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This video is from Perennial Plate: Adventurous and Sustainable Eating. It is a great first hand account of farm to market, where the average grocery store shopper is reminded of just how much work goes into bringing us our fruits and veggies.
I’ve watched many of the episodes in this series and I must say it’s given me a new-found appreciation for organic – not just because of the health benefits but also because of its economic implications. The amount of work and the few who are brave enough to do it on such a small, small financial return is an unfathomable lifestyle for most surbanites and urban dwellers. With the amount of natural threats (mosquitos, weather, bacteria, etc.) that can plaque even the most hearty crop (see the cranberry and the rice episodes at Perennial Plate), it’s no wonder most turn to chemical treatments to protect their livelihood. And let’s not forget the financial security that large corporate producers provide to farmers. The machines and the land and the experienced labor are all so expensive – economies of scale make a lot of sense to both the farmers and us, the consumers. We get to eat practically free-of-charge at the expense of those who grew it for us.
Think about it. How much do you think your food is really worth? Scratch the organic part for a sec. Just add in labor, cost of land, hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars worth of equipment, packaging and shipping (how much does an avocado cost to get it from South America to a grocery store in New York?), and we get expensive food. Now, add in the organic part with its uncertainty and risk…. see where I’m going? Food is expensive.
Yet, because we want to go into our grocery stores and see piles and piles of fresh food at our finger tips AND at “good” prices, this stuff gets subsidized like crazy. The laws of supply and demand in combination with manufacturing/economies of scale let us turn a blind eye to its real cost. Unfortunately for us the more we rely on mass production the less nutritious and environmentally friendly our food becomes. A need for packaging creates reliance on oil to make plastics; Plastics wrap food; The use of plastics is not reduced. Shipping causes increased vehicle miles traveled and therefore, more air particulates. Mass produced fruits and veggies cause less soil turn over and therefore strip the land of nutrients.
I think of the kids in poor neighborhoods that don’t know where their food comes from, that don’t know what a tomato is, and that reference their last vegetable intake as the fries from McDonald’s. I think of the moms and dads in middle class neighborhoods working their butts off to put food on the table who just cant afford to make the switch to organic. I think of me and those just like me, just starting out in my career, who really want to subscribe to the organic/local craze, but need to pay rent on time and still have some money left over to go have drinks with friends from time to time. And then I wonder if it’s truly an issue of “can’t” rather than “will”.
One thing is for certain. In order to align our supposed values around food (as manifested in eating local and organic) with price point, we are going to have to come to grips with its real costs. That will mean a major shift in how we consider other cost of living factors like housing. Are we really willing to be ok with less square feet for the sake of healthy food? Are we also willing to settle for eating foods within seasonable availability (i.e.- foregoing strawberries in the winter ***gasp!***).
I know people seem mad over local, including participating in community gardens or joining a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) but at the end of the day we have to change our priorities slightly; to consider how our food is grown and brought to our plates; and to reflect the respect for that process in the prices we pay. Trust me, I’m not a fan of paying twice as much for grass-fed, organic milk than for mass-produced skim, but at the end of the day I know I’m supporting the farmers who got it to me and not the company who made their work cheap. And not to mention respecting the animal who made it possible (on average cows in mass-produced dairy farms last 2 years. That’s a third of the time that local ones do before heading to slaughter).
I’m a work in progress with this. In fact I plan on eating barbecue today and pretty sure they’re not grassfed, let alone local meats. I can say, however, that I’m much more conscious of my purchasing power. I’m making small steps in finding the happy medium between my wallet and my conscience.
How about you? What barriers do you have to going local? organic? Is it all price point? Is it convenience? Or is it just not a priority for you?
Everything is a choice. Knowledge feeds our choices. If one truly is passionate, they will buy only organic and choose to not buy that new purse or phone or whatever if that is what it takes to stay on budget.
But most people live outside of their means anyway, so there is clearly another mechanism at work when they stare at the pile of organic fruits and veggies and see that price tag. What stops them?
So it must come down to education: we need to really understand exactly what we are buying into and that campaign is a whisper in the wind compared to corporate farming marketing shouts, bells, and whistles.
Many will not quit smoking no matter how clear the danger is, so telling people that organic is better for them is not motivation enough. Telling them they are part of a movement to “save the planet” is not enough. GETTING THE PRICES DOWN (subsidies?) would be a great first step to encourage more purchases and if someone eats a real tomato – well – they will have a hard time buying the ones picked green and shipped around the world.
And some days we just eat junk food because it is tasty and comforting and cheap – that might never go away. But if we do it less often that is a step in the right direction.
We definitely need to eat seasonally in order to eat locally, but greenhouses can be helpful in cheating the system.