You Get What You Pay For A couple weeks ago, I spoke to a class of college students about the benefits of organic food. They all seemed to get it. Still, they insisted that organic food is too expensive. It’s the same thing I hear from family and friends: the price of eating healthier is too high.
Indeed organic food costs more—at least in the short run. But cheap food is expensive in the long run. I’ll explain.
When you cash out at Wal-Mart, for example, a dozen eggs may cost only $1.25. Pretty cheap, right? Think again. Remember the salmonella outbreak last summer? More than one-half billion eggs were recalled and 1,300 people sickened. If you get food poisoning from those factory farm eggs, they’re not so cheap after a trip to the doctor’s office or worse—the hospital.
But even if you don’t get food poisoning, what are the bodily effects of industrial food over a lifetime? From diabetes to heart disease, degenerative diseases are on the rise. Foods like whole milk, butter, and yes –eggs—have long carried their own scarlet letter—and it’s not an “A.” Rather, “F” is for fat. (There…I’ve said the f-word. Perhaps now I should go wash out my mouth with soap.) For decades, dietary fat and cholesterol have carried the blame for elevated cholesterol and heart disease. Yet despite low fat diets, people are getting sicker. Perhaps we should worry less about fat and consider that our decreasing health and subsequently increasing healthcare costs are perhaps the result of an industrialized food system that showers our produce with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Meantime, our next NY Strip stands knee deep in manure. When it comes to our health, the food industry practices must be considered.
There is another factor behind cheap food: subsidies. That’s another word for taxes. That’s right. You paid taxes for that cheap food, and I’m not talking about sales tax. Crops such as corn and soy are heavily subsidized in this country which means that you and I help pay for these crops. Even more troubling is the fact that often mountains of surplus corn—that we helped fund—is left to blow about like sand in a desert windstorm. Talk about throwing our money away.
But hey, if there were ever a food crisis in this country, at least we have lots of corn to eat, right? Not so. The vast majority of the corn grown in this country is not edible. Seriously. Those endless acres of corn growing each summer from Pennsylvania to Nebraska cannot be consumed by humans—at least not until it has passed through a cow, chicken or other livestock or been processed into corn syrup. Once turned into corn syrup, there are countless ways to eat corn, none of which are nutritious. From corn syrup laden Mountain Dew and Milky Ways to corn-fed beef, chicken, pork and even fish, this cheap American diet is sponsored by none other than you.
So the next time you stand at the supermarket debating how to spend your money, consider that perhaps it isn’t so much that organic food is so expensive as it is that conventional food is so cheap.