by guest blogger Alberto Gonzalez, founder and CEO of GustOrganics, www.gustorganics.com.
For part 1 of this blog post, click here.
“Good food ain’t cheap, cheap food ain’t good” seems to make sense to almost everybody, but, at the time of decision-making, most Americans still go for cheap food.
As discussed in a previous article, The Cheap Disease is what I call this relentless national habit of searching to pay as little as possible for our food. The problem is that paying cheap for food feels rewarding in the form of instant gratification, because we simply fill up our stomachs while spending little money. But for most people it is very hard to assess the real effect of feeding ourselves with these foods.
In a new book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, author Umair Haque asks, How much does a burger really cost? He writes, “You pay perhaps $3, but according to my back-of-the-envelope analysis, the authentic economic cost may be closer to $30. Environmental and health care costs of as much as $10 are shifted to society and future generations. And benefits are borrowed from people, communities and society: The beef, water, land and even jobs that go into burgers are subsidized by as much as $20.”
I like to use “danger” as a way to explain this issue. There are two basic types of danger: fast and imminent, and slow and incremental. As humans we’ve developed an incredible talent for keeping ourselves away from fast and imminent danger; for example, we know that if we cross a highway without looking, most likely we will wind up dead, and consequently, people rarely do that. However, we haven’t found a way to effectively protect ourselves from slow and incremental danger. The Cheap Disease we suffer with food is a huge danger, but because its effects accrue slowly and are incremental, unluckily, most people seem not to detect the danger until it is too late for them.
The sad truth is that in today’s world, most people do not know much about our food system and the implications that food has in our lives. Others have some idea, but prefer to look the other way. Many people say, “I don’t have time for this,” and others simply don’t have the mental energy to deal with this overwhelming situation. There are some people who get it, however, they don’t want to dig deeper because once they know more it will be too painful to keep looking the other way.
Whichever is the case, how much longer can we keep looking the other way? Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place, not for those who do evil, but because of those who look and do nothing.”
Many people look at Washington as a hope for changes in our twisted food system. Given that this administration is quite progressive about food, this could be a source for an alternative solution; unfortunately, I think there are so many other urgent matters that have priority over our Cheap Disease. I believe politics is the art of the possible, and in the current economic situation, what is possible for this administration seems to be very limited, consequently, it seems we must create the change ourselves as consumers.
As we can see, our Cheap Disease is destroying health and value all around. Naturally, it’s my belief that we must do something about it. We must buy organic and sustainable food as much as possible.
I completely understand the situation of many American families facing the unfortunate daily dilemma of needing to feed their children and the only way to afford to do it seems to be fast food. Because as crazy as it may sound, fast food is usually cheaper than cooking at home in the U.S., and obviously the fast-food industry plays a major role in our Cheap Disease.
That’s exactly why it is smart and also a moral duty for those who can to start once and for all voting with our dollars for organic and sustainable food systems. By doing it, we will alter demand and supply in the marketplace and create conditions for many more people to have access to organic and sustainable food. Said in a different way, the more we demand for organic food, the faster its prices will come down and more people will be able to afford it (not to mention the fact that we will also cure our planet.)
I think we are entering into a new era where food companies must be innovative enough to provide affordable organic food and look for efficiencies in other areas, but not in subsidized and consolidated factory-farming. The new food challenge for the American food industry is to create food value while supporting small and fragmented-scale family organic farming.
The Cheap Disease was not our responsibility when we did not have the knowledge to act differently. But now we do have the information, therefore, we must act upon it. We must follow Gandhi’s advice and “be the change we want to see in the world.”
It is now our responsibility as consumers to cure ourselves of The Cheap Disease by buying food that reflects our values. (If you have read this article to this point, I’m sure we are like-minded…)
Let’s support organic farming and simply avoid factory-farming. This is the single best way to get chemical companies out of our food system (and our bodies…) and make the government understand that we are serious about truly sustainable and fragmented agricultural practices and a healthier America.