Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Real Costs of Food II

In my last blog, I made a statement that for a while local food is going to cost more than your average grocery store alternatives, and it should, because food in general has cost far too little for too long. My point was not that food, or anything else for that matter, that is more expensive is better simply because you shell out more money for it. Eveything, and especially food, should reflect the real costs that went into producing it. Food, the sustenance of our bodies, has such a profound effect on us and the world we live in, that the price we pay for food should include all costs. I suspect that over time, as global transportation becomes more expensive and the costs of food production more normalized around the world, the cost of producing food right around your corner will be cheaper than something produced half a world away. This is as good a reason this morning to protect open space and preserve local farms. Once they are gone, they can't be brought back. And since my supposition is that what goes around comes around. Then once the basic need for local food production comes home to roost, we need some open ground to plant those seeds. But for today, it costs more to grow food locally than least as defined by the ring at the register. The long term survivial of our communities requires us to look past the short term savings and support your local farmers by paying a little bit more. You'll appreciate it tomorrow and so will your kids. That's all I am saying.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Real Costs of Food

It probably comes as no surprise, but if you are an average consumer then the cost of your daily diet is more than what you pay at the cash register. Sure the food on your average grocery store shelf comes with a price tag, but it doesn't tell you all of the other "costs" that went into growing, processing, storing, & getting it to you, all while lining the pockets of large agribusiness companies. The government subsidies--direct and otherwise--that are actually your taxes, plus increased carbon emissions, poor diets, degraded planet, and destroyed cultures all have real costs that don't get calculated into the price you pay. This is all the result of bad food and farm policy in the 20th century now exacerbated by global politics and a push for 'cheaper'.

If the farms and the regional food supply [aka Local food] everyone has taken a recent interest in are to survive over the long term, consumers need to realize that food is simply going to cost more. It should. It has cost far too little for far too long. Just compare what we pay with what people in other country's pay. Our entire food system has been set up so that your average expectation is that food should be cheap. But it is not. And if you add up all of the external costs of that cheap loaf of bread, the price you pay is really much higher than what you take out of your wallet or pocket book.

Choosing local food is different than making a choice between a Ferrari and a Hyundai. With a Ferrari the high price tag is a result of artisanship, performance and perceived value. Yet a Hyundai will also get you from point A to Point B, just not as fast or in as much style. So if the basis for our discussion is purely transportation [or calories if we're talking food], then maybe a cheap loaf of bread is all you need. If we're talking about getting their fast, then of course the Ferrari is the obvious choice. But if we're making a broader, philosophical choice [what's better for me and the world around me], then we're making an entirely different choice. It is not just a choice of calorie source or excitement, but of other values as well.

Locally produced food also comes with added values. When one chooses--or considers choosing--local food it as if you're now throwing something unconventional into the mix. It is like saying, OK now you can choose either a Hyundai, a Ferrari, or a Segway. It is an entirely different thought process and value system that causes someone to purchase local food or use a Segway. You can get calories anywhere; you can get cheap food at any big box store; heck, you can even probably get luxury foods around the corner. But with local foods you can only get them locally. That added value of locally grown has benefits that can't be provided by the cheaper global versions.

The cost of local food is real and here to stay [most likely]. The real question is whether consumers, your average consumers, are willing to pay more now [and keep their money circulating in the local community] or pay less and see their money fly away. Remember the next time you buy food from a local farmer you're also buying open space, scenic vistas, clean air and water, and the chance to eat good, healthy, real food. Sure, the price you pay for local food may be higher, but it is a price based on costs that are real and upfront. Then again, so is the food. Yum!

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