We hear it often, the perception that eating locally is expensive and elitist. From the global to the local level, the price of food reflects a complex set of issues. If you look closely though, you’ll find our farmers care deeply about providing good food for all. It’s a source of anguish when the economics mean they can’t. Gathered here are some recent thoughts, facts, and one farmer’s personal encounter on the matter. And, yes, Prince Charles, who was right all along.
Prince Charles on the future of food
The system of farm subsidies is geared in such a way that it favors overwhelmingly those kinds of agriculture techniques that are responsible for the many problems that I have just outlined. And secondly, that the cost of that damage is factored into the price of food production.
Consider, for example, what happens when pesticides get into the water supply. At the moment, the water has to be cleaned up at enormous cost to consumer water bills. The primary polluter is not charged. Or, take the emissions from the manufacturing application of nitrogen fertilizer, which are potent greenhouse gases. They, too, are not costed at source. This has led to a situation where farmers are better off using intensive methods and where consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food, are unable to do so because of the price.
There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing but, as things stand, doing the right thing is penalized…
The new food movement could be at the heart of this consensus acting as an agent for truly transformational change, not just, ladies and gentlemen, by addressing the challenges of making our food systems more sustainable and secure but also because, as far as I’m concerned, agriculture — not agri-industry — holds the key to the improvement of public health, the expansion of rural employment, the enrichment of education and the enhancement of quality of life. Read more…
— The Washington Post
Why being a foodie isn’t “elitist”
This name-calling is a form of misdirection, an attempt to evade a serious debate about U.S. agricultural policies. And it gets the elitism charge precisely backward. America’s current system of food production — overly centralized and industrialized, overly controlled by a handful of companies, overly reliant on monocultures, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, chemical additives, genetically modified organisms, factory farms, government subsidies and fossil fuels — is profoundly undemocratic. It is one more sign of how the few now rule the many. And it’s inflicting tremendous harm on American farmers, workers and consumers. Read more…
— Eric Schlosser, The Washington Post
New Study Compares Prices at Farmers’ Markets and Supermarkets. The Results Might Surprise You.
We’re all familiar with the accepted gospel: Only well-heeled food snobs can afford the exorbitant prices charged for those attractively displayed baby greens and heirloom tomatoes at farmers’ markets, while those who can’t afford such greener-than-thou food-purchasing decisions must paw through limp broccoli, wilted lettuce, and tennis-ball tomatoes at supermarket produce departments.
It may come as a surprise that there has been virtually no formal studies to support this widely accepted contention, and the few studies that have been conducted call its veracity into question.
A report released earlier this year by Jake Robert Claro, a graduate student at Bard College’s Center for Environmental Policy who did the study for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, found that prices at farmers’ markets were lower for many conventionally produced grocery items than they were at supermarkets. For organic items, farmers’ markets beat grocery stores every time hands down. Read more…
— Barry Estabrook, Politics of the Plate
Experts: Farmers not to blame for high food prices
The U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last month that broke down where each dollar spent on groceries goes. Farmers received an average of 11.6 cents per dollar in 2008, the latest year data was available. That was down from 13 ½ cents 10 years ago and from 14 ½ cents in 1993, the USDA report showed.
The rest of the money goes to processing, packaging, transportation, retail trade and food service, which includes any place that prepares meals, snacks and beverages for immediate consumption including deli counters and in-store salad bars. The share going to each category has declined some, except for food service which now gets 33.7 cents of every dollar spent, the USDA reported.
“While the commodity and food prices have been going up, the share going back to the farmer has been going down,” Hart said. Read more…
— CBS News
The omnivore’s other dilemma: Expanding access to non-industrial food
I didn’t know what to say. I had often been confronted by people over the price of my meat. “That’s ridiculous!” “So expensive!” “Phhftt!” One old lady even said, “you should be ashamed!” Little did she know that I already was, always had been.
I had set out in farming with a mission, to offer ethically and ecologically raised meat at the lowest price possible, low enough even for people like the woman standing in front of me at that moment. But, I quickly discovered that this was a pipe dream. I couldn’t sell pork chops for less than $7.00/lb. and keep the farm going, and even at that price, my wife would still need to continue subsidizing the farm. Read more…
— Bob Comis, Grist