Do We Want a Sustainable Food System?
The shifts in the food industry recently would suggest that Americans are increasingly interested in a more sustainable food system. Fast food sales have dropped over the past year, the organic market is still booming, and Foodbabe has been called out from every corner for her activism against processed foods. So it looks things are shifting, and that indeed, we do want better food. This is examined in a recent article by Jason Best of TakePart. He writes that, in fact, we do want to know more about our food system.
What happens when we shift our focus to a more sustainable food system? What does it mean for food to be better? Shifts in opinion about how meat and dairy are conventionally raised has been a big part of this change in attitude: factory farms pollute the air, pollute the water and most of that food is not so healthy for you anyway. Those that choose to eat meat are often doing so in a much more conscious way, looking for products that are more humane, less full of antibiotics. Processed foods and our overly-sugared diet have been directly linked to lifestyle diseases, and are now getting the national media attention they deserve. Even the boom in the Paleo diet shows that people are craving less junk, more real food. To cap it all off, even the FDA has just issued new diet guidelines that encourage people to take the environment into consideration when choosing foods.
The article from TakePart makes note of the new campaign at Whole Foods promoting the values behind our food system, and why this is important. The new values based campaign at Whole Foods features farmers, families and generally a gorgeous mix of people enjoying simple foods, encouraging us to define the next generation of delicious. Even Wal-Mart has announced plans to take steps towards sustainability too, but Best is not sure whether this will truly pan out for the brand:
“It’s a smoke-and-mirrors game, designed to deceive consumers into believing that, somehow magically, Walmart has taken the sort of cheap, inhumanely raised, environmentally exploitative processed food that has become standard fare in America and transformed it into something the socially conscious consumer can feel good buying—all at a cut-rate price.”
All of this is great, except for one thing: most people don’t want to pay for it. There’s lots of stats showing that we pay significantly less than more recent generations did for food, and much less than the global average. This is part due to the massive government subsidies given to corn, soy, beef, sugar and dairy industries, but also due to the expectation that food SHOULD be less expensive. But of course less expensive means chaep, and cheap food is what got us into our current health crisis.
Best, the author of the TakePart article summarizes by saying:
“[We] bitch and moan about how much we spend on groceries, even as the proportion of our income that we spend on them is arguably at its lowest point in, like, forever. As this nifty chart from Bloomberg Businessweek attests, we spend but 11 percent of our income on food today, versus 17 percent some 30 years ago. Back in the 1930s, that number was as high as 25 percent. Today, though, when you exclude money we spend eating out, the percentage of our income we spend on groceries plunges even more dramatically, to just 7 percent—less than any other country in the world. So maybe, just maybe, we ought to be rethinking what a “normal” grocery budget looks like—one that would take into account the true costs of producing more socially and environmentally responsible food.”
Sometimes we need to SEE the impact of an unsustainable food system. Here’s an infographic to help you visualize all this environmental destruction around food [click here for the full size graphic: Factory-Farming-versus-Sustainable-Farming)