The myth of cheap food

Along the lines of a couple of books by Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food & The Omnivore\’s Dilemma) that I\’ve been reading lately, here is a opinion article from the Strib that caught my eye.
The myth of cheap food.







One response to “The myth of cheap food”

  1. wadE Avatar

    Just in case the strib link goes away, here’s the text:
    As a chef and restaurateur, a great deal of my world revolves around food. Consequently, I spend much of my time thinking about it. That includes the quality, availability and cost of the food I need to continue to operate a profitable business. As it concerns my restaurant, that rarely involves my looking at the commodities market.

    The commodities market report informs us of the current prices of various food stuffs including but not limited to fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, eggs and dairy products. The report includes both conventionally and organically grown foods. It has only peripheral bearing on what I do since I buy directly from farmers, many of whom don’t sell their products on the commodities market and subsequently don’t base their prices on it. It does affect me to the extent that some of my local flour and grains are traded in that way and also to the extent that some of my farmers don’t raise their own feed and are subject in that regard to price fluctuations as they impact their production costs.

    At Heartland, we practice fair trade. In other words, we ask that our farmers make themselves aware of what it costs for them to get their product to market and to pay themselves the equivalent of a living wage. By that we mean they should be able to charge enough in order to be profitable to the extent that they can put a roof over their heads, send their kids to school, obtain necessary health care, feed and clothe themselves and put a little away for retirement. Should their production costs increase, we expect for them to charge us more for their product. Should they see their costs go down, we ask that they pass some of the savings on to us. It’s a partnership built on trust and goodwill as opposed to speculation on a trading floor.

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about what I consider to be our broken food system. I proposed that when based upon a fair trade system like the one we use at Heartland, creating a more efficient conduit for distribution of locally and sustainably grown food would help lower the production costs thereby enabling our local farmers to be more competitive in the marketplace. In turn, that would allow for greater accessibility to more healthful and flavorful foods to a larger demographic and consequently benefit us all by not only boosting the local economy but also in improving the health and well being of both the community and the environment as well improving the quality of life for many of us.

    In response, one commenter to this blog insisted I was uneducated in the physiology of plants first by claiming that the essential fatty acids known as omega-3’s cannot be produced by plants. He later recanted that claiming he was a bit intoxicated when he responded and then claimed that he was referring to omega-6 fatty acids. Of course, he was wrong on both accounts. In fact, the human body is incapable of producing those essential fats and must acquire them through the consumption of food stuffs. If vegetarians and especially vegans were unable to obtain these fats from plants, they would die. He also claimed that I was a shill for corporate America which is probably the furthest thing from which I am. I only mention this because another claim he made was that suggesting that we buy locally and sustainably produced food simply because it tastes better is folly since it costs way too much to produce. Again, he missed the point entirely. First of all, it is not just about taste; it is about nutrition as well. Part of the reason more nutritious food tastes better is because nature has intended it to be that way so that we will be inclined to feed ourselves in a more nutritionally efficient manner. As far as the cost is concerned, that was pretty much my point. Let’s create a system that helps reduce the cost so that we may all have a better quality of life.

    That brings me to what I call the “myth of cheap food”. We hear it being bandied about all the time. That is, the claim that through the miracles of modern technology that we have made it possible to produce enormous amounts of cheap food and thereby feed the world. In fact, this may be the only time in history when we in America are overfed and under nourished. Instead of growing nutrient rich vegetable crop, our farms have been growing vast amounts of feed corn and soybeans which are respectively enormous reservoirs of cheap calories and protein. Never mind that these genetically modified crops are being grown in nutrient deficient soil that produces nutrient deficient plants to be consumed by us who are then by consequence nutrient deficient. We sure are able to afford to get a belly full of it. Just look around at the expanding waistlines of the over sized population if you don’t believe me. For some reason, we hardly ever hear about this as being one of the terrible things we have done to ourselves in the names of profit and the so called advancement of science.

    Here is a simple biological fact to assist in putting it in perspective for you. A nerve cell, or neuron, runs on glucose which is sugar. It is the fuel it needs to function properly. Once a neuron has absorbed all of what it needs, the rest of that sugar is still floating around in the bloodstream where the body converts it to triglycerides which, as many of us know, are fats. All of this excess sugar that people consume in the form of highly processed foods, including things as simple as a loaf of factory made supermarket bread, is still floating around waiting for this conversion to happen. Those fats and sugars are contributing to the vast increases we see in the onset of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes. We sure may feel full when eat that super sized fast food meal, but we remain nutritionally deficient.

    So here is what I am saying. There is no such thing as cheap food. It’s a myth that is perpetuated by a huge propaganda machine that has convinced us that we are doing the best we can for ourselves by continuing to eat garbage. The fact is that we can pay for our food up front at the cash register when we choose to buy the most nutritionally complete whole foods we can find, or we can settle up on the back end at the doctor’s office or in the pharmacy or at the hospital when the piper finally shows up to get paid. Don’t even get me started on what it costs us taxpayers to clean up an environment that has been degraded by the abuses inherent in conventional farming practices. In the first scenario, we can choose to lead longer and healthier lives. In the second scenario, we can count to the end of our days wondering what’s taking so long. The choice is ours.

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