The Real Cost of Food
This Thanksgiving week, we are dedicating our blog to things we are thankful for. Today (and every day), we are thankful for real food. We are thankful to our local farmers who we know by name, and who work hard to grow the most beautiful produce we’ve ever seen. We are grateful for our ranchers who treat their animals with respect and put value in the life of another creature. As a business, in.gredients is dedicated to sourcing from local farmers, ranchers and artisans so our customers can shop here without fear of hidden costs to your health or the health of the environment.
We’re advocates for real, local food and here’s why.
Conventional food, while monetarily cheaper due to government subsidies and policies, has a much higher cost than you might realize. The Sierra Club’s National Sustainable Consumption Committee launched a campaign about the true cost of food. In a short 15 minute movie, they walk you through what conventional food really costs.
Let’s start with meat. The average United States citizen eats 270.7 pounds of meat per year, which is more than almost any other country on the planet (Luxembourg eats slightly more than the US.) Meat has a much larger impact on the environment than any other food we eat. One quarter-pound of hamburger meat requires 6.7 pounds of grains, 52.8 gallons of drinking water, 47.5 square feet of land and 1,036 Btus (british thermal unit) of fossil fuel energy. In this country, a majority of the meat is raised in factory farms, where animals are not only treated inhumanely, they are given copious amounts of hormones and antibiotics. Did you know that US livestock operations use 77% of total antibiotic use? That’s 3.9 time greater than the amount sold to humans. Needless to say, our current source of meat is sick. The Sierra Club estimates that the true cost for a one pound, conventionally raised steak is $815 a pound.
Source: J.L. Capper, Journal of Animal Science, December, 2011
Credit: Producers: Eliza Barclay, Jessica Stoller-Conrad; Designer: Kevin Uhrmacher/NPR
Next up is conventionally grown produce. Mono-cropping has become the norm for growing fruits and vegetables in the United States. Only planting one crop at a time means that a single disease or pest can wipe out an entire crop. To avoid this, big agriculture turns to pesticides. Nearly 1 billion tons of pesticides are used every year, which kills the “bad” pests while simultaneously killing everything else around it. This causes a loss of 24 billion tons of topsoil a year, as well as contributing to the pollution of our rivers and groundwater. Not only does mono-cropping and big agriculture damage the natural environment, it also hurts small family farms.
Did you know that the largest 10% of the farms collect 65% of the government subsidies, and 7% of our farms sell 72% of our food? And a majority of the “food” they are growing are corn and soy, which are used to make the massive amounts of processed foods that have become the normal breakfast, lunch and dinner for many American families. So what’s the average cost of a conventionally grown tomato? According to the Sierra Club, the true cost of a tomato is $374.
Last but not least is processed food. Let’s take a look at a box of cereal. Boxed cereal was one of the earliest convenience foods and represents the power of marketing and packaging. They represent how you can take a cheap commodity crop (corn, soy, wheat) and convert it into a “high value” good. In reality, there is little to no nutritional value in processed foods, and they are basically fat, sugar, salt and chemicals passed off as food. Because of processed, “convenient” foods, 15% of American children are overweight, a number that has tripled in the past 25 years. It’s not just the kids, ⅓ of American Adults are overweight, which has increased the risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes and numerous other health ailments. It’s the first time in history where children have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
Alright, enough with the doom and gloom facts. The fantastic news is that we, as consumers, have the power to vote with our fork, and make it clear that we value and want local food. With the average meal traveling approximately 1,500 miles, it’s time to take a step back and look at the food growing around you. Eating locally saves up to 17 times the fuel costs of conventional food. There are now five times the amount of farmers markets today than there were in 1980, and the organic food market is growing 25% every year. And while the monetary cost of real, local food might seem more expensive, when your food comes from a place that works with nature, not against it, it costs a lot less in the long run.
This Thanksgiving, stop by in.gredients or your farmers market and thank the amazing folks that work tirelessly to grow food you can eat with pride. The real cost of our conventional food system is haunting, and we are the only ones that have the power to change it. Support local, seek ownership and responsibility for the food you’re buying for yourself and your family, and let’s work together to build community around real, local food.
If you want to know more about the real cost of food, here are some great resources: