appleman2006 wrote:Remember this. No one can produce anything at a loss indefinitely. Eventually large dairies that do not pay a fair return will run out of suppliers. This fact of course does not help the struggling farmer that right now is dealing in a commodity where there is an over supply.
My question to you as a group is this? Do you shop for food at the places that you can get it the cheapest? Because if you do you are part of the problem. Possibly the only reason that product is cheaper is because they are taking advantage of the farmer they are buying it from. Or if you are dealing directly with a farmer perhaps it means he is paying his workers less or perhaps he is afraid to charge the price he really should have because he thinks you will desert him as a customer.
My family has been in this gradual journey of changing our eating habits and where and how we buy our food. We're not perfect and we're not fundamentalists, but we see this a gradual process. We are trying to eat more whole foods instead of processed foods. We're buying organic milk. At some point, we want to make our own cheese. This past summer was the first summer we had a vegetable plot in the community garden. This past year was the first year we canned.
The issue here is industrial agriculture. Big Agriculture is very efficient at producing vast quantities of food, but it's impossible to produce quality food at those quantities and so they take shortcuts and make decisions that impact the quality and healthfulness of the food. Thanks to farm subsidies (like corn and soy), we have some of the cheapest food in the world. But what are the health costs and environmental costs of cheap food that is shipped vast distances? What is the cost of cheap food to local, independent farmers who are unable to compete price wise with industrial agriculture?
Most processed food is not good for you, since it often contains large amounts of high fructose corn syrup and other unpronounceable chemicals and food additives in order to prolong shelf life. High fructose corn syrup is a cheap sweetener made cheaper by governmental subsidies and it feels like it's in almost everything -- from soda to peanut butter to white bread. Despite recent commercials from the corn lobby, high fructose corn syrup is not the same as regular sugar and is a major cause in the current obesity epidemic in America.
For us, it's become important for us to know where our food comes from and we are willing to pay more to have that kind of control. Over the past couple of years, there have been a number of recalls of peanut butter (and our daughter eats a lot of peanut butter). We've not been effected because we buy organic peanut butter without any additives in it.
In some ways, we are learning to eat like my grandparents did --
- Mostly eat what's in season
- Try to purchase from local farmers
- Can and freeze food for later instead of depending on the grocery store
- Eat foods made from whole (not processed) ingredients
- Buy local, ethically raised meat. Feed lots and other industrialized meat sources often have terrible conditions in which the producer attempts to fatten up the animal as fast as possible. Therefore, they give cows corn feed which they can't digest (cause it's cheap) and pump them full of antibiotics in order to prevent disease. There's a feed lot in the next town from us and it's a miserable place that stinks like death and excrement whenever we drive by it. But ultimately, the reason we buy free range, grass feed beef is because it tastes better -- happy animals make tasty animals. The cost of the meat we buy is substantial, but we've also made the decision to not eat as much meat and so it balances out.
It's been a challenge to keep these commitments. Ironically, we had better access to local, organic food in Baltimore because of the farmers markets. Out here, it's mostly large-scale farming, but there are vegetable stands in the summer. SE Colorado is a dry climate, and so it's harder to grow some kinds of vegetables out here.
So we've made some compromises and practical decisions --
- "Local" for us means regional (CO and NM). This area grows watermelon and cantaloupe, but for some other kinds of fruits (like peaches) we have to buy fruit trucked in from the western slopes. We'd like something more local, but at least it's not California or Peru or India.
- We are willing to drive a certain amount of distance to purchase bulk quantities of food and then can them. Last fall, we drove two hours to Canon City and picked 125 lbs of apples that got turned into apple sauce and apple butter. (My wife uses apple sauce as a sugar substitute in baking).
- There are no local dairies in southeastern Colorado -- so we buy from an organic milk brand that sources throughout this part of the country -- i.e. Colorado, Utah, Idaho, etc. Not perfect, but better than the alternatives.
- We are giving ourselves lots of grace here -- we do go to the grocery store for some things (there will never ever be a local or regional source for cranberries) and we occasionally buy fast food (though we try to bring our own food on trips). It's not about being perfect, it's about doing the things that we can do.
- We are trying new things. Next year, we're going to plant some heirloom vegetables and my wife would like to raise a few chickens (but that has to be negotiated with the landlord).
I think the key to success here is to do the things you can do with what you can afford. If you have to make choices because of cost, buy organic milk and free range eggs. Go to your local farmer's market. Develop relationships with the farmers there. Know where your food comes from -- the more local your food, the less likely you are to get sick from it. We need food safety rules because of industrialized agriculture; it's not the same dynamic if you buy local.
And if you buy organic food from the grocery store, try to do some research. The problem with organic certification is that 1) the certification process is so expensive that many small producers can't afford it and 2) the food lobbies have managed to water down the certification requirements. Organic is better than non-organic, but what you're buying may not be as organic as you think it is.
Oh...and organic processed food is still processed food. Just because those chocolate chip cookies are "organic," doesn't mean that they're good for you.
"I don't understand," said Gerald, alone in his third-class carriage, how railway trains and magic can go on at the same time."
And yet they do.
-- E. Nesbit, "The Enchanted Castle"