Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The True Cost of Food

The rising costs of living have everyone fretting. I am old enough to remember biking past lines of cars waiting to buy overpriced gas during the oil "shortage" of the 70's. Seems we have come round to the same place again, that very little real reflection and change has taken place in the intervening years. Somehow, we as a nation have a habit of putting up with this--complaining, yes--but not doing anything real to shift the situation. My biggest concern surrounds food: I want people to see what the real cost of food is and choose the path that will eventually end this nonsense. To do that we need to retake control from corporate food production. I want us to realize that we don't have to participate in this twisted scenario where costs escalate and we either quietly pay or starve.

I got Shannon Hayes' newsletter in my inbox today (as of this writing it is not yet posted on her website, but will be soon I hope: http://grassfedcooking.com/). For those of you who don't know, she and her family have a diversified farm in New York State which provides well-raised food locally. Luckily, Shannon is also a writer, and through her writing she provides nourishment to those of us who can't attend her market days. I have her wonderful guides to cooking pastured meats--which have taught me to treat my meats very gently, and I get her occasional ruminations by email. Today's is a tearjerker, for sure, as she describes how the fuel and grain price spikes are affecting the family business, causing them to cut production of poultry, which will in turn affect her customers in months to come. I am so very glad that she shared this with us all--glad on many levels. We need to know what makes real food so expensive, we need to value what we are eating. We need to understand who is really profiting from this uncontrolled escalation in costs (Shannon does a good job of making this clear in just a few paragraphs). And we need to focus on the solution: uncoupling from the agribusiness model to which we have hitched our wagons. We need to buy our food from farmers like Shannon Hayes.

We tried to bring our monthly order down from the farms this week. There were not enough orders to make the trip sustainable for Steve. Accounting for the regular participants who are traveling (a fair number, as it is early summer) we still shouldn't be in this position. This urban area is HUGE and I regularly get calls and emails from people looking for real food. So what happened? People are balking at the $25 delivery fee, in addition to the real cost of real food. I have been meaning to say this for a while: This is what it costs to eat real food! And if we don't pay it now, cutting somewhere else if need be, then REAL FOOD will soon not be available.

It frightens me that folks are willing to spend $25 a week on lattes, but unwilling to pay $25 each month to get food raised healthfully and sustainably in our own state. I know this, because two of my daughters work at Starbucks: They have many regular customers whose customary orders they begin when a familiar face walks in the door. People are willing to eat food out that they say they wouldn't eat at home, and then pay many times over for the privilege of someone else doing the cooking. And some of us feel that the kids "need" boxed cereal so they can feed themselves breakfast (have you figured out the cost per pound of that "food"?) And I haven't factored in the cost of medical care necessitated by eating a steady diet of such SAD food. Or the cost for subsidizing farms where food is eventually plowed under, a victim of pricing schemes managed by the interests of big business, not of the consumers. What about the cost of manufacturing and disposing of mountains of superfluous packaging? Or the societal cost of cleaning up toxic waterways contaminated by agricultural chemicals and pooled effluent (which on a sustainable farm is known as "manure" and "compost" and is used instead of the toxic chemicals to strengthen the crops.) What about the cost to us all of droughts caused in part by trying to grow crops and animals in ways that work against Nature, needing high inputs of water, as well as chemicals.

I know that this is getting very close to a lecture, and I apologize for that. Yet, I am not sorry for telling the truth. We say we want to be healthy, that we want to ease the burden on the environment, that we don't want to be dependent on foreign oil. But to do those things, and to recapture the slower way of life that we admire, we must support America's small farms. Switching away from the dominant agribusiness model we have today may sound impossible, but it is entirely possible. It has not been that long since we surrendered our food production and sales to corporations. We can and must courageously change the way we eat. Everything will flow from there . . .

1 comment:

Mia said...

Wow. So true. And sad. Great lecture! You should continue it!!

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