I read this not to long ago and thought it was very well written. Joel never seems to pull punches and tells it the way it is. This is the number one thing I hear when I talk about growing and selling organic or naturally grown food. It is to "expensive" to eat naturally grown food. To me, it is all about priorities, and Joel takes it head on in the article. Enjoy!
Picture Source: USA Today
The poor people question is the second most frequently asked question after "can we feed the world?" So let's address it.
First, enough money is in the food system for everyone to enjoy safe,nutrient dense food generally from local sources.
When you look at the price per pound of candy, potato chips, TV dinners, and Cocoa-Puffs, you will find that they are NOT cheap. And if you factor in nutrition, they are definitely not cheap. If you took the money currently spent on soda, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and McDonald's and spent it instead on local nutrient-dense direct-from-the-farm food, the system contains plenty of money to eat well. Processed, snack, and junk foods are not cheap, and take up valuable money from the food system that could be spent better.
Show me the poor family that doesn't have soft drinks and potato chips in their house, and then we can talk real issues. For most of our lives, Teresa and I have been below the poverty level, by choice. I do not believe government statistics, now do I believe advocacy agency statistics. So off the top, let's realize that poverty is extremely subjective. And when someone says they can't afford our food who spends nothing on potato chips and soft drinks, then I'll entertain their questions.
Second, most of the problem is a lack of domestic culinary skills. This can be from ignorance, negligence, or laziness, none of which has anything to do with money. Plenty of busy people cook unprocessed food. Premium Idaho baking potatoes occupy a tiny box in the produce section and sell for 10 cents a pound. Two aisles over, microwavable frozen pre-made French fries occupy 150 feet of freezer space, and sell for$1.25 per pound. A couple more aisles over,potato chips in bags occupy another 150 feet of shelf space and sell for $4 a pound. That's what Polyface hamburger costs. I am not willing to concede that most people in poverty are really putting effort into their home kitchens to prepare unprocessed meals.
Third, if local food were not prejudicially regulated, the price differences would not be as apparent as they are. Most of the premium pricing on local, nutrient-dense food has nothing to do with production, but rather the non-scalable application of onerous, capricious regulations. Infrastructure and paperwork requirements that big operations spread over thousands of pounds or gallons become exorbitant to a small business.
For example, Polyface last year tipped over into the mandatory workmen's compensation program due to the number of employees. Normally, a business our size would pay $3-5,000 a year, but we pay more than $10,000. Why? Because we're classified as a farm, and by regulation, a farm cannot have a delivery driver who handles boxes. The ONLY driver a farm can have is a high risk live animal hauler, right at the top end of the actuarial risk category. So who pays for that extra $6,000? The customer. If you want to see more evidence of this capricious and asinine regulatory climate, please read my book: EVERYTHING I WANT TO DO IS ILLEGAL.
The fact is that were it not for this regulatory climate, neighborhood food systems would run circles around Wal-Mart both in quality and price. And impoverished city food deserts would spout oases of entrepreneurial local food networks, at a price folks could more easily afford. The people demanding more invasive and onerous food safety regulations, for example, actually hate poor people because they advocate policies that create further price prejudice against smaller scale food businesses.
Finally, this issue has a subconscious corollary that food should be cheap. I don't have any problem with cheap food; I only have a problem with good food being cheap. How many people classified as poor have a flat screen TV? Or iphones? Why doesn't anyone complain about the price of Cadillacs or plasma TVs? You get what you pay for, and if you only pay for junk, you get junk. And if you only pay for things that destroy the earth or cheapen life, then that's the world you're creating. You can make do on a lot less if you look, just like scrounging for anything. If you ask for seconds on tomatoes, or can the mountain of tomatoes local farmers are throwing away just before frost when the plants explode with end-of-season premonitional bounty, you can get premium local vegetables by the bushel for very little money. Eating well does not require you to eat organic tomatoes shipped air freight from Peru in January. You can eat better by canning, drying, or freezing local seasonal bounty and enjoying it in the off season. But that means getting busy, refusing to be a victim, and being responsible. Unfortunately, these good character qualities are not encouraged in the modern American welfare class. When I see food stamps used for TV dinners so that personal money can purchase beer and cigarettes, I admit to being a bit dubious about the alleged plight of poor people. And if everyone who didn't need to be weren't,the numbers would be so small that some philanthropy would solve the genuine problem--just like it used to. Bottom line, I've found that I usually have money for what I consider essential. If I really want to make something happen, I'll passionately try to make it happen, without a handout and without whining. That would probably be a good way for more of us to live, don't you think?