Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Join the discussion

Yesterday at 3:30 pm, I posted the following question on the Polyface Farm Facebook page. Within 18 hours, we received 32 comments. I wanted to give you all a chance to comment on this as well.

To set the stage - this was posted 2 weeks ago: Michael Pollen says that cheap food is an illusion. The cost of food will be paid somewhere, whether it be the environment, the land or your health.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION: If cheap food is an illusion, do you think it's possible for "poor people" to afford healthy food? How could someone who doesn't have a lot of money buy healthy food?

12 comments:

J Fowler said...

I think this is a critical question that is being addressed by folks like Will Allen and others. In my opinion, one of the surest ways to connect poor communities with healthy food is to empower them to grow their own through the use of community gardens, CSAs and urban or rural homestead areas.

Relocalizing food around communities will mean renewing non-industrial agricultural knowledge (teaching folks in those communities in other words) which we've had since the beginning of time, coupled with innovative approaches (permaculture,etc) that will reintroduce adaptable wisdom for specific local areas.

To make healthy food affordable we can't just feed the poor with healthy food -we must re-arm communities with the means to create self-sustaining, viable food production areas.

Needless to say, everything in our Western culture is against this idea of empowering the poor in this manner. Centralized, Industrial Agriculture does not want decentralized, community-centric, sustainably-minded, 'food-sovereign' regions.

There is no short term solution but now is the time to have renewed energy for this form of societal redemption.

~Tonia said...

They cant afford the healthy food as of right now. Unless you go to a local source like farmers markets for it. It would have to be provided by a local farmer because most people cant afford to buy even say a half a beef at a time. They are living week to week and can only afford to buy for that week. When you look at a cost of so much at one time or the drive to different places to get the healthy food. Its beyond most budgets especially if they are with out work right now like so many I know are.
Unless they have a little bit of property and can do like we have done and raise a little bit of what we need. Otherwise its pretty much impossible. You can raise a lot on a little bit of land but most people dont know that. So I guess its back to educating them to know what their possibilities are.
I live in a rural area and most people have a garden or can visit a farmers market with out to much of a drive. But I am sure its different in more populated areas..

Mike said...

Things come "cheap" because there is a great abundance. We have been subsidizing food products for so long that manufacturers have found ways of capitalizing on those food stuffs we can grow cheaply. The classic example is corn; the government subsidizes this crop and we have from it corn, meal, syrup, HFCS, flakes, chips, etc. The solution is indeed educating the masses that they can grow their own food. Also, until the government ceases subsidies on monocultural farms, we will always have an overabundance of certain foods (thus making them "cheap").

Cerwydwyn said...

I have actually though about this a lot. When I grocery shop, which I sometimes do at our local Food Lion, I'm often struck (stricken?) by how many overweight, angry mothers I see herding wild, disobedient children through the store. I always look in their carts and every time they are full of things like soda and Hoho's. It seems to me that most of us have running water in our homes these days, even if the Food Lion IS in the VA city with the highest number of outhouses...Anyway, water is free, right out of the tap and regardless of the issues with chlorine and fluoride it's a helluva lot better for you than Nehi. I have also noticed that fresh produce is not expensive. For families trying to eat healthy on a budget, they may have to forego organic in favor of quantity but they could purchase produce in-season when it's less expensive instead of bologna and processed, pasteurized cheese food. We are a large family, partially fledged (not empty nesters yet) but I am accustomed to shopping for a crowd on a budget and I can tell you: IT CAN BE DONE.
I was a single mother with 3 children for 10 years and we got by, with the grace of God and my father's help with rent, on <$18,000 per year. I always gardened and stored the produce. My kids ate salad and fruit for snacks. Cheese and meat were treated like gold.
We did not always eat well and we have consumed our share of Nehi and Hoho's as well as more McDonald's than I'd happily admit but the point is: We did it. We made it work.
During my oldest son's Sr year in HS he tried (and failed) to institute a healthy eating initiative at his High School.

Cerwydwyn said...

Want to add something: Great post, Jay. Permaculture is such a great thing. Why not 'decorate' with food producing plants instead of boxwood and and pansies? blueberry bushes are lovely, so are pepper plants...
So many ways to skin a cat. He's thinking into the future and I'm thinking about what can be done right now. Mainstream.

foodrenegade said...

I wrote a post on this subject not long ago:

http://www.foodrenegade.com/eating-real-food-on-a-budget/

I agree with Cerwydewyn, IT CAN BE DONE!

~KristenM
(AKA FoodRenegade)

Ken Toney said...

I agree that eating healthy can be done on a budget. I have always done the bulk of our shopping and compare prices all the time. I love shopping now with my 11 month old son and teaching him. My biggest problem there is that he might snatch a pear or nectarine from the bin if I park the cart too close. It saddens me, though, to see overweight people buying junk food and soda but skipping over the produce section. Often we'll see a customer with her daughter sitting in the cart eating a bag of cheese popcorn, while my son is snacking on a pear. Ounce for ounce, you get more calories from fresh fruit and veges than from processed TV dinners. Most people are just too lazy to shop for raw ingredients which require some work, no matter how much healthier it may be.

Last spring, every news agency seemed to be running their "cutting grocery bills" story of the day all the time. When I saw that Spam was making record sales, I did some comparison. You could buy almost any fresh raw meat product cheaper by the ounce than Spam. I think pork tenderloin and fillet mignon was the only items that were more expensive. The spam did cost less by the package, but the meat could have lasted for several meals.

You also need to buy produce in season. I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman in the produce section last February. I was buying winter squash and he lamented the high food bills these days, while putting several cucumbers in his cart. Of course they were expensive! They were out of season.

Kim Sikes said...

I agree wholeheartedly with MP but do I think it's affordable? Not when you're addressing immediate hunger. Even I'm neurotic about where my food comes from but if I let myself get too hungry my stomach makes all the decisions!

Gardens, cooking and farmers' markets are great. I utilize all of these methods but I do think they are luxuries in dollars and time as well.

We had to rent a garden plot for $100/yr because we live in a condo and do not get direct sun in any of our windows. $100 pays for a lot of cheap meals.

I do cook but I ain't no chef ... for a well-rounded meal from scratch it takes me about 2 hours. If someone works two shifts and weekends to make ends meet I don't see how this is possible.

Farmers' markets and buying clubs at specific times are inconvenient. With my job I'm able to use my lunch break to pick up food then put my stuff in the fridge/freezer in our office. What about people who can't take lunch when they want, have a drop somewhat close to their office, have a fridge where they work or even have a car?

What about the Orozco family in Food Inc that has to pay for medication - most likely from the food they eat which has to be cheap because they have to pay so much for their dad's medication? The irony makes me sick! I think we need to listen to more people like them to get an understanding of their reality.

"Govi-corp" (thanks, VICFA) got us into this mess with their subsidies and regulations. Unfortunately I venture to say it might be them that would have to help the lower income people out of it. I have heard of programs that allow people to use WIC, food stamps, etc at farmers markets. Perhaps this is a realistic start.

Good food is immediately more expensive than nasty food and I would never give up Polyface for convenience and a couple extra dollars ... but of course I have a good job, for now.

~Tonia said...

If you have been in the grocery stores lately the produce is outrageous and then its not been very good. Even the things in season are not so good. At least around here.I try to buy fresh and local when I can and scraps go to the compostpile, the chickens,dog or goats.
But we are having to go with canned food because it last longer and we cant afford the other. Unless we go to the farmers market. We rarely eat out and dont buy any prepackaged. We struggle from week to week. Meat is usually split between at least 2 meals. If I buy meat one week I have every little left over for other groceries. We are feeding 3 very active preteen girls. Soda is a once in a blue moon thing!! Our drinks are Water, Tea, Milk, or Coffee. Our fast food is Peanut Butter, egg or ham sandwiches with all the goodies we can pile on! Snacks are homemade when we have them.
It can be done on a budget but how many people actually have a budget or care what they are eating. They believe everything they read on the packages. I have a friend that drinks diet soda and cant figure out why she Never loses weight and I have tried telling her but she cant get past the way she has been educated and believing what it says on the can or what the "doctors" tell her to eat low fat or no fat filled with preservatives.
We raise our own milk and eggs and some meat. Then we had to move so didnt have much of a garden. I was raised this way so I know what is better.. People who weren't raised like this or have no clue where food comes from, dont know any better, some dont care, others cant get past what they think is right to even consider it. Some think gardening is complicated. Or that home grown meats may make them sick(Thanks to the USDA).. Its all in how the Media and government has portrayed it. Which you all know that.
Unfortunately people still continue to believe them and probably always will.. Not saying its hopelessly but some people are stuck in a Life Time Rut and will never get out. Others still will realize something is wrong and look for a way to change it. Then we have the lazy people who would rather pop something in the Micro and veg out in front of the TV.
The way we look at is we do what we can and leave the rest to God because there is nothing we can do right now! We are striving to producing and preserving more of our own but till we get to the point we have to rely on grocery stores when the farmers markets are done for the year.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

People need to relearn the skills of cooking from scratch - the public schools in our area have removed Home Economics from their curriculum along with the well equipped kitchens in those home ec rooms. I think it is overwhelming to folks to look at raw ingredients and see a baking of bread or to roast a whole chicken and get 6 meals plus enough broth to cook with for a week.

It is a full time job for us to go from seed to table - we live with our food day in and day out, meat, milk, veggies and fruit. What we can't grow we buy from local farmers. Managing a food supply for a family is a large task, saving seed, preserving the abundance, & animal husbandry the skill set is enormous.

Community gardens in our area have taken off, which is a good thing, most of the local CSA's and farmers markets are too expensive.

I think unfortunately that not enough people care about the food that they put in their bodies at all. If it is convenient, cheap and quick that fits the bill. They are paying with their health and will never make the connection.

Thanks to Polyface for getting the word out to consumers and buyers.

Chris said...

We've thought about this issue a great deal (our farm is named after St. Francis, after all), and the conclusion we came to was that we needed to work with our customers to find a solution to this problem. I agree completely with Joel's comments on the reasons why many that might claim to be unable to afford quality food, but there are some that really can't afford it. So we instituted a program on our farm that we call "A Dollar More", where we match our customers' donations in order to put quality meat in the hands/mouths of our local poor.

http://www.franciscanfamilyfarms.com/a-dollar-more/

The way I see it, every time our customers participate in "A Dollar More", it represents more land that can be healed and more people that can eat quality food. What if farmers and customers across the country could end the food stamp program by simply feeding the poor in their areas?

Adam said...

I agree wholeheartedly that healthy, natural food is a basic need, not a luxury. However, as J Fowler wrote, the root of the problem is that people in poverty are not empowered to seek their own solutions to this need. I spent two years as a teacher in an urban high school where a large majority of my students were below the poverty line. There was never a farmer's market they could get to, and many wouldn't know what a farmer's market even was. There is a real lack of awareness of the source of their nutrition problem or what the proper solution is. Many of them were obese from eating junk food, but it was all they knew. They were unaware of healthy eating habits, so when they tried to diet, they just ate less of the same garbage. However, I know there is something that can be done about it. Check out this one project that seems to have the right idea. They are more focused on academics than health and nutrition, but I think a similar whole-community system could be adapted to addressing health issues:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1311

(Act One)

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