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The Cost of Food

January 7, 2010

I think yesterday was the first post I’d written here in which I included food prices.  To be honest, I felt a little weird about doing so.  So many people judge the amount of $ people spend on local or organic food.  I know at least part of my hesitancy came from that.

But you know what? Never mind that.  I think the state of our food culture in this country is ridiculous.  We have the cheapest and most abundant food supply in the world, and the reason why is because of factory farming and agribusiness.

In 2005, Americans spent less than 10% of their disposable income on food.  Disposable income isn’t extra income like you might infer from the name, but what you take in after taxes are paid.  Only 6.1% out of that 10% is spent on groceries, the other 3.9% is spent eating out.

That’s the lowest percentage compared to any other country in this world.  Even the U.K., which is also really low, is 2% higher than the U.S. at 8.3%.  Germany is at 10.9%; Japan and France are pretty much tied at 13.4% and 13.6%, respectively.

“Second-world” countries are much higher – Mexico at 21.7%, China at 28.3%, India at 39.4 % and Indonesia at 49.9%.

I always love looking at those pictures that show what another family in a different country eats for a week.  Check out these pictures that show the huge differences between the developed and less developed countries.  Even Italy and Poland eat so many more fresh fruits and veggies.

Now, I’m not suggesting that 1/2 our income should be spent on food, but in a world where the average American spends 25% of their income on their dwelling – 25% doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to get good, wholesome, QUALITY food.  Instead, we live in a country where it’s cheaper to shop off the $1 menu at McDonald’s than buy fresh produce.

In addition to this, the amount of food farmers get back today is less than $.20 of every dollar paid by the consumer.  The rest goes to the processors, the wholesalers, and the retailers.  In 1950, they managed to get $.41.

Of course, the major reason for this is agribusiness, which uses the most modern equipment, hybrid genetically-modified seeds, tons of fertilizer and pesticides on all that food we eat.  But when you produce so much mass, you can afford to make only $.20 on the dollar.

But small farmers can’t.  They don’t have 1000 cows, and they don’t have all that fertilizer and pesticide, so they can’t grow as much, and to me, that’s a good thing.  When you have hundreds and hundreds of acres (and by you I mean multi-national conglomerates), land so vast you can’t possible walk it all, you NEED all those pesticides.  When you have 1000 cattle confined in a tiny feedlot you NEED those antibiotics to keep them upright.  If they don’t have room to even turn around, they certainly don’t have room to groom themselves and keep clean.

I want those little farms to stay around because besides thinking that my meat is “happy,” frolicking on pastures and whatnot, I like knowing it is healthier for me.  The meat I eat isn’t fed antibiotics or other artificial drugs or genetically modified foods.  Nor are they made into cannibals – since cows in feedlots are often fed the ground up remains of their own species.

The manure produced from those small farms I patronize is usable fertilizer, unlike that from CAFOs.  So many cows equals SO MUCH manure it’s a human health risk.

And most of all I like contributing the money to my community. I already volunteer my time for causes I believe in, I donate to charity, and I try to interact with my neighbors, especially in this new way of living I’ve been introduced to slowly over the last couple of years.  I love keeping my money in the general local area where possible, contributing to the well-being.  When everyone in my community is doing well, I do well too.

So all those reasons are why I’m willing to pay the extra money.  It’s expensive, and we know it’s expensive.  It’s forced us to only buy around a pound of meat per week, because at $6 (or more) per pound, it’s more of a luxury.  But the $.99/lb meat I can get in my supermarket doesn’t seem like such a deal anymore, when I know what the real costs are.

I’m not a purist, there are times in the last year when we’ve had to run to the supermarket and buy things because we couldn’t get to the farmer’s market that weekend or something, but we really don’t like doing it that much anymore.

And I know that not everyone has the disposable income we do and can afford to do what we do.  But we’re not rich either.  We just have different priorities.

So, in the end, I guess I still feel kind of defensive.  But I’ll admit it – we spent $60 on a 6lb smoked ham the week before Christmas.  We got 8 meals, and cups and cups of split pea soup out of it.  And it was SO DAMN GOOD, I want another one.  Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait for next Christmas. :)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2010 3:00 pm

    Great post Chelle! I’m hesitant to tell people what I spend on groceries, because it does sound like a lot. (But not when you consider how much of it goes back to the Farmer, and the quality of the food!)

  2. ashinwi permalink
    January 7, 2010 6:32 pm

    This is a fabulous post (it inspired a similar one of my own!). I can’t agree with you more. It is hard to tell people how much you spend on groceries. But when you consider all of the variables, I think it’s worth it. Definitely. :)

  3. January 7, 2010 10:18 pm

    Chelle I can say yours and Allison’s blog have made me more willing to spend on organics and local foods even if it is more expensive. I like meeting the farmers at my farmer’s market this summer and having them recognize me each week. I still am not to the point that I don’t go to the convenient grocery but I’m less there than I was a year ago.

Trackbacks

  1. On Food « Ashley & Tim in Wisconsin
  2. Why I’m Committed to the Locavore Movement « Crunchy Chelle

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