Our food system is not normal, it is not sustainable, and it is not healthy. Do you ever stop to think about where your food comes from. Is it from a farm? Is your food natural, or has it been genetically-modified by altering its DNA strand to accept toxic pesticides and herbicides, or even pharmaceutical drugs. Is that egg you’re eating for breakfast from a chicken factory where hens are given four inches of feeding space and crammed four to a sixteen inch cage? Questions, yes lots and lots of questions. These are questions that we need to explore because without food there can be no civilization, no community, no family, no humanity. Food is the foundation of everything else. Yet, in our own times food has been altered radically. The time-honored traditions of animal husbandry and soil stewardship have been thrown aside in favor of monoculture, chemical farming, and factory meat production. This is not normal, but there are some things that you can do about it.
It is important that we look closely at the history of food, and how we can again gain a hold on our own lives with regard to the food we eat and feed to our children. We must look at the issues of the day and look at the alternatives with regard to food production. Today most of the food you find in supermarkets is grown and created with the aid of massive amounts of chemical inputs in the form of gasoline for shipping, pesticides and herbicides to keep those apples perfect and that lettuce hole-free, chemical petroleum-based fertilizers to aid growth in soil that is dead or infertile due to poor farming practices, and the list goes on and on. Rather than going into the problems that are entailed in all of this I would like to look rather at the alternative, which is actually stewardship of creation. Words like sustainability, organic, and local are words that denote a care for creation and a desire to improve the possibilities for food production not only for ourselves, but also for future generations.
There are really only two systems of food production: sustainable and unsustainable. Sustainable systems typically employ words like local, organic, natural, biodynamic, soil fertility, nutrient density, and grass-fed. These systems are not based solely on quantity, but rather on quality. This quality is not a glossy image, but something measured in nutrient density. The unsustainable model is based solely on quantity. The nutrient density of foods raised on dead soils is never measured, but we are seeing its effects in the rapid increase in degenerative diseases being caused by a lack of nutrition in countries where there is more food than we can possibly eat.
When it comes to locally-grown sustainable foods the question of cost almost always come up. Why do your eggs cost $3.50 dozen when I can get them for $1.25 at the local grocery store? Why are your lettuces $2.50 when I can buy them for $1.25 at the grocery store? There are several myths about local food cost that need to be taken into account here. They need to be exposed and clarified for the sake of those who choose to buy locally, and for those who are continuing their runs to the grocery store expecting cheap food. Let’s compare the mindset of the two kinds of people. Now I must mention that there are many who would like to buy the healthier food, but simply cannot afford it. But why is the healthier food more expensive. The answer can be given in one word: subsidies. The government subsidizes many of the major agricultural products. This includes things like dairy where farmers are routinely made to sell their milk for less than production cost, which is somewhere around $1.00 per gallon. That’s right, the farmers aren’t making any money because the big guys tell them what they will pay for their milk. The farmer is trapped in a cycle that he doesn’t control. When prices drop they often make even less, and then the government simply subsidizes the product to make it profitable. In an age where the government is trillions in debt, this might not be the best idea. Now look at your local dairy farmer that sells raw milk locally. They often can sell the milk for anywhere form $4-$10 depending on the location. That means that they can afford to farm, and even make a real living off of it. Farmers are real people too who deserve a just wage. So the first problem is that of subsidies. Food is not sustainable if it must be constantly propped up by government subsidies.
The second concept to consider is that of local food. Food that is produced locally is often fresher, and thus results in a larger nutrient intake. The food on the grocery store shelves has often traveled more than 1,500 miles to get to your dinner plate. In our CSA we harvest everything within 48 hours of their receiving it. It would take nearly 48 hours just to drive the 1,500 miles. Local food often also means seasonal food. It is not natural for us here in Kansas to eat peaches in December. This idea of eating locally and seasonally promotes good stewardship because it costs us less in fossil fuels, time, and expense in general. It provides nutrient dense food in an age where people will spend $1.50 on a soda, but won’t spend $1.50 on something that has nutritional value.
The third concept has to do with nutritional density and food purity. Studies are showing that pregnant women have elevated levels of pesticides in their bloodstream. Much of this has been linked to the use of genetically-modified foods in store bought products. This exposes a woman’s growing baby to certain levels of toxins at the time when that child is most susceptible to harm from these chemicals. It has also been seen in studies that organically grown foods grown in healthy soils have higher nutritional value than conventional. Eggs from chickens raised on pasture have been scientifically documented to have many times the number of nutrients than factory eggs. It has also been noted that these pastured eggs had half the cholesterol. So this leads us to our original question. Why is healthy food more expensive? When we take a look at the larger picture we have to ask whether healthy food is truly more expensive. If we spent a few more dollars buying healthy foods how much would we save in health costs, especially in the long run? What if healthy foods kept you from developing cancer or diabetes in the future? Would that extra dollar cost as much as treatment for these diseases? What about the cost to the environment in terms of the destruction of topsoil and its poisoning by so many chemicals? What will that cost for future generations, for mine and your children? When we look closely we have to ask what system we really want to support. Do we want to support a system that is existing solely because it is propped up by cheap oil and government subsidies, or do we want to support a system that builds soil, builds community, and looks to the future of agriculture through authentic stewardship of the soil. So my friends I now ask you a question. Is my food really more expensive?