A Food System includes all the processes involved in feeding a population; all things from growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items. Over the past 50 years or so our food system has developed into what is often termed the Conventional Food System. In the United States the government developed this system, which aims to maximize the economics of food by large-scale production and lower overall consumer costs. All of this sounds like a good idea until we find out the price we truly pay to get dinner on the table.
To see how this works let’s take a look at corn. Because of subsidization the cost to purchase corn is low and therefore when biochemists and large food companies found they could produce high fructose corn syrup from it which was a cheaper, more stable, and sweeter (thus uses less) alternative to regular sugar, it began being used in most of the processed food we have today, and one of the reasons those foods can be sold so inexpensively.
Then there is the notion that healthy food is more expensive. When in reality it doesn’t cost more to grow healthy food, but the government is artificially reducing the price for junk food because of subsidization of some of the junk food’s base ingredients. Ultimately healthy food would be more affordable for everyone if not for large food companies, big industrial farms and their lobbyists making it more beneficial for politicians to press for continuation of subsidized food. The politicians want more money in their pocket and the large food companies want their cheap ingredients.
Our Conventional Food System definitely has its flaws and something that we can discuss ad nauseum. But the only way to change it is to vote with our dollar by supporting local farmers and CSA’s. It does take longer and cost more to buy organic in the store, stop by the orchard for your fruit, and go to local meat market for your meat, but it’s worth it for our health and the future economy.
Here are a few additional facts about our Conventional Food System that may help you see the difference…
- In a Conventional Food System, food travels 1,500 or more miles to get to your table. In a Community Supported Agricultural program it is less than 45 miles.
- Only about 10% of fossil fuel energy used in the world’s food system is used for producing food. The other 90% is for packaging, transporting, and marketing.
- On any given day more than half of the U.S. population eats NO fruits or vegetables.
- Since the turn of the 20th century, 97% of fruit and vegetable varieties have become unavailable commercially.
- Conventional agriculture relies on 20 major crops for 90% of the food grown and marketed.
- In a typical year, more than 10,000 new food items are introduced in grocery stores – most are high processed, packaged, convenience foods.
- The top nine products that the government most heavily subsidizes: Corn, Wheat, Soybeans, Rice, Beer, Milk, Beef, Peanut Butter, and Sunflower Oil
Here’s a little challenge… can you give up ALL processed foods for one day? For most people this will mean no eating out, no convenience foods, no protein bars or pre-packaged snacks. Try it and let us know how you do!