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Mindful : April 2015
The price gap between real, healthy food and fake food with lower nutritional value needs to shrink. Food marketers a re fooling people into thinking they’re getting bargains when they go out for a fast food meal or buy sugary cereal that is marked down. If you actually buy fresh food, and take a little bit of time to prepare it, the cost will almost always be lower than feeding your family at a fast food restaurant. (I know. It can be tough to find the time when two working parents come home tired, but there are lots of cookbooks devoted to quick, simple, healthy meals.) To a certain extent, we pay for convenience at the cost of our health. But is it more convenient if we have to give children insu- lin shots every day? Is it more convenient to end up with a generation that is the first to live shorter lives than their parents? Is it more convenient if young people need more health care when they reach their productive working years? Fruits and vegetables have also become more expensive for everyone over the years, because our subsidy system puts a little too much emphasis on grain production a nd provides little assista nce to spe- cialty crop fa rmers. (Including fruits and vegetables under crop insura nce in the most recent farm bill is a step in the right direction.) Marion Nestle notes in her Food Politics blog: “The Depar tment of Commerce reports that the indexed price of fresh fruits and vegetables has increased by 40% since 1980, wherea s the indexed price of sodas ha s declined by about 30%. Fast food, snacks, and sodas are cheap. Fruits and vegetables a re not. Without access to healthful foods, people ca nnot eat healthfully.” Price discrepancies build favoritism towa rd bad, cheap food—the kind you see heavily advertised in g rocery store flyers. That ’s just considering the cost of fruits and vegetables grown by conventional methods. As is well-known, the costs of orga nic fruits a nd vegetables (and those that are organic for all intents and purposes but without the certifica- tion) tend to be much higher today. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Asso- ciation did find that prices for produce at farmers markets tended to be lower, given the economies of direct selling (organic lettuce sold for 18% less tha n organic lettuce in the supermarket, for exa mple). Nevertheless, if this is the kind of food we want to promote for our own health and the health of the planet, the cost is still too high. Costs and Access It’s also the case that while our fruits and vegetables have been going up in price, they have been decreas- ing in nutritional quality due to depletion of soil quality from high-intensity agriculture methods— which emphasize quantity over quality—according to severa l authorities both here a nd in the United Kingdom. In its EarthTalk blog, Scientific American estimated that to get the same amount of vitamin A our grandparents derived from one orange, we would need to eat eight. We are paying more money for less nutrition. It would be easy to think that city dwellers are the only ones who experience high prices a nd availabil- ity problems for fresh food, since rural people are closer to the source, but that is sadly not true. There are many “rural food deserts,” where all residents live more than ten miles from a supermarket or supercenter. A nationwide ana lysis found that there are 418 rural food desert counties—20% of all rural counties in the US. In Mississippi, the state with the highest obesity rate in the country (35.4% of adults), over 70% of households eligible to use food stamps travel more tha n 30 miles to reach a supermarket. The lack of supermarkets and access to fresh food correspond to the likelihood of fresh food consump- tion. In rural Mississippi, residents in food desert counties are 23% less likely to consume the recom- mended fruits and vegetables than those in counties that have superma rkets. There are larger implications from the lack of access to healthy food. Residents in a reas without access to good food have poor physical and economic health, due to costs in obtaining food (transportation) a nd the costs associated with poor health. Local businesses suffer due to an unhealthy workforce, a nd state a nd local governments face increasing health care costs and the loss of tax revenues when residents leave a jurisdiction to purchase food. According to the University of North Carolina, rural food deserts will increase as r ura l populations decline, and the food indust ry continues to shift dist ribution to larger superstores in higher population areas. Just a nother of the many reasons we need to change this food system now. What we’re doing today is just not fair. Healthy food is essential for “life, libert y, and the pursuit of happiness,” a nd our food system is just not delivering it to all of its citizens. ● To get the same amount of vitamin A our grandparents derived from one orange, we would need to eat eight. — EarthTalk, Scientific American Adapted from The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm. © 2014 by Tim Ryan. Published by Hay House. Available at hayhouse.com Tim Ryan is a member of the US House of Representatives, in his seventh term serving Ohio’s 13th District, which includes Youngstown and parts of Akron. He is author of A Mindful Nation and The Real Food Revolution. April 2015 mindful 43