Cheap Food is NOT good food!

Cheap food is not good for anyone! I say this as someone who buys a lot of cheap food. I've even blogged numerous times about how much I save my family each week on groceries. We get by with some pretty cheap food.

That being said, I don't think cheap food is good for any of us. I've recently been reading the book,The Omnivore's Dilemma,and it has forever changed the way I look at food. To be honest, I've been aware of the issues facing animals in factory farms and the global impact of a high meat diet, but this book goes beyond all that.

It's not a book about becoming a vegetarian, vegan, or even an organic foods consumer. In fact, the book doesn't recommend any of those things. It's a hard look at the truth behind everything we eat. We should be aware and mindful of what we choose to consume, whether that is food or durable goods.

But back to what I said about cheap food being a bad thing. How can paying less for the same food be a bad thing? Glad you asked.

The obvious answers:
-Cheaper food obviously contributes to obesity.
-Cheaper food allows us to buy more meat and eat it more often. Because of the choices being made, we are less healthy as a nation, and we are paying for it.
-Cheaper food ingredients, mean cheaper processed food. Processed foods are undoubtedly the most unhealthy options in the grocery store. They also happen to be the cheapest. When push comes to shove, people will buy the most calories for their dollar to feed their family.

The less-obvious answers
-While your grocery bill may be smaller than the generation before, you are still paying the same amount for your food. You are just paying in hidden fees (provided you are a US tax payer - many American families are not.) How is that? We are buying down the price of food in farm subsidies, tax credits and grants to agribusinesses.
- We are paying the price in tax sponsored health care programs and increased health insurance rates.
- We are paying the price in global and national health issues. We haven't even begun to touch on the human health effects of fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotic use in CAFO's. You can see some of the impacts on wild life by the aquatic dead zones and mutated amphibians. Most experts believe the widespread use of antibiotics has increased drug resistance in some of the deadliest strains of bacteria. And research is indicating young girls are entering puberty early and young men are showing higher than normal estrogen levels. People have pointed their fingers at soy. But farm use of hormones and hospital dumping of pharmaceuticals may also be to blame.
- We are paying the price in environmental damage, including but not limited to; soil erosion, pollution, less crop diversity, and an ecologically altered food chain (animals have been forced to evolve into fast growing, grain eating, cannibalizing, meat machines.) Cows (herbivores) have been changed into omnivores. And worse...cannibals.
- We are paying the price in human ignorance and desensitivity to cruelty.
- We are also paying the price individually. Every time we feed ourselves with substandard nutrition or chemical additives, we are undoubtedly causing harm. The foods that are mass produced may have less fewer antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. And processed food has those things added back into the product (in chemical form) because they are stripped during the manufacturing process. We're also eating less of a diversified diet. Diversity in life is key to everything; finance, nutrition, personal relationships, farming.
- We are also burning through more fossil fuel to provide all of this cheap food. Fossil fuels are used to make the chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This further increases our dependence on foreign oil and probably has an impact on the price you pay at the gas pump.

Labels do not tell the whole story. The USDA has little guidance over what natural, free-range, and other attractive terms really mean. A lot of organic farms are really big mega-farms, a lot of the organic meat/dairy industry run big factory farms (CAFOs), they just feed "organic" feed and skip antibiotics. An improvement, but just barely.

Cows, pigs, and poultry are being forced to eat a predominately corn-fed diet, complete with antibiotics, hormones, and animal by-products.

In 1997, the USDA banned the feeding of cow meat to other cows. This did not ban the use of blood and fat products. Today's cows...the ones we are eating...are fed Beef tallow (among other things), chicken and other poultry feces, blood, bone, feather, and meat parts, and pig parts.

It is legal to feed cow brain matter, meat, blood, bones, and fat to poultry and pigs. Pig and poultry parts are then fed back to the cows. There's huge potential for cross contamination, beyond the fact that it's just wrong.

It's my general belief that there are many farmers that care genuinely about their animals, the land, and the products they produce. I also know that to many, it's just a job. And most farmers really don't have a choice but to farm this way. It's industrialize or die.

I am not anti-farmer, anti-farm subsidy, a vegetarian, or any of the above. I am as guilty of eating factory farmed meats as anyone else. I don't know what we need to do to change the situation we're in, but any step in the right direction will lead to a rise in food cost. If farm subsidies stopped and crop prices increased  to a level that could support community farming, would we see a drop in taxes? Wouldn't that be nice? I have a feeling that ship has sailed and that the government would "lose" that money somewhere else. That being said, I really want to encourage you to get this book from your local library and take a hard look at what you eat and why.

Where do I come off saying food should cost more? I am, after all, a yuppie suburbanite, right? The truth is, I don't want to pay more than I have to for anything, but as a US tax payer, I am paying more than my fare share for cheap food. As a human being, I am also shouldering the same health, ecological and ethical burdens as any one else. I've added this to the end to give you an idea of who I really am. My parents both grew up on large family farms (not CAFOs.) They raised just about everything and both my parents were itching to escape farm life for good. Both high school drop outs, they considered themselves to had "made it" because they lived "in town" and no longer lived on a farm.

That being said, we lived in a very small town of less than 100 people (most of whom were elderly women... and incidentally there was never more than 8 or 9 children in our town at a given time.) The town had 2 gas stations, 2 bars, a strip joint, and 2 churches. How does this make any sense? It doesn't, but that's a topic for another story and may give some insight into the odd experiences I've had in my life.

My father was raised as a catholic and my parents dutifully raised their family of 7 by holding all sorts of random jobs. The most lucrative were always in "the city" and required an excessively long commute. But at home, even though my parents tried hard to escape "farm life," most people would have considered our home to be farm-like. We did not buy meat at the grocery store. Ever. We bought our beef and pig products from nearby farms and we raised our chickens in our own backyard. We bought some eggs at the store but most came from area farms. When I was really young, we got pigs, eggs and mushrooms from my Grandfather. In the summer, we never bought produce at the store. Never. We had a 1/2 acre yard and all of it was used as garden space.

Our entire house and detached garages (yes, that's a plural - you just might be a redneck if you have more than one garage, lol) were lined with raspberry bushes. Raspberries, black raspberries, asparagus, and plums were always there. The rest of the land was rotated each year and we grew tons of vegetables. What we didn't eat we canned or froze. And that was what we ate in the winter. My mom made a lot of our foods like bread, yogurt, granola, soups. The grocery store was far away and we didn't shop there often. In the summer we bought milk, ice cream, and cheese from the local creamery. We got it at the store in the winter. My parents were obsessed with cheese having to be "real."

My parents really only shopped at the store for junk and occasionally milk, bread, baking supplies, or cheese. They always paid by cash or check. I mention this only because it seems so old-school. I never use cash or check (what's that anyway? lol) When my mom went back to work in the late 80's, we shopped more and more at the store. She became fond of processed meal kits, frozen burritos, doritos, and soda. My family drank so much soda!

My parents were organic farmers, but not on purpose. Well, not in the purpose that most people are today. They just did it the way they had been raised. When we went fishing, we saved the heads, tails, and guts to plant around our trees. We composted all of our food scraps back into the garden. We never used pesticides. The children hand picked every bug from the garden - and to this day I will never plant potatoes - just because the bugs are so yucky. The chickens took care of the bugs in the raspberry plants. And they loved doing it. They were so excited to come outside and they would stay under the plants; scratching and pecking for hours. It was trouble trying to wrangle them back into the shed. It was also trouble feeding them each morning. Our chickens were mean. They even pecked one of the others to death. And then there was the killing. We killed the chickens in the same backyard that they ran and played in. Then we plucked their feathers in the kitchen sink. I was part of this. I didn't like it; partly because I was a lazy teenager, but also because it's gruesome.

My parents never saw it this way. It was just another one of the things they told me to "get over." My parents and their parents before them saw animals as products. Not living things. Or at least not thinking, feeling living things. Maybe that's true and maybe it's not. But thinking like that can dangerously escalate into all sorts of cruelty. It's an easy jump from animal cruelty to child cruelty and worse. With that I leave you these quotes:

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. ~James D. Miles

"Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man."

--Arthur Schopenhauer (philosopher)


Lorrie Briggs said...

Great article. We just had a lady at our moms meeting this morning teach about couponing. She said she spends around $50-100 a month on food, toiletries, cleaning products, and medication. She even said she just came home the other day with over $300 worth of stuff for $.33.
I have been a big couponer in the past and I know how she was able to get these kind of totals, but I also know what kind of things she bought.
One of the ladies at the meeting mentioned that she spends $50 a week just on fresh produce and how did the teacher manage fresh food. She said that she rarely eats fresh produce. They eat a lot of canned foods.
I have had to learn to balance good food with affordable food. That is mostly why I started my blog.
If your great grandmother or grandmother would not recognize it don't eat it.

Michelle said...

That hurt my brain. And my stomach. Thanks.

A lot of information to "digest." teehehee. (I know you weren't trying to be funny though.)

It is so HARD when you've been raised in a processed culture. My family was at or below poverty growing up and we had nothing but junk. I have horrible habits today because of it. Clean eating is a goal of mine... I just haven't gotten there yet.

BTW- the description of farm life is a dream for my DH. We live in a subdivision in rural TN, but he's looking for some land to build and create his mini farm. Our goal is to have our own veggies and fruit, to can, and obtain our meat from a local farmer. He wants a cow for beef; I, however, feel I would want it as a pet and couldn't eat it! :(

Tracy DeLuca said...

I could have written this but you did a much better job than I would have! My younger years sound similar to yours and I hated picking potato bugs too! I am int he process of switching us to a mostly vegetarian/ flexitarian diet and trying to slow us down. Cook fresh bread, grow our veggies(at least some) and try to raise my kids to be healthy eaters not junk food junkies. But boy is it hard!

Anonymous said...

I read Omnivore's Dillema a couple months back and am trying to revamp my family's diet to more locally grown, sustainable foods. It's tough and expensive. After some research I did find a small farmer's market that carries "local" produce and two CSAs that deliver to my area. Now the challenge is making it fit in the budget...

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