Monday, July 15, 2013

The True Cost of Food

I've been in a civil disagreement with another blogger (gardening/recipes blogger Leaf+Grain) over the past week or so about prices at the farmers' market.  She's experiencing sticker shock, and I understand. 

Her argument is that prices at the farmers' market are too high for the average American to afford.

My counterargument is that "afford" is a relative term, and that if it's truly not sustainable to produce food the way we've been producing it over the past few decades -- that is, lots of soy- and corn-based processed foods, meat from feedlots, produce from large monocultures -- is unsustainable, then we don't have much choice but to recalculate what portion of our food budget needs to go to food.

We Americans have experienced cheaper and cheaper food prices over the past hundred years.  Industrial food is cheap food.  Our great-grandparents put a quarter of their income toward food -- and that was in a time when very few families ate in restaurants more than a few times a year.  Today the average American eats five meals a week in a restaurant, and still we spend only 9% of our household budgets on food.  This leaves us a lot of money to spend on nonessentials, and we've gotten used to that. We expect it.  When food isn't cheap, it feels overpriced.

Unfortunately she shut down the comments on her blog post, calling me a food elitist.  I don't think I'm an elitist.  I think I'm a realist.  If cheap food is truly unsustainable -- that is, if it's impossible to continue producing food this cheaply forever -- then eventually the era of cheap food will end.  If we haven't prepared for it, we'll be in much worse shape than if we had.  And I believe part of preparing for it is educating ourselves on the true cost of producing our food.

Here's the blog post.  I'd be interested in hearing any comments, either privately or publicly.