What is the real cost of cheap food? In Michael Carolan’s book, The Real Cost of Cheap Food, he tries to answer this question by explaining chapter by chapter what we lose when we consume “cheap” food (anything mass produced and sold as affordable to the working class.) Whether a country that produces cheap food or a human who consumes it, its source is unilaterally the same and requires the same amount of resources to produce & distribute it.
If I had to choose the biggest loss to society in the production of “cheap” food it would be the nutritional quality of the food itself, the food’s food-ness. We use perfectly edible, nutritious food to feed our livestock in order to churn out less nutritious meat product we distribute to our own citizens to their ultimate detriment. From a strictly humanitarian point of view it would seem more efficient and better for the development of our citizens to simply eat what the cows are eating and reap the caloric benefit. The question of why this isn’t the case is mind-boggling (too much McDonalds before this post maybe?).
Another downfall is the loss of market to small time farmers. The same thinking that helped the concept of the urbanization of food production as the future of the means to supply its citizens with a surplus of food is the same thinking that today results in the vast disparity between the means of production of food and the means to distribute that food on a global scale. In short, the assumption that the rural agricultural diaspora would find its new homeland in the city was met with an infrastructure capable of housing these individuals but was incapable of providing the urban analog to their former profession. As it happens, the brains behind these theories were also responsible for policy at the highest levels. Indeed, while the elite planned over dinner whose ingredients were shipped from far flung regions, the cries of their poorest constituency went unheard. With so much negativity in the food industry, I feel like it’s best to grow my own food!
Livestock is such a complex issue when we begin to think about the environmental impacts as well as the role that industrial agriculture plays. It is mind boggling when you consider the amount of water and land it takes to grow the crops that feed the livestock, the land it takes to raise the cattle, and the methane that’s produced as a a result; all of these reasons are strikes against the cattle industry. I do agree with you that the copious amounts of food being grown for cattle consumption could be utilized to feed humans. However, on the other hand, if these crops were used for human consumption, it would be beneficial to try and produce a more nutrient rich crop. The maize, corn and soy that is currently being produced is already a main staple in much of the western diet, and in developing countries it is their primary source of nutrients. As we’ve learned, a lack of variety can lead to deadly outcomes. While mass produced cattle caries a heavy environmental burden, I do think it’s beneficial to farmers to own and raise cattle. They are resourceful in many ways and the meat that they produce, when eaten in moderation, can be a good source of vitamins and nutrients.
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