Many of the posts I write on this web site are devoted to the subject of eating real food and eating healthy. But I feel like the point of moving from supporting a conventional farming system that pumps out massed produced, nutritionally empty foods to a healthy, more sustainable one simply cannot be pressed enough.
Not everyone can afford to eat organic food all of the time. In fact, when the word organic is mentioned, the factor of expense almost always comes up. People have a perception that they can’t possibly change their lifestyle and buying habits because organic food is too expensive.
On the surface, organic, sustainable, or even truly “natural” food is more expensive than conventional. But consider the “hidden” costs of eating conventional, industrial food. The food grown and raised by conventional means is procured in the cheapest way possible – that is, to minimize operating expenses and maximize profits.
Then there are business people, merchants, and farmers who do things the right way, taking care to produce a quality product and something safe. Business may be slow at times and downright challenging, but these businesses are able to continue their activities because of dedicated and informed consumers who understand the big difference between conventional, mass-produced food and something that has been raised with care and thought for health and the environment.
According to Sustainable Table, consolidation of the food production system has concentrated farming into the hands of a few large food corporations. The emphasis has moved to production and profit, pushing regard for the environment and human health to the back of the list. Because food is produced as cheaply as possible, quality ingredients and farming and production methods suffer greatly. When food is produced in such a way, it’s not only quality that goes down – so does nutritional content and integrity.
So the emphasis should be on real, organic foods because when you eat healthy, you are avoiding problems down the road – problems that will cost you more money than you realize. The idea should be that prevention up front will save you misery, disease, and cost later on.
Smaller, sustainable farming ventures and efforts don’t make the huge profits that the large corporations bring in. For that reason, they are very concerned with quality and maintaining a good customer base of people who are happy with their products. Sustainable farmers are more mindful of the quality of what they are producing and the environment, so the end result is a product you can feel good about eating and production practices you can have a good conscience about supporting.
Processed foods = no nutrition for the money you spend
One of the most heavily consumed items in developed countries is carbonated soda pop, which has absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever. Soda pop is the number one source of calories in the United States! When consumed in such amounts, there is no one who can deny this definitely affects anyone’s budget. So why not trade your dollars spent on soda pops, juices, Kool Aid, Crystal Light, Hawaiian Punch, Sunny Delight, or other processed sugary drinks for a wholesome, organic apple, pear, or banana, or a good water-filtration system.
Another example is pre-made, frozen dinners or meals in a can. Just look at the average ingredient label on one of these products and the list is a mile long. Can you pronounce these ingredients and do you know what they are? How about the effect they have on your health? If you buy the raw ingredients and prepare from scratch, both the taste and the health benefits you will receive from eating this meal are ten-fold what you get out of the processed one. It will probably make you feel full longer and provide more food for your money as well. Processed foods seem cheaper, but when you consider the damage to the environment to produce them, what’s in them, and how well they satisfy your hunger, are they really more economical?
The cost of health care
Just stop to consider the large amounts of money we pay in taxes and other fees to support industrial agriculture – massive government subsidies to agribusiness (which drive smaller, sustainable farmers out of business), environmental damage as a result of toxins being dumped into the air, water, and land due to the operation methods of factory farms, the continual increase of health care costs, and untold damage to our health.
Also consider the amount of money put into the healthcare system by the average person or family. In 2008 the average worker payed out over $3K into health coverage for a family of 4.
The $3K paid is just the beginning of money spent; that doesn’t even begin to cover co-pay amounts. As health insurance costs rise, it is becoming necessary to for individuals and employers to select plans with the lowest annual premiums, which can only result in higher co-pay amounts. Then comes prescription drug costs (many of them unnecessary and over-prescribed), and over-the-counter drugs used by millions and millions. Health care costs are one of the leading causes of incurred debt amongst the population. Also, the amount of money going into the system to pay for the health of the average senior citizen, welfare recipient, or wards of the state is impossible to gauge, but you can bet it’s astronomical. Someone’s got to pay for it.
The food we eat from the industrial food system actually increases our dependence upon conventional medicine, drugs, and surgery. Still think conventional (reactive medicine) is cheaper than eating healthy and prevention? Read this post and see if you aren’t convinced!
The cost of factory farming on the environment and health
Most of our meat and dairy products come from conventional farming sources – also known as “factory farms” or CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). The expense and damage of operating these facilities to human health, the environment, and economy are well-documented facts. Factory farming uses management of what animals eat to promote growth and keep costs down. So the goal is to increase yield while decreasing production costs (Food Matters).
Here’s what you are supporting with your food dollars when you buy conventionally-raised meat and meat products:
- The use of antibiotics – which increasingly creates resistant-bacteria
- Hormones – to create a faster growth margin in animals for higher profits
- Genetically-modified substances in the feed the animals eat
- Pesticide spraying on crops to feed animals
- Use of massive amounts of fossil fuels to transport feed, animals, and chemicals to ensure success of operation
- Environmental contamination of soil, groundwater (and runoff goes into neighboring crops), and air from pathogenic waste that cannot be used for re-fertilization of healthy soil
So what’s going on here is that the health care companies are getting rich, the food industry is getting rich…but what’s to become of the consumer? Are we destined to remain in the stranglehold of these corporations who have absolutely no concern for our health or well-being, or are we going to do something about it?
We must take a stand, get proactive, support local and sustainable farming and food production, and stamp out these bloated, multi-billion dollar corporations who have taken for themselves all the power and profit – and all the while they are stealing our health and well-being.
Put the power, money, well-being, and health back in the hands of the people who can make a huge effect on our habits and future – the consumers! Do something ethical and moral, and healthy for yourself, your family, and the planet. Go organic and sustainable. Read labels. Be aware and educate yourself. Trade your junk food and industrial dollars for something more worthwhile and healthy – good, real, organic, sustainable food. Remember, each time you put food in your mouth, you are casting a vote for organic or not…and the consequences could be more serious than you think!
What you can do:
- Learn about our food system and what goes into our food – be conscious of what you eat! Get to know the people who produce your food and ask about farming practices. There are many responsible farmers who want to produce clean, sustainable products for their community, and all you have to do is ask!
- Grow your own vegetables and fruits – plant a garden! It doesn’t have to be large, start small and go from there.
- Support local farming, CSAs, and your farmer’s market
- Make changes in what you eat – even if they are small and incremental. Examples include eliminating industrial and hydrogenated oils from your diet, including healthy fats like grass-fed meats, lard, tallow, and butter, and eliminating processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, and refined sugar.
- Get involved on a local level to help educate those you know – talk about your experiences with people, start a blog, write a book, or become a chair on your children’s school lunch committee (I did!)
Want to protect family farms and our freedom to have access to safe, clean food? Join the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund effort
Read more about the high price of cheap food – TIME article
For some ideas about how to eat healthy on a budget, read:
Want to know more about eating healthy to help improve health and lose weight? It’s not all about exercise!
Learn about the different kinds of foods; the kind of food you eat really does matter!