The Real Cost of Food

Earlier this week I was chatting with a cashier at my local market, and he mentioned to me that another customer had scolded him that day about the price of apples in the store.  I can certainly identify that feeling of shock and horror one sometimes feels in places like Whole Foods, where a bag of organic cherries can cost nearly $15 a pound this time of year, but at the same time, I often wonder if most consumers realize the real cost of the food they eat.

If we are going to talk about what food truly costs, we cannot simply consider the work of the farmer, and the supplies used on his farm, but also the cost of shipping products from farm to table, and the impact upon the environment and local community where that particular product is grown.  Yes, organic cherries in January are expensive, but shouldn’t they be if they have traveled halfway around the world and used vast quantities of energy to satisfy my need for summer fruit in winter months?  And is it really so unreasonable to pay a couple of bucks per pound of apples, when my local farmer has had to work that much harder to ensure his product is organic, and is not harmful his local ecosystem?

The question of the costly apples was especially poignant to me after reading an opinion piece by Mark Bittman this week, about Beyoncé Knowles’ $50 million marketing agreement with Pepsi.  Here is a product that enjoys an artificially low price point, thanks largely to government sponsored corn subsidies, and has the marketing muscle to infiltrate our lives through commercials, advertisements, product placement and celebrity endorsement.  I think consumers can rest assured they will not be seeing any subversive product placements from the US Apple Association any time soon, and they should not expect a multimillion dollar deal between Justin Bieber and the National Spinach Association.

On Sustainable Summer’s Coast and Highlands program, we try to address this very question of what our food truly costs.  By teaching students about the problems of our existing industrial food system, we hope to encourage them to make more educated decisions about what they eat and to acknowledge that organic food which is healthy for both people and the for the planet may carry a heftier price tag.

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