Why We DON'T Pay Enough For Our Food.

I've got a confession to make...

Up until last year, I did all my shopping based on price. I was completely proud of what a bargain-hunter I was, and that I could manage to feed my family of 3 (at the time), on $100 per week, including meat, fruit, vegetables and nappies.

This equated to roughly 1/10th of our total weekly income.

I bought 99c packets of white pasta without a smudgeon of a second thought, grabbed loaves of 99c bread.

I knew they weren't exactly healthy. But I didn't think they were overly unhealthy, either...

As I've read more and "educated" myself (None of this stuff was taught in school. Why, oh why not?!) I've had a change of heart about being a bargain-hunter.

I've come to realise that the shelf price in the supermarket doesn't reflect the true price of a product - not even the half of it.

Cheap food does not reflect the huge loss of biodiversity that intensive farming methods have caused, or huge swathes of rainforests - home to native tribes for thousands of years - lopped down to make way for those awfully useful soybean crops, that seem to end up in just about every processed food on the shelves, in some form or another.

Or the soils, completely destroyed of nutrients because the ground is forced to produce three harvests a year, instead of one, to maximise output. When that soil cannot produce any more, it is simply excavated out, and a new lot brought in.

It doesn't take into account the millions of illegal immigrants around the world, exploited and used to prop up the system, working long hours for pittance (if they're lucky), and living in absolute hell-ish conditions. If you doubt me, go and read Felicity Lawrence's book "Not On The Label" and be horrified over the injustice going on right under our noses.

The international slave trade is alive and well. It just has a different face now.

It gives no hint to hens living (existing) in less than an A4 page amount of space, fed a constant of supply of antibiotics and hormones in their drinking water, and never seeing the light of day, or feeling the grass beneath their feet.

Or hens bred specially to have breasts that are so disproportionately large (because we all want to eat chicken breast) that by the time they are killed, most birds are lame or cannot even hold themselves up.

Nor does it tell of intensive farmed livestock, like cows, being fed other ground up animals for protein, to make them grow as quickly as possible. Or standing knee-deep in their own urine and faeces.

Not so much as a newspaper headline, of third-world countries forced to open up their markets in the name of "globalisation", only to see their livelihoods and land swallowed up by giant transnational conglomerates who use up the resources, wreak havoc, send local farmers out of business and when the land can no longer cope, they pack up and leave.

Don't be fooled. Free trade does not equal fair trade.

The shelf price doesn't reflect the millions of tonnes of sugar and coffee dumped on the world markets by European countries, or corn and soy from the U.S, at artifically low prices because they've been produced with the help of massive government subsidies.

Nor does it reflect the third world farmers who grow those same products (without any subsidies) on land that is often better suited to those commodities, yet are gradually forced out of business because they simply cannot compete.

It certainly doesn't hint at the explosion in health-care costs due to "affluenza" diseases like hypertension, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and the likes. Or the parents who are continually struggling with hyperactive and difficult children, because of additives and colours in foods.

The point I'm trying to make is: the shelf price rarely (if ever) reflects the true price of a product. If we want to continue buying cheap food, you can be sure we are going to be paying for it in other areas. In higher taxes, loss of languages and cultures and biodiversity, loss of small businesses and family farms, loss of soil quality, loss of nutrition, loss of communities...Some of these are priceless!

Only a few decades ago, we spent one third of our incomes on food. Today, we spend just 10%.

As our incomes have grown, we've preferred to spend our new-found affluence on leisurely pursuits, entertainment and technology, rather than what sustains us.

The ironic part is that consumers hold enormous power - probably much more than a voter does, and most people seem blissfully unaware, that each time they buy a product, they are effectively casting their vote for that company and their practices and ethics.

The simple fact of the matter is, that companies will go where the money flows. Whilever we focus on buying cheap food, they'll use cheap means and cheap labour to produce it.

If we, on the other hand, prove our willingness to pay more for food that is better quality and has been produced ethically and responsibly, then companies will provide it. It's not rocket science!

The fact that we now have organic food in supermarkets is testament to the power of the consumer.

Please. Make an effort to learn where your food comes from and how it's been made, and if you don't like what you learn, then vote with your hip pocket. And even better, contact the company and tell them why you will/or will not be buying their product in future.

They'll soon get the hint. Their shareholders will see to that.


Lady Astrid said...

I used to wonder how people fed their family on $100 per week, I suspected it was just by buying the cheapest, thank you for confirming that.

I find it a real conflict these days with the trend towards frugalism, that even more choices these days are based on price, not on ethics. A "friend" of mine loves Costco, loves buying in bulk. She does a long drive to get there (petrol emissions) and the food has travelled a long way to get there (a lot of it produced in the US). Oh and the additives!!! Some of the food is just nauseating. The packaging!! Lots of individual served packed up in a couple of boxes! The food miles used to save a few dollars is just horrendous.

As for the chickens, we have been raising our own for eggs and meat. It is amazing how different the shape of the chook is, even when compared to the supermarket freerange birds. The breast is minimal and the legs are long. The leg meat is so much darker, especially on the dark coloured burds.

Aspiring Millionaire said...

Oh yes, I totally agree. I have increased our food budget and been sourcing more food direct from farms and things instead of the stupidmarket.

I used to feed my family for as little as possible, but most of it was rubbish. At the time I only sort of knew better, but also was not in a financial position to do anything about it.

I know most of my extended family don't care, but I really do.

We want to move at the end of the year to where we want to settle down and live forever. I have seriously been thinking about where I want this to be. I want to be close to the city and everything, but I want land so I can grow my own everything, including meat.

Can't wait.

Mrs Horty said...

What a fantastic well articulated post! We live a frugal life but we certainly don't buy cheap food. We buy organic meat and some organic fruit, grow some veg and buy very little processed food because we are also sugar free - it is amazing what you don't need when you stick to the basics!
I try to buy local food (within 160km)but trying to buy household goods made in this country can be quite hard but there are ways around it such as buying second hand, doing without. If I do have to make purchases that can't be local or even Australian made then I make sure it is something we actually need rather than just want - and this is a work in progress because we aren't perfect but we try and the more you try the better you become.

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