Shouldn’t We All Be Eating Healthy Foods?
How do I know that I live in a world of unexceptional luxury where the last thing I need to worry about is whether I go to bed hungry at night? When I read a story in The New Yorker Magazine about a group called True Price, which is dedicated to telling us how much everything really costs.
And of course, the moment you see the word ‘true,’ you know that the assumption is going to be that everything we believe is actually false. In this case, what’s false is the price that we pay for all the food we eat because the price only represents the costs of producing, shipping, and selling the food stacked on the supermarket shelves. But what about all those other, hidden costs?
What about the miserable wages being paid to those poor farm workers who are only getting a fraction of what they should be paid for bending over and picking those fruits and vegetables ten, twelve or even more hours every day? What about the way our precious topsoil is eroded and washed away because we irrigate the farms artificially instead of just depending on the rain? What about how we pollute the air with the fumes from those gasoline-powered trucks that haul the produce to a bottling or canning plant to be processed and lose its natural, chemical makeup and its organic strength?
This ‘true cost’ movement is based on the idea of something called ‘externalities,’ which means the social and economic impact of the way food is produced, such impacts including air, soil, and water pollution; climate change; insufficient income; and child labor.
The people behind the ‘true cost’ movement admit that the consumer pays less for supermarket items than what that same consumer would be paying if the item were purchased at its ‘true’ price. But wouldn’t the average supermarket customer be willing to pay a little more if that extra money rung up at the cash register was used to restore the environment or give farm workers in the Ivory Coast a living wage?
The article quotes a study conducted by academics from Harvard, Oxford, Cornell, and Tufts which found that Americans spend $1.1 trillion on food every year, but the ‘true cost’ of that food is three times as much. In other words, when I stuff those potato chips into my mouth which cost $1.95 in a small bag at the convenience store where I buy my gas, the real cost for how producing that potato-chip bag screws up the environment is somewhere around six bucks.
Why shouldn’t Cape Cod Potato Chips (my favorite) pass on more of those ‘true costs’ to me and then take that extra money and use it to clean up the air or the water or whatever else the way they produce those chips is screwing things up? For that matter, why doesn’t the government base their subsidies to farmers on how much those farmers try to reduce the ‘true costs’ of what they produce on their farms?
The last time I went to the farmer’s market held every weekend in my college town, a quarter pound of ‘fresh’ goat cheese cost twice as much as what the same cheese costs at the local Stop and Shop. The consumer who buys the cheese for nine bucks a half-pound at Whole Foods will pay $15 for that same chunk of cheese from that so-called ‘organic’ farm.
All this environmental crap started in 1968 with the publication of the first Whole Earth catalog which took its inspiration from Thoreau’s Walden Pond. I was a graduate school student in 1968, which meant that if I wanted to pick up a girl in the college cafeteria, I had to be carrying either a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog or Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, or both. Better I should be carrying both.
Those two books were so fucking boring that I never got past the third or fourth page, no matter how hard I tried. But had I been carrying a math textbook because I was studying to become an engineer, I wouldn’t have gotten to first base with those lookalike Joan Baez undergraduates whom I was desperate to take out. Is Joan Baez still alive?
I don’t think I have ever gone shopping for food and been the slightest bit concerned or even aware of the cost of anything I happen to buy. In that respect, I note that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the increase in the average family food basket in 2022 will go up by 5 percent. Talk about ‘ruinous’ inflation. Talk about how American parents won’t be able to feed their kids.
What do you think would happen to the average American waistline if we cut back purchases of cooking fats and oils which is the food group whose price is expected to increase more than any other food group this year? Adíos potato chips.