The Challenge of Getting Back to Basics

Apr 29, 2014 No Comments by

Sending food through a rigmarole of preservatives, sweeteners, and other extra ingredients seems like an awful lot of work. It seems especially unnecessary when compared with how healthy and tasty fruits & vegetables can be with little to no preparation. Why, then, are processed foods sold more frequently for less money? The reasons are varied.

Fast foods are easier to find and cheaper to buy because of the large corporations that are able to process and produce them efficiently, and on a massive scale. Highly mechanized, large-scale industrial agriculture has gotten the mass production down to a science. The cost for the expansion and automation would normally be a significant deterrent, but mitigating factors have been put in place by the agricultural corporations. Subsidies and tax loopholes keep the government’s cut of the profits low, while paltry wages, neglected working conditions and migrant labor keep the cost of employing low.

Healthy foods, especially organic fruits and vegetables, cost more because they have a lot of requirements. Careful, attentive farmers must keep an eye on the soil’s health, rather than dousing it in chemicals. Treating workers with higher standards is also significantly more costly: earning a living wage, working in reasonably healthy and safe conditions, and handling the soil, plants and food with care is magnitudes more demanding for companies to maintain than the norm. Additionally, the best alternatives to the chemical weed and pest management used in highly processed foods require much more labor.

Tackling this would require simultaneously taking on a number of other socioeconomic issues. There are numerous grassroots initiatives to subsidize and support both local farmers and low income households so that all people can afford healthy food. Education for low income people about finding, growing, and demanding affordable, accessible, fresh food is another key element. Doing so creates a positive feedback loop by increasing the customer base for local organic farmers, which reduces the price of healthy food, which continues to bring more people.

Take a look at this interview with educator & ecological activist Élan Shapiro to learn more about food justice and modern agricultural activism.

Economics

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