Monday, July 21, 2014

Hidden Costs of Cheap Food

Driving down any number of main highways this summer I have noticed that the McDonald's soft serve billboard is there to remind you that happines$1 is only a buck away. Sadly, in the last 40 years this seems to have become the American way: red, white and cheap food. The blue can be our mood since this "food" is making us SAD (Standard American Diet) and sick.

In his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan brings to light the disparity between how our money used to be spent on food and how it is being spent now. In 1960, 17.5% of our income was spent on food with only 5.2% going towards health care. Fast-forward to today and those numbers have nearly flip-flopped. We are now only spending 9.9% of our income on food and our health care costs have soared to 16%. Our health and the type of food we consume is undeniably tied. When we make quality food a priority we invest in a healthier future.

Listen, I get it. Spending $4 on a pound of organic green beans when you can get the same amount of the conventional kind for a buck, seems ludicrous. However, there are untold hidden costs to cheap food. In an excerpt from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Steven L. Hopp states that in addition to that cheap sticker price there is an additional $80 billion in subsidies that we are paying annually. Eighty. Billion. Every. Year.
Broken down that is:
  • $22 billion in our taxes for agricultural fuel
  • $3 billion for the Farm Bill subsidies for corn and wheat
  • $10 billion for treatment of food-related illness
  • $17 billion in agricultural chemical cleanup costs
  • $8 billion in collateral damage due to pesticide use
  • $20 billion in costs due to nutrients lost because of soil erosion

Turns out those $1 green beans and soft serve are not such a great bargain after all. Organic farming practices on the other hand:
  • enrich the soil and prevent erosion
  • do not use harmful pesticides and herbicides
  • protect and maintain endangered plant species by ensuring biodiversity 

With organic food you are paying up front for the additional time and labor, and also the packaging, marketing and distribution for the small farmer. This is the cost of real food. It's all there on the price tag and yes, it is a little higher but you won't be blind-sided with hidden monetary and health costs later.

What I am asking you to do is not an easy feat. Essentially, I want you to change your perception of how you spend your food dollars. Yes, yes- much easier said then done. But it can be done and in the end the health of your waist-line, body and planet will be that much better for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment