The Price We Pay for Cheaper Food

I just finished watching the latest edition of the Bill Moyers Journal about the politics of food with Michael Pollan. Forget about the economic crisis and the Wall Street bailout, America’s bipartisan, socialist (though it is government intervening on behalf of corporations not people) love affair with macro-farms is as interventionist as it gets.

The result of our government’s massive and ongoing intervention into the market to provide us with cheaper food is in reality much more costly than one would imagine. According to the Bill Moyer’s essay,

As “Time” magazine recently put: farm policy is “a welfare program for the megafarms that use the most fuel, water and pesticides; emit the most greenhouse gases; grow the most fattening crops; hire the most illegals; and depopulate rural America.”

According to Pollan, these policies have a dangerous affect our health:

And, you know, the fact that you can walk into a fast-food outlet and get, you know, a bacon double cheeseburger, french fries, soda for less than the what you would get paid at the minimum wage, in the long sweep of human history, that’s an amazing achievement. The problem is, though, we’ve learned that overabundant, too cheap food can be as much a problem as too little food . . . Look at the healthcare crisis. We’re all eating 300 more calories than we were. We all weigh an average . . .

A day. A day. We’ve gone from 2,000 or 2,300 to 2,600, something like that. We all weigh on average ten pounds more. And lo and behold, we have a serious epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, diet-related cancers. All these chronic diseases which is now what kills us basically pretty reliably in America are adding more than $250 billion a year to healthcare costs. They are the reason that this generation just being born now is expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents, that one in three Americans born in the year 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control, will have type 2 diabetes, which is a really serious sentence. It takes several years off your life. It gives you an 80 percent chance of heart disease. It means you are going to be spending $14,000 a year in added health costs. So this is about how we’re eating.

It really is amazing to look back on the past few months, think about the accusations against Obama as a socialist, the debates about the free market and auto and bank bailouts, and yet none of the free marketers are questioning the highly counter-productive and harmful government sustained food industry.

As Pollan explains, cheap food is incredibly expensive:

Cheap food is actually incredibly expensive. If you look at the all the costs, you are talking about the farm subsidies. That’s $25 billion a year to make that food cheap. You look at the pollution effects. The quality of the water all through the farm belt, nitrates in the water, moms who can’t use tap water because it, you know, blue baby syndrome from nitrogen in the water. You look at the public health costs. You look at the cost to the atmosphere. Agriculture is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases . . .

Well, some of the transportation is in that number because when you look at the food economy’s use of fossil fuel, which is about 19 percent, you’ve got a lot of diesel transportation. But it’s more than personal transportation, absolutely. And, you know, we don’t see that when we look at our food system . . .

Well, when you have a big globalized food system based on a very small number of crops, you’re first, you’re moving food everywhere. I mean, the supply chains of food are just absurd. You know, we’re catching so-called sustainable salmon in Alaska. We ship it to China to get filleted and then we bring it back here. We’re shipping-

. . . That’s how cheap Chinese labor is. We’re not going to be able to do that much longer. We’re selling sugar cookies to the country of Denmark, and we’re buying sugar cookies from the country of Denmark. And Herman Daily the economist, said, ‘Wouldn’t it be more efficient to swap recipes?’ I mean, these absurdities can’t continue. So energy is deeply implicated in the system. Any system that uses a lot of energy is going to produce a lot of greenhouse gas. Plus livestock also produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas. National security, well, there’s a there’s a tremendous danger when you centralize your food supply.


1 Comment

Filed under Essays

One response to “The Price We Pay for Cheaper Food

  1. ReWrite

    Excellent post. I recommend checking out the movie, “The Future of Food,” which discusses, in part, a lesser known enemy related to food- patents.

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