The True Cost of Food

The True Cost of Food
Bang those pots and pans. A food protest in Mexico.
Bang those pots and pans. A food protest in Mexico.

I caught the end of an excellent documentary on SBS today, called The Growing Anger of Hunger. It looked at the painfully disparate relationship between developed nations and the 3rd world countries being quite literally farmed out of existence. Of course, this story is nothing new. Pointing out the well known neo-colonial power plays at work is probably something best left to those who understand the politics better. Though, seeing this program did remind me of an interesting article I read in the September/October issue of Adbusters.

In an issue of the magazine that looks at the flawed models of economics we base our daily lives upon, Kalle Lasn suggests in True Cost (Adbusters #85), that we don’t see the real costs of goods reflected in the prices we pay for them. It was his point that we abuse the luxury of eating anything from around the globe that caught my attention…

What is the real cost of shipping a container load of toys from Hong Kong to Los Angeles? Or a case of apples grown in New Zealand to markets in North America? …Practically every one of the products we buy in the global marketplace is undervalued because the environmental costs haven’t been taken into account… what if we were to implement this simple idea: true cost?

…We raise the price of avocados from Mexico and shrimp from China to reflect the true cost of transporting them long distances. And we estimate and add on all the hidden costs of our industrial farming and food processing systems. That burger at McDonald’s will cost you more, so will most meats, produce and processed foods. You can eat whatever you want, but you’ll have to pay the true cost. Inevitably, your palate will submit to your wallet. Processed, mega-farmed and imported foods become more expensive as the cost of organic and locally produced food goes down.

Not “passing the costs on to future generations” is an empowering idea. Because so many long term costs are left out of our current economic equations, we continue to live well beyond our means at the expense of not only our children, but those in impoverished countries wearing the burden right now.

Creating a more direct link between local farmers and our own kitchens may be part of the solution. Replacing imported produce with locally grown content will certainly allow us to start addressing the issue of true cost, in both an environmental and economic sense. It will also allow those farmers in 3rd world countries to again farm the land for their own communities, as the issue of needing to import food to ensure survival of these communities now takes hold as well.

This is one of those steps we can take which should be a no-brainer: supporting our local community; eating fresher food which is better for us (and probably tastier, too); reducing our impact on the environment; and once the effects take hold, paying less for our food. So why aren’t we taking action? The status quo provides us with a simple excuse. We don’t want to give up eating anything we like. We don’t want to give up shopping in supermarket chains providing us with the ability to satisfy every whim. And those supermarket chains won’t give up their stranglehold.

There are so many problems that we’re facing today that ultimately governments cannot fix. They’re unable to solve them because they are part of the machine that is driving them, whether they like it or not. Just like our attachment to an à la carte menu, they won’t let go without a fight. There is a lot of chatter on a global stage, but precious little action. We need to take responsibility ourselves and find ways to do what we can – it seems that this is the only way to really effect change.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.