The True Cost of the Food We Eat

In the society we live in, we have a vast array of choice and options around our food choices.   I ask myself how much of what I purchase is based on convenience rather than on careful choosing to invest in the local environment and to invest in our health???

Many years ago when I was very young, very far away from a developed country and pregnant for the first time, I inhaled books on nutrition and nutrients and how to gain these from everyday food.  We are what we eat.  The situation I was in forced me to look at what was available locally, and also what was affordable.  Packaged foods from the west were a luxury…in fact a plastic bag was washed and hung to dry on the line with the washing – they were in such short supply….

Groceries were purchased daily from fishermen and farmers who either caught the fish that day or pulled it from the ground, cleaned it up a little and sold it on a market stall.  I had a cook who would take a list and a menu and haggle and bargain although sometimes armed with my few words in the local language I would enjoy going myself to the market.  I would decide what I wanted in terms of vegetable, stop and listen to the locals and see what they paid, then I would begin.

Kitna?? (How much??)

The stall owner would name a price 4 times what a local would pay.

“Chor!!!!” I would declaim loudly.  In other words – thief.

He and any locals who were nearby  shopping were dlighted with the memsahib who cared enough to learn the local practices and the language,  so I would pay the ‘local’ price and not the ‘foreigner’ price.

I am currently looking for and purchasing food that’s grown as close to where I live currently as possible. For some people, that means living off their backyard garden, for others it means buying as much food as possible from sources within 50, 100, or 200 miles from home.

Buying food that’s grown locally avoids shipping it and the pollution that transportation causes. It often allows you to get your food fresher, so it tastes better and is more nutritious and appealing. Food starts to deteriorate as soon as it is picked; food that is shipped across the country can spend a week in a refrigerated truck.

Another reason for supporting local farms is that they are usually smaller and more independent; there are lots of them, as opposed to just a few agribusiness giants. Keeping many small farms in business means that food decisions won’t be concentrated in a few hands. Right now, 72% of our food comes from seven percent of our farms, and if that trend continues, there won’t be many small farms left. If the big farms decide to follow practices that we don’t approve of, we won’t have anyplace else to go for food.

Which is better, organic or local? Recently some of the biggest food companies have realized that the market for organic food is large and growing larger and they have started growing food that meets organic standards. A lot of this agribusiness-organic food is grown on huge farms and shipped around the world. Some food activists make a logical argument that it’s better to eat agribusiness organic food than non-organic food.

These large companies use modern and efficient business practices to bring good food to the largest number of people possible all through the year. Some are dedicated environmentalists as well as competent and successful business people and they are very good at growing and distributing organic and other responsibly-grown food.

On the other hand, these farms don’t provide the benefits of local food, savings on transportation, increased nutrition, and maintenance of small farms. But some small local farms can’t afford the costs or time involved in getting certified, even though their practices are just as safe as certified organic farms. In fact, some large-scale organic farms use questionable practices that are allowed under government organic standards (such as overuse of approved botanical bugkillers); smaller farmers are often more careful (see http://www.naturallygrown.org).

But it’s hard to be sure if uncertified local farms are not using chemicals. The choice becomes easier if you know the farmer who is growing your food. Whether or not a local farm is certified organic, if you can look the farmer in the eye and talk to him or her about their growing practices, you can be more comfortable with the choice you make. It might take a bit of time to find a local farm, but there are many sources of information – see links at bottom of this page!!!

In some communities, it’s easy to find food that is both organic and locally grown; in others, you’re lucky to get either. But it’s not hard to find out how your food is being raised. A little web research or a call will usually get you the information you need.

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