The Cheap Disease (part 1 of 2)

by guest blogger Alberto Gonzalez, founder and CEO of GustOrganics.

U.S. food consumers are somehow programmed to buy food cheaply. Our national motivation to pay less seems to be in our social DNA. We suffer what I call The Cheap Disease.

This national sport has created a cancer that’s been growing out of control inside our food system and our society. Consumers’ consumption represents about 2/3 of the GDP in our country, therefore, whatever we buy is big business—and keep in mind that we all eat every single day.

As consumers, we are very vulnerable to marketing messages. When companies spend big money on advertisement and social media, we simply obey. We have been bombarded for years with messages prompting us to pay as little as possible for food. The idea is simple: The less we pay, the smarter we’re supposed to be.

Even today, most food advertisement on TV focuses on promoting cheaper prices. The “to-be-smart” message to pay less for food is always present. In other words, we have simply been brainwashed for years because, in fact, cheap food means lack of good nutrients, with huge amounts of artificial and chemical contents, leading inexorably to bad health and, of course, an obscene amount of environmental damage. While chasing the cheapest possible food, we have opened the door for the key decision makers in our food system to transform it into the oil/chemical monster that it is today, and at the same time, our collective health has deteriorated to a point beyond belief.

It is fair to say that cheap food does not exist. When we buy cheap, in reality we are paying a very expensive price because we are—or will be—paying the difference saved at the cash register with our health and with extraordinary damages to our environment, which also means that we are seriously compromising the health of future generations.

The companies providing us with the cheap food are in reality externalizing the true cost of those foods.

The “cheap” food disease is not only affecting our health, but also that of farmers, animals, soils, water, and air. Factory-farming and the huge level of consolidation in the agricultural sector (the main culprits for our Cheap Disease) are putting family farmers out of work at an alarming rate. According to Farm Aid, 330 farmers leave their land every week. This is more than 47 farmers per day.

I know it’s awkward to discover that we have not been smart at all but simply manipulated by Food Corporations and agribusiness, and in fact, our food-purchasing decisions during the last 50 years have resulted in very poor choices. Also, collectively speaking, we have become very sick.

Although, on more than a few occasions, many people pay high prices for food in restaurants, in general those prices are related to value created by the location, style, or chef; however, the ingredients are generally coming from factory-farming, so the economics of dining out are actually contributing to The Cheap Disease. In other words, the higher prices paid translate to better margins for the businesses, but don’t contribute to consumption and support of true organic and sustainable farming.

In this country, most people do not make the connection between food, health, and happiness. The most obvious connection that I am sure everyone immediately detects is the one between money and happiness, hence, through this paradigm, “cheap” seems to be the main virtue in our food system, and it has proven to be a recipe for disaster.

To put it succinctly, while pursuing the illusion of cheap food, America became the sickest country on the planet.

What we eat matters big-time. Food is who we are, food cleans, food creates positive jobs, helps local communities, food incentivizes life but also death, destruction, and wealth for just a few. The choice is all ours.

Let’s cure our Cheap Disease, now.

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8 Responses to The Cheap Disease (part 1 of 2)

  1. Bonnie September 15, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    This is interesting, but gives no details. Probably the author is, and should be, reluctant to point these out. But we can – here is one:
    Hamburger Helper seems silly to me, just add your own flavoring and some rice.

  2. Laura P September 15, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Well said!!! Too bad most people either can’t or refuse to pay for clean food!!!!

  3. Mandy K September 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    I wish the author would have mentioned the additional cost of taxes. People think they are getting a $.99 hamburger, but they’ve paid for that hamburger with their tax dollars already!!! People are paying for “cheap” food many times over. Seriously, if it seems too good to be true…. IT PROBABLY IS! And in the case of cheap food, it certainly is too “good” to be true.

  4. PatS September 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    You know I agree with the author 100%, the cheap food sold to us is killing us, and we’re being brainwashed by the ads paid for by multinational agri-businesses and retailers. . .But what is a family on a limited food budget to do. Let’s face it, most people can’t afford to buy organic food. After being layed-off in January, I had to become more critical of my “organic” purchases, and I joined a food co-op. I had to research these and other alternatives, but they’re not advertised widely, so people aren’t aware of them. Knowledge is the key.

  5. Carol Lewis September 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Regarding the small farmers, they must be saved as they are the ones giving us good, organic food as well as raw milk which is the best drink in the world with the most nutrients. I want to be able to buy what I want and not what the government wants me to eat and drink. Please help the small farmer!

  6. Sharon September 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Well said…

  7. Mandy K September 16, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Hi PatS,
    I hear you! I hear this all the time from people “I can’t afford to eat anything but the cheapest food”. But when I was growing up, the most impoverished folks (my family at times) were eating better than the middle class. There were times when our family couldn’t even afford to buy canned food. The poorest families eat unprocessed dried beans, lentils, rice ect. and (time permitting) food they grow themselves. Honestly, the cheapest food can also be healthy. The people I hear from these days (frustratingly, family and friends) are saying they can’t afford to buy “healthy” food. Then they go to the frozen food section and buy pizza and burritos! What? You can get a weeks worth of whole good-for-you foods for $20. Maybe it’s what you said PatS, a lack of knowledge?

  8. Laura September 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    This is very well stated. The reason it “gives no details” is there is a huge amount of information behind these words. Please watch one of the dozens of videos on Netflix regarding this issue to get more understanding or read any number of books on the subject. We as a nation are uninformed. It is costing us our health and that of our children; penny wise and pound foolish….

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