Re-thinking the Appropriate Cost of Food

Percent of Average Family Budget for food

1901 – 42.5%  

1956 – 33%  

2009 – 12.4%

What’s wrong with these numbers?

Nothing! declares many newspaper articles “We’re sooo much better off than we were 100 years ago!” they exclaim with elation – “why the cost of food is only 25% of what it used to be!”   When one examines the reasons for these figures, the real implications of this truth are not ecstasy, but out-and-out horror.  I’m not going to discuss all the other aspects of “our better life”- that these articles espouse, they are sometimes positive and sometimes argumentative (having ipods enriches our life?… I mean, I have one, but does an ipod really make me happier?)

Lots of Industrial Foods are Better…. (wtf?)


But in the arena of food – these trends are frightening. Why? Well, as witnessed by a recent and ridiculous article titled “In Praise of Fast Food” the author argued that industrialized food has actually improved our lot in life.  Oh really? Her reasons ranged from the idea that the foods produced were not all that bad to the relative freedom their ease of producing and acquiring has provide us. Such gems as this statement abound: “If we assume that good food maps neatly onto old or slow or homemade food, we miss the fact that lots of industrial foods are better.”

What? Excuse me? – This sentence strikes home my very point. The author is bemoaning the poorly paid labor of the local food grower or “artisan” (a word she feels is elitist) and the essential slavery of the traditional mothers of families sweating in the kitchen all day to produce the family’s fare. Then she goes on to praise easily obtainable (and of course cheap) industrial food as a boon to mankind – helping relieve cultural sufferings of the people who toil at squeezing gorgeous pressed olive oil or making  handmade tortillas.  Sounds more like she had a bone to pick with a traditional upbringing. It also sounds like the 1950’s ads for all the “work saving appliances” that have led us into our consumerist spiral downward.

What happened to critical thinking?  Does this writer really think that the Italian man who presses the best olive oil in 3 villages feels himself  to be a slave?  How stupid – his wonderful product  it is probably his pride and joy and his raison d’etre! I doubt that having access to an  iPod will redeem this man’s sense of loss when he can no longer afford to produce his wonderful oil and is forced out of business by impossibly low prices from industrially produced oil.

THE PROBLEM IS THAT CORPORATE/INDUSTRIAL FARMING AND FOOD PRODUCTION HAS SO DESTROYED THE PRICE OF THIS MAN’S OLIVE OIL BY PRODUCING AN INFERIOR AND CHEAPER PRODUCT (WITH NO LOVE OR PRIDE) AND HAS DRIVEN THE ARTISAN PRODUCER OUT OF BUSINESS.  WE HAVE ALL COME TO EXPECT FOOD TO GET CHEAPER AND CHEAPER WHILE THE QUALITY STAYS OR GOES UP.  THIS IS SIMPLY ABSURD AND IMPOSSIBLE.

And that brings me to the cost of food.  If you do not believe that big corporate food companies strive with all their might to produce the absolutely cheapest crap, using the cheapest filler from plants and animals grown under the cheapest (= most inhumane and cheaply fed) and cheapest sugars (to mess totally with your taste buds) and package it in processed “food products” to sell at the highest price the market will allow – then you are a babe in the woods.
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I cannot even imagine what this author can possibly be referring to as even one industrialized food that is “better” than a small, conscientious local producer would create for their customers.  This graph so clearly shows why small local producers cannot possibly survive if their only market is to sell to industrial food processors.
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81% of the cost of getting food to people is the “marketing” bill.  A mere 19% goes to the actual grower of the food! Supermarkets are just the end profit-taker in a string of as many a 4-6 levels of profit – giving the farmer less that $1 for any food item you pay $4 to $6 for .
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So what must the farmer/true producer of that food do in order to make a living? He must either sell out to a corporate farming company that takes over his farm and runs it like an industrial-revolution factory, or the farmer must find a way to get more money for his product so he can produce A BETTER PRODUCT, WITH MORE NUTRITIONAL VALUE, LESS CHEMICALS AND PESTICIDES AND WITH LESS OF THE COST OF THE ITEM IN THE “MARKETING” PORTION OF THIS DOLLAR SHOWN.
Don’t think industrial food is any less nutritious than locally produced organic fare? Don’t think we are consuming huge increases in calories but getting less nutrition from them? Here’s a chart showing our huge increase in calories over the last 50 years and here and here is an article of the declining nutritional value of the food making up those calories.
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So what’s the conclusion?
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Think a little – over the last 100 years we spend less or our total budget on food – dramatically so.  How can that be?  It can only mean that everyone down the line gets less money right? Well, no – the hugly profitable mega food corporations are making a bundle on food – so it can’t be that.
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What is the only other choice?
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The food we are being sold is produced massively cheaper and the use of cheap, often questionable fillers and substitutes for what used to be more “real” food reduced the costs of production even more.
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Well, you could argue, industrial farms produce more efficiently – They sure do – and it is increasingly well-documented that they are using methods of production that are out-and-out destroying the fertility of the soil.  On top of that, pesticide/herbicide resistant weeds and pests abound so industrial farming uses more and more of them, poisoning further their food products.
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This is only the tip of the problems – but there is a start to the solution. Here it is:
BUY LOCAL WHENEVER POSSIBLE, BUY ORGANIC/SUSTAINABLY PRODUCED WHENEVER POSSIBLE. ADJUST YOUR THINKING – YOU WANT A QUALITY, NUTRITIOUS FOOD TO PUT IN YOUR FAMILY’S BODIES? THEN DON’T BUT THE 2ND OR 3RD IPOD AND RATHER PAY A LOCAL PRODUCER FOR A QUALITY FOODSTUFF.

Good quality COSTS MORE MONEY.  Cheaper food CANNOT BE BETTER – it can only be cheaper.

Post part of Grain Free Tuesday return here


Do you spend more on quality organic foods and shun processed foods?
Please leave your ideas, comments or suggestions here:
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4 Responses to Re-thinking the Appropriate Cost of Food

  1. Kelli says:

    That author of the fast food article is ridiculous. It does not even take that long to cook real food. Personally, I’m far more worried about the low quality of todays industrial corporate-owned food system than I am about any possible food contamination. Who knows what the long term affects are going to be from being chronically nutrient-depleted due to low-quality foods? I fear for the health of generation X because they’ve never known real food.

    And really cheap food is not cheap at all. http://agriculturesociety.com/politics-and-food/is-cheap-food-really-cheap-the-hidden-costs-of-industrial-food/
    I think I’ll definitely take my time making a romaine salad with sesame oil atop it or cooking up a cup of lentil beans in sea salt on the stovetop. Our society is so messed up. We destroyed environment, food quality, small communities, all for the sake of money and connivence.

  2. daiaravi says:

    … buy local from the people who produce best ya can… 🙂

  3. Sveta says:

    What great points. Its scary that people would rather eat cheap food to save money at the expense of their health.

    And dont get me started on the whole: artisan = elitist. that is wrong on so many levels.

    Sveta

  4. hellaD says:

    Wow, great article! It is funny for me to think back on how I was just ten years ago, when I pretty much refused to spend money on food. I thought it was a real waste. I was cooking in fancy restaurants at the time so I could usually get a much better meal by fixing it up for myself, than I could afford on the salary they paid me, so I guess my situation was a bit different than someone who didn’t have that sort of option. I also had a tendency to take things home as well. I felt justified in doing so because of the low wages, but I am sure the owners wouldn’t have seen it in the same light–I spent most of my money at the time on cigarettes and whatnot to get me through the 14 hour + days –ahhh the good ole days — NOT! We did have some good times though…

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