Food Politics

Sustainable Food Is Really Expensive, Writer Reports

Why is all this stuff so expensive?
Why is all this stuff so expensive? Photo: Shanna Ravindra

Over at the Atlantic, writer Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones takes a close look at the organic and sustainable food movement, then at his wallet, then back at the food. He suspects that words like organic and natural, when applied to food, make that food cost more. The conclusion: All this food we’ve been hearing is better for us to eat is too expensive to actually buy, at least on a regular basis. More than that, higher prices of food produced through alternatives to the factory farming system, for example, seem to be a part of a self-indulgent kind of food snobbery. “At a certain point,” he writes, “when only the relatively rich can afford to not ingest bovine growth hormone on a regular basis, appreciating food and where it comes from becomes a bourgeois endeavor akin to collecting Fabergé eggs.”

One immediate problem with this simile is that Fabergé eggs routinely sell for more than $10 million dollars, and whatever kind of omelette you can make with those bedazzled, Romanov-era doodads will likely not be very nourishing. At the same time Hinkes-Jones gets tangled in the deeper semantic meanings of words on food packaging, he does some comparison shopping and gets confused: organic carrots look very similar to regular carrots in the produce aisle. “They are just carrots after all,” he writes. Elsewhere, after realizing he can get a big bag of factory farmed chicken wings at $2 a pound, instead of the $8 a pound wings he’s seen elsewhere, he wonders, “What sort of chemical injection trauma must those chickens have suffered to make them four times cheaper?”

Great question, dude. A better one might be why would chicken wings cost $8 a pound anywhere other than the middle of Dubai? That’s paying way too much no matter what.

But seriously, it’s basically impossible to enter into a debate about how food is marketed and produced without emerging hours later, out of breath and possibly hungry. Ultimately, Hinkes-Jones is writing about the difficulties of getting by when you’re priced out of the grocery store, not the artificially inflated costs of food marketed to the bourgeois, he says. So now more than ever, why not just learn to cook and get more bang for your buck? After all, organic or not, carrot greens can be pretty tasty, and Dumpster diving outside high-end markets can apparently yield some pretty decent pizza bagels.

The Folly of Bourgeois Sustainable Food [Atlantic]
Earlier: A Freegan’s New York Diet

Sustainable Food Is Really Expensive, Writer Reports