Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Why Food Ought To Be More Expensive

I can hear the yelling now. “Food more expensive! What about the poor?” No doubt, the latter exclamation coming from those kind folks who think Walmart helps the less fortunate. (1) But bear with me. As I explained in “How We Get Robbed” housing and transportation costs are about double what they ought to be. Furthermore, the people who benefit from this extortion are not “the ordinary folks”, but developers, auto manufacturers, politicians and bureaucrats. If housing and transportation cost half what they do now, as they ought to, people could pay double for food and still be many thousands of dollars the richer. The people to benefit from this food cost increase would not be the wealthy, but genuine “ordinary folks” like small farmers and agricultural workers.

Let’s face it, “cheap food” is a fraud. The true costs are kept down in a number of artificial ways. One way was to deliberately destroy the small farm and replace it with vast petroleum, machinery and pesticide-based agribusiness. This was done, in no small measure, by government policy. The environmental cost of all of this is high, and we, the tax payer pay for it. The petroleum and chemical industries, those major components of agribiz, are themselves state-aided in a variety of ways. Agribusiness costs are socialized while the profits are privatized.

Another method has been to truck produce thousands of miles from “cheap” growing areas like Mexico. All this trucking is based upon the availability of artificially cheap petroleum and state-built highways. The general quality of the food has also declined due to agribusiness methods and growing for shipping rather than taste. Cheap pork, chicken and eggs have come at the expense of the animals involved, cruelly kept in cages, rather than free range like 50 years ago.

The humungous agribusiness “farms” require a lot of hired labor, far more than would be necessary if farms were small and worked by families or partners. To keep costs down wages are kept low. Farm workers are imported from the Caribbean and Latin America to do the jobs that Canadians and Americans won’t do because the wages and working conditions are too poor. Yet, at the same time, thousands of North Americans are unemployed. A true cost of food would have to include decent wages, working and living conditions for those who pick and hoe. If this were the case North Americans would take these jobs. (2)

Deliberate government agribusiness policies have driven thousands of people – ex-farmers and farm laborers – into the cities where many become members of a kind of sub-proletariat. Small towns and villages become devastated as a result of population loss. All this comes at a cost, born by the taxpayer, once more – a cost which is not calculated into food prices. Reversing this process, by encouraging a return to small scale, sustainable agriculture would help eliminate these hidden costs.

Within living memory, large cities were fed by market gardens on the outskirts. Urban sprawl, forced upon us by the same criminal elements who encouraged agribusiness, eliminated these and cities became dependent on food trucked from afar. Remaining truck gardens or farms on the outlying areas beyond the suburban blight could not compete and so went under. True cost of food would encourage the return of the truck garden, and indeed, much produce could be grown in suburban back yards. As well, as food rose in price to its true cost, more and more people would chose to grow their own, a practice conducive to both physical and mental health. This would also help mitigate the effects of Peak Oil which is going to sharply raise the price of that “cheap” imported food anyway.

For a good article on corporate agriculture and how it is state-supported see
So Called Green Revolution

1. Pseudo-libertarians and neocrazies regularly attack the critics of Walmart for opposing the poor. Funny coming from the same folks who like smashing unions, off-shoring jobs and corporatizing tax-payer paid for institutions.
2. Tens of millions of people are voluntary agricultural laborers. They do it for pleasure and for the delicious fruit and vegetables it produces. It is called back yard gardening. If agricultural labor was more like back yard gardening, you wouldn’t need to import voluntary slaves to do it.


Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Many farmer's in my neck of the woods have turned to importing Mexican farm workers because of a lack of willing farm labourers here. It truly is an insane situation.

If our government workers were as poorly paid as our farmworkers we would have Mexicans flying in to run our country for us.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Vache Folle said...

I have taken to patronizing local farmers more and more, especially when stuff is in season. The food costs a little more but it is so much better than the cheaper alternative. Moreover, I am promoting keeping agriculture in my community so that farms don't turn into fields of McMansions.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Patrick G said...

Hey Kleitus,

You're on a roll, cuz! Keep on goin'!


9:52 PM  

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