The Cost of Real Food
When I was growing up, we would shop in the grocery store for all our products. The shelves would be filled with twenty different brands of each item. Usually, the one that won was the cheaper priced item, unless of course it was Jif peanut butter. I don’t remember reading labels or checking calorie contents and that could be because I was a child, but it also wasn’t as important back then. Many items weren’t required to display all the facts about their foods until recently. Many of us do this same practice in the grocery store, but does anyone check where the food was produced? Is it local? How does the price compare to its competitor? Usually more expensive right? Or is it…..
Today, when I shop, I spend much more of my time in the produce section, picking out fruits, vegetables, and salads. If there is a local option, that one wins, even if it is a tad bit more expensive on its face. When I venture through the rest of the store, I focus on items that contain a small list of ingredients, and ingredients I can pronounce. I really try to stay away from processed foods as much as possible (although the occasional Oreo is good for the soul!). And when possible, I also focus on purchasing foods that are grown or made locally.
Even though, in our house, we are fortunate enough to grow most of the meat we eat, occasionally we run low on certain items ourselves. One thing that always alarms me is the cost of meat in the grocery store. Anyone else get lucky enough to purchase a ham for Easter at .99/lb? How about ground beef for $1.99/lb? Although from a customer standpoint, this on its face looks like an awesome score, deep down, is it really? Let’s break down the cost of real food.
To make our beef, someone must raise the cow, wean the baby, grow the steer, and eventually turn that steer into the meat that nourishes our bodies. Just the process of growing the steer can take as little as 15 months and as long as two years. The input costs for this process include the labor, feed, hay, utilities and facilities costs, processing and transportation costs, and so many others. So how can these products be that cheap?
These same costs go into the supermarket meat that many of us consume. Due to economies of scale, that cost can be so low that many of the local farmers just can’t compete. Or can we? You see, the true cost of the food we consume in the grocery store is invisible. It costs us our health, our environment, and our food chain, but on the price sticker, you won’t see this. Large feedlots, either in the US or imported from other countries, are in the business of producing beef as fast as they can with no regard for how the end product will nourish our bodies. This compromises our health in more ways than one considering all the E. Coli recalls as of late. The food is transported from overseas or across the country in large quantities requiring the use of vast quantities of fossil fuels, which as we know, is not good for our planet. So, the true cost of that cheap grocery store meat is actually surprisingly expensive.
You can read more about the cost of real food in Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. For those of us who prefer a summary, he recommends we vote with our food choices. Making a conscious effort to buy local products, grown by local farmers you trust, can help us shorten our food chain the way it was intended. Our planet and our bodies will thank you.