Food and Fuel and Foolish Crop Subsidies

As a father and supporter of my family, one of the things I think about/deal with is our food costs. We spend a big part of our income on food. And we eat only the best. Always organically grown, locally grown if available, and lots of fresh food. Our kids deserve the best fuel for their minds and bodies, and eating this way is our ‘health insurance’.

With fuel prices rising rapidly, everything that has high fuel needs in its manufacture, storage, or distribution is being sold with that factored into the price. Families that choose to eat cleaner food (grown with organic methods, pesticide free, biodynamic, etc.) are spending a larger amount of their income on food already, and I see that as a positive trend.

Not that just spending more money is positive, but that they are willing to spend a bigger chunk of their income in order to eat healthy foods. For a lot of people, rent or mortgage takes up a big part of their cash, and you still have to pay the utilities and gas and insurance, etc., so buying cheap food “because I have to” is the norm. So when the cost of food goes up, it can be challenging to afford to feed the family with nutritious food.

One of the not so obvious sides of the “cheap” food prices is commodity price supports from the federal government. You can see this in action at your local conventional grocery store, where about one third of the products contain some form of corn or corn byproduct. It’s used because it’s cheap, and it’s cheap because we spent $2,000,000,000 (yes, that’s two billion dollars) on corn subsidy payments last year.

The other big commodity crops that we supported with our tax money last year were wheat, cotton, soybeans, and rice. The U.S. paid over $5,000,000,000 last year in direct payment crop subsidies. Five billion dollars. That’s a chunk of change. An interesting thing about these payments is that 60% of this money went to 10% of the program participants. And four out of five of the top crops are found in almost all of the food in the stores.

What a house of cards!

How long can this huge imbalance in our food system last? Perhaps the rising price of gas and diesel fuel will be the force that blows it down…

I hear people complain about how expensive their food is as they are waiting in line to buy some over-processed, genetically modified, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils laden simple-sugar bomb that’s then “fortified” and flavored and colored and textured to resemble home cooked food. And then they order a diet soda. Tap water with bubbles and color and flavoring added, along with a pseudo-food “sweetener”, and it’s cheaper than gasoline.

Go figure.

Then, because their diets are too fatty and contain high amounts of simple sugars and excess protein, they go to the doctor and pay him to prescribe some medication ($) or “treat” them ($) or perform surgery ($) to alleviate the symptoms. Always the symptoms, never the root cause.

When I think about all of the interconnected pieces of our modern food economy, and why I believe in growing your own food (even just a small amount), and why good clean food should be a high priority, I realize that most of us know very little about the state of our food system. So I started looking into the commodity/subsidy issue, which amounts to an ongoing bailout of select farmers (not usually fruit and vegetable growers) and ever increasing profits for the medical and pharmaceutical industries. It’s a twisted and strange world.

For more info:
Washington Post Investigation: Harvesting Cash

The Big Farm Scam

Growing as much of your own food as you can is very important. Once you taste the flavor of fresh food from your backyard, and compare the cost of growing it vs. buying it, I think you’ll be hooked as well. One packet of tomato seeds is like 2 bucks or something. My family eats at least two dollars worth of tomatoes every day, so it makes financial sense to have a garden. We use only compost to ensure healthy growth and a food that’s high in nutrition. We’re also mad composters with our kitchen scraps.

One easy way to get started is by growing your own sprouts at home, and if you’re interested in small scale farming, find out more about SPIN Farming.

Image:brokinhrt2 at Flickr

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

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