When I get on my real food bandwagon, which, I’ll admit, is often, the most frequent complaint I hear is how much more expensive it is to eat well and healthfully. While I won’t argue that it doesn’t cost more to eat as locally, seasonally and organically as possible, I also think that most people aren’t willing to look at the whole picture. I’m going to delve into this issue a bit more in this space, but, for now, I’d like you to consider the following issues when it comes to your food budget:

  1. Junk/processed foods are artificially cheaper. The US government subsidizes the production of two dozen commodities, the most common being corn and soybeans. That means that your tax dollars are used to artificially deflate the cost of commodities – that in turn show up in your food. Have you looked at your food labels lately? Cereals, juices, yogurt, salad dressings, store-bought breads, protein or “nutrition” bars are just a few common items in the grocery aisles that contain high fructose corn syrup and/or soybean additives. If there’s an ingredient in the ingredient list in your food label that you don’t recognize, it’s likely that it is an ingredient derived from a subsidized commodity.
  2. Agribusiness lobbies for changes to the Farm Bill that expand subsidies and otherwise favor large corporate agribusiness activity. (I consider huge corporate farms so far removed from actual farming that I prefer to refer to them as agribusiness). In 2011, opensecrets.org reports that lobbyists employed by agribusiness interests spent over $123M lobbying politicians. Agribusiness interests often lobby for restrictions and practices that favor only the biggest, most industrial types of farming activities. So not only do small family farmers not have the time or resources to lobby Congress to subsidize their organic kale crop, but they also suffer because Congress, influenced by all of the money the agribusiness lobbies spend, passes laws that actually harm or put out of business local family farming operations. Take for example, the stupidity surrounding raw milk prosecutions and the difficulty facing small, local butchers because they cannot afford to meet excessive federal regulations.
  3. The way we’re eating is killing us. Over 35 percent of Americans are obese (and approximately seventeen percent of children are obese), and obesity is directly linked to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, every kind of cancer, stroke, and nearly every kind of deadly “first-world” disease. In addition to the health costs for individuals, medicals costs associated with obesity totaled about $147 billion in 2008, with those numbers only destined to rise for the foreseeable future. To put it succinctly, pay more now to eat well, or pay in exorbitant health care costs and a terrible quality of life later.
  4. Eating real, whole foods offers more bang for your buck. Americans actually spend less on food as a percentage of their household expenditures than any other developed nation. We also have higher rates of obesity and death from heart disease, diabetes and cancer than other developed nations. Coincidence, much? Our cheap, industrialized food system offers us artificially cheap food (due to farm subsidies) that are not only nutritionally deficient, they’re actually killing us (not to mention the consequences to our environment – more on that to come). Buying some organic broccoli might cost more than a bag of chips (because of the subsidies!), but it will keep you fuller longer because of the fiber and other nutrients in the broccoli, in addition to the other health benefits the choice of broccoli over the chips will provide. My point is that we should be spending more on food. Cheap food has significant and dangerous long-term effects and costs – individually, societally and environmentally.
  5. With a little ingenuity and time, eating real, whole foods can easily be done on a budget. I hope I’ve shown in this space how we cook well on a budget. It takes additional time, of course, but I find cooking for my family so much more worthwhile than many of the other ways I spend my time. I also find that our family’s food budget is very much in line with many of our friends’ budgets who don’t eat as locally and organically as we do. We waste less, we use food for many different purposes, we buy in bulk, and we eat out less (and only to local places!).
  6. Eating seasonally and locally supports our local communities. Eating the way we do and gardening organically has not only benefited our health, but it has brought us closer together as a family in ways that I never would have foreseen. We have also made connections in our community because of our standards when it comes to food. Jasper chants “farmer’s market” when we leave the gym on Saturday mornings because that’s our typical Saturday morning routine. He has many farmer friends at the markets. We can hardly wait for CSA season to start up…every Friday is like Christmas. Of course, the Grace Garden itself has been a huge part of our lives and has connected us with many new friends who share similar values.

Stay tuned for more in depth discussion on each of the topics above!