Saturday, August 22

Time:High Price of Cheap Food

Brian Walsh has written a disturbing yet informative piece about the high price of cheap food here in America. The article covers many aspects including farming techniques, price-to-calories ratio and environmental costs:

But cheap food is not free food, and corn comes with hidden costs. The crop is heavily fertilized — both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop — at least until corn ethanol skewed the market — artificially low. That's why McDonald's can sell you a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for around $5 — a bargain, given that the meal contains nearly 1,200 calories, more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults. "Taxpayer subsidies basically underwrite cheap grain, and that's what the factory-farming system for meat is entirely dependent on," says Gurian-Sherman.

So what's wrong with cheap food and cheap meat — especially in a world in which more than 1 billion people go hungry? A lot. For one thing, not all food is equally inexpensive; fruits and vegetables don't receive the same price supports as grains. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit. With the backing of the government, farmers are producing more calories — some 500 more per person per day since the 1970s — but too many are unhealthy calories. Given that, it's no surprise we're so fat; it simply costs too much to be thin.

This leads to a discussion I recently had with my brother about health care reform. The debate about reforming our health care system has been about cost from the very beginning: insurance premiums, deficit control, etc. This is understandable and expected. However, the strong (and sometimes twisted) debate has yet to turn to actual health care issues. The money aspect of the debate is important, but so is disease prevention, obesity control and exercise options. Food production and consumption plays into all of these issues. But this has yet to enter into the discussion. It is past time that it does. Health care reform without debating health is just health insurance reform. Just read the article. Money does not solve the whole problem.

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