’t have the money to buy fresh foods” is heard.
There are some people in this country who truly do not have enough money to buy enough calories of fresh food to sustain themselves. There are definitely are more calories in a cheeseburger than 3 pears. However, the vast majority of Americans can afford to buy fresh food. Not to be mean, but it’s worth noting that each member of this family was overweight and did not appear to be in the situation where they needed calories in their cheapest form possible to stay alive.
This brings me to the thought that went through my mind when I heard Joel Salatin talk about his expensive eggs. Americans spend about 6% of their income on food. This is the lowest percentage in the world. Conversely, we spend the most on housing. However, there is a lot of money in-between those two necessities.
I see families that eat most of their foods out of a box or from fast food restaurants, but have $75,000 worth of automobiles in their garage. Families with cell phones for each man, woman, and child, but no money in the budget for fresh food. Time is the other top reason otherwise capable people use as the reason they buy fast food instead of cook. It takes time to go shopping and cook your food, and good food costs money.
Not everyone can or needs to buy their eggs at $3/dozen. Not everyone can buy all of their food from farmers markets (quite honestly, at this point there aren’t enough to feed everyone). Not every meal you eat has to be made from scratch with all organic ingredients. However, people need to think about what they put in their body and what a reasonable exchange is for that food and their health.