Cheap food or systemic change?

      2 Comments on Cheap food or systemic change?

Politics and our aspiration to a high quality of life are sometimes at odds.  In American culture, we are raised to believe that the improvement of the earth and our lives are entirely on our collective backs.  In Maniates’ “Individualization:  Plant a Tree, Ride a Bike, Save the World?” he speaks about the drops in the bucket from our individual efforts.  He argues that we need more…systemic and political change.

Maniates’ argument also applies to the continuous cheapening of food.  Cheap food is not just inexpensive food.  Cheap food is part of a huge industry that has spent fortunes to not only create, but lobby for their interests and profits.  Cheap food has been heavily marketed and made more easily accessible to lower income individuals because there is a lot of money to be made by major corporations.  As these big food industries push the political hand, the government provided subsidies go towards food that is not necessarily what would be the most nutritionally advantageous for the public.

I see that so much of the burden is shifted to our farmers- expectations they should raise their animals humanely and raise the crops that are most nutrient dense.  However, in a system that constantly pushing for more commodity at a lower price, they have little other choice if they want to feed their families.  My very well educated brother is a rancher in the Midwest.  He has dedicated his life to his love of agriculture and animal husbandry.  He prides himself in the humane life his animals lead and the high quality of produce he raises.  However, he cannot even afford to eat his own meat.  His family shops in the supermarket for low priced food much like the majority of the population.  Why isn’t high quality food more affordable?  Is it because the profit margin isn’t as attractive?

The change we hope to see must be made on a larger level than the individual.  The government and large food industries must bear the brunt of the revolution.  Right decisions need to be made and I believe it starts with the us as a population.  We must vote in the ballots and (those of that that can) with our pocketbooks to show that we demand so much more.

2 thoughts on “Cheap food or systemic change?

  1. joannafu


    Thank you for sharing a bit of your brother’s experience. I appreciate the question of why high-quality food isn’t more affordable. I think Pollan and Carolan give us some clues: high quality food like your brother’s requires more time and energy to produce. More pasture and higher quality feed for animals, longer time to ripen and more acreage for organic vegetables to achieve the same yield as industrialized crops. Today, our tax dollars subsidize the massive surpluses of industrialized agriculture; we should be lobbying to see at least some of these funds redirected, to instead support more sustainable farming, and to help make food like your brother’s more affordable.

    I think it’s equally important to ask: Should high quality food be inexpensive? Or should its price reflect its true value and cost to produce? In The Real Cost of Cheap Food, Carolan notes that consumer subsidies may be part of the solution (p. 8 and chpt. 10). I’d definitely like to see a cultural shift in which consumers are willing once again to spend a higher percentage of their income on better food and taxpayers are willing to help those in need afford it—so that farmers can be rewarded for producing it.

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