Real Food Conversations

cows.jpgA short diversion today from the Through the Week in Modest Dress [I will post today’s outfit this evening] to discuss some confluences of conversations I’ve overhead or read recently about food.

I watched two news stories from my local ABC affiliate about rising diesel prices last week. They started off with a rumored trucker’s strike on April 1st (or somewhere around that day) in protest to higher than expected diesel costs. Many independent truckers are thinking about just hanging up their CB for good. This is not wholly unexpected, really, if you think that most of our consumer goods are trucked around, even freak’n spinach salad mixes. But I digress from the news story.

The next story aired after the diesel strike was segued into with the thought, “How will this affect our food, or our farmers?” They interviewed the county Ag extension folks and an actual farmer. They all said they can’t “strike” from farming because the cows would starve. Huh, do they mean all the cattle on pasture or the poor sots in feedlots? So the farmer bemoaned the high fuel costs with a shoulder-shrug. “Without cheap diesel, I can’t get my products to the wholesale market.” The Ag Rep gave the trite line about how farmers should receive more money from the government so they could continue farming in the same way.

Next conversation occured between my Philipino co-worker and a student from the Carribean. They were comparing all the wonderful tropical fruits from their respective home countries. Boy, I was jealous as they described mangoes so honey sweet that it hurt your teeth! Food was purchased fresh every day at the markets; they hardly ever ate reheated or frozen leftovers. Here in the States, “everything is fried” and they can’t go pick fruit just anywhere. No wonder my co-worker is battling type-2 diabetes.

This morning I read a chapter from The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. [One of my favorite-ever books!] Here is what jumped out at me:

The other farmers in my neighborhood realize that they are working very hard only to end up with nothing in their pockets. The feeling is growing that there is nothing strange about growing natural food products, and the producers are ready for a change to farming without chemicals. But until natural food can be distributed locally, the average farmer will worry about not having a market in which to sell his produce.

As for the consumer, the common belief has been that natural food should be expensive. If it is not expensive, people suspect that it is not natural food. One retailer remarked to me that no one would buy natural produce unless it is priced high.

I still feel that natural food should be sold more cheaply than any other. Several years ago I was asked to send the honey I gathered in the citrus orchard and the eggs laid by the hens on the mountain to a natural food store in Tokyo. When I found out that the merchant was selling them at extravagant prices, I was furious. I knew that a merchant who would take advantage of his customers in that way would also mix my rice with other rice to increase the weight, and that it, too, would reach the customer at an unfair price. I immediately stopped all shipments to that store.

If a high price is charged for natural food, it means that the merchant is taking excessive profits. Furthermore, if natural foods are expensive, they become luxury foods and only rich people are able to afford them.

I will never enter the Health Food Store with the same mindset again.

Do you see the dichotomy? Local farmers are languishing because they depend on national wholesalers and fluctuating fuel prices. We are dependent on the retailers to bring the food from the wholesalers to us. All the while, we are getting royally screwed both in the quality and cost of our daily bread.

Local, good quality food should be cheap enough for Wal-Mart Moms. I don’t want to pay $10 for an on-sale Fran’s Fryer frozen chicken. I don’t want to pay $8 for ‘organic’ milk from cows 800 miles away. And I certainly don’t want to pay $3 for 5 pounds of flour from wheat that could have been milled down the street and grown 5 miles from here.

The ‘natural foods’ vendors are not doing us any favors, at all. They are just the same mask-and-gun middlemen like the yellow-smiley faced dudes. What we really need are more good “do-nothing” farmers, small butchers, grain mills, dairies, bakers, and local markets!! And fast…


6 Responses to “Real Food Conversations”

  1. 1 Paula March 31, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Hi Amy,
    Thought I should introduce my self.
    Also wanted to mention something of interest.
    Here in Alaska, we produce alot of oil. Did you know that the companies refuse to produce more than 50% of what they are capable of producing? All in the name of keeping prices high. If they produced 100% ( and do not believe one word about us running out up here) that would mean the price per gallon on fuel oil would be around $1.50!!!!

  2. 2 followingtheancientpaths March 31, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    I drove the farm truck today, as the van is in the shop. I needed to get diesel and if it weren’t for the fact that if I didn’t get some I’d not make it home, I wouldn’t have purchased any. For diesel, it was $4.20 per gallon. I didn’t check the regular gasoline price but last I purchased any it was $3.49 per gallon. Yes, our continent is more than capable of producing enough oil for our continent.

    I also learned that in our area there is a state subsidized plant that makes “bio-diesel” (or something of that sort) with our tax money. However, we will never get to purchase any of it. Why? It’s ALL being shipped to Europe. (hey, DH works hard for his money so why do my US tax monies go to support the fuel needs of Europe?)

    AND – we are a small family farm that raises natural products (at first because we couldn’t afford all of that “stuff” to make them “grow better” but now because we understand the value of naturally raised products). We have been blessed to have buyers, more than we have product for at times! However we live in an area that is very – um – organic. 🙂 We are big believers in shopping local!! For those who want fresh produce, all natural, visit your local farmer’s market or call your local county extension agent (in the USA at least) and ask where you can purchase local products. Keeping the middle man out of the line helps ensure not only a better product for a better price, but the grower actually gets the profit. AND your money stays in your local community supporting your neighbors and your family, and eventually finding its way back into your own home. It’s a much better arrangement than anything else. We buy our diary products from the neighbor dairy, we sell meat, poultry, and eggs (and wool and seasonal produce). We frequent the local produce stand when we are in need. The grocery store is for things like baking soda or flour.

  3. 3 Alex March 31, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are. In Addition processed organic food usually contains only organic ingredients, or where there are a number of ingredients, at least a minimum percentage of the plant and animal ingredients must be organic (94% in the United States and Australia). I think we should go organic fresh food to stay out in non-natural chemical intakes 😀

    Anyway nice post about health foods 😀

    “We’ve got a blog about nutrition, healthy eating, and health food
    too. It includes summaries of articles in the news, lists healthy
    recipes, offers tips and personal feedback on healthy eating, and
    reports on nutritional research.”

    check this out:

  4. 4 Alysha April 1, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    I want to say that we agree that families should buy local. But I do not agree that local, organic, nutrient dense food should necessarily be less expensive. We own a grass fed /grain free cow dairy and I can tell you that buying the land, testing for microbial life, adding microbes, feeding microbes, testing the forages, organically feeding the forages, balancing the pH, balancing the ca/mag ratios, making sure the phosphorous is there, etc, etc, etc…is VERY expensive. Then you have the animal side of raising your own grass fed replacement heifers, keeping 18 bags of organic vit/min at the cost of $20-$50/bag in front of them so they can buffet shop which vit/min is lacking at that season with the growing forage and eating only what they need. AND then having a daily ration made of only grass fed allowable inputs based on the forage tests per season. This year alone trying to find and ship in Non-GMO beets may prove tough causing a shift to sweet potatoes or another root crop for energy for the cows in the heat of the summer and dead of winter. It may mean more land costs and another local farmer to grow what we need for the year for our dairy cows. This means root cellars have to be build to hold tractor trailer loads of root crops for the entire year. Next lets add the land care of planting forages (both grasses and legumes in order to get 40 or more species for the animals to graze in the pasture) AND raising your own crops to cover the need for haylage in the winter b/c you can’t use silage b/c that has grain in it and it is most likely GMO if you want to buy it from another farmer. It is WAY more expensive than just ordering in a bag of GMO grain with some synthetic vit/min dumped into the mix. Now, in 5-10 years, maybe it will be 3-10 years if you are really blessed, all of the above work on the pastures will pay off along with the rotational grazing – I forgot to mention the cost of the rotational grazing paddocks and the labor to put them in and run water lines to each paddock as well as the predator proof exterior fencing so the cows can be followed by the sheep who can be followed by the hogs who will then be followed by the laying hens and the labor to move each grouping of animals each day. Oh yes, and the guardian dogs to watch all of these critters and to ward off those predators that found a hole under the fence at the water gap or where ever who have come for a quick meal of chicken or lamb or piglet. Eventually, the idea is that the farm will be in a harmonious relationship and the natural cycle of things will eliminate the need for anything in a bag to be brought to the farm. But the initial expenses, even on a small scale, even on a sustainable farm, to get this going until each enterprise begins to carry itself is substantial. A good jersey dairy cow runs between $2500-$3000 each; predator fencing a min of $2.12/lin foot; and on I could go with the cost of the used tractor and the used bailing machine, etc. We try to use horses for a good part of the work on our farm but a good horse costs money to buy and maintain as well, regardless of the pasture they have to eat. So, although I whole heartedly agree that local food is the only way to go. I discourage you from thinking that just b/c it did not get shipped in from some conventional farm using chemicals that it should be cheap. Please feel free to come to our farm and work for one day and evaluate for yourself what must go into a farm before you make a decision about how much food should cost. If the government did not subsidize the farms as they do now, there would be quite a few that just quit b/c they could not feed their families. In my opinion, the government should stop paying the subsidies and the food prices should rise to what it costs to produce them in a nutrient dense manner and provide the farmer with a decent living that will bring our families back to the farm. It would mean making a change in our lifestyles that when we do shop at Wal-Mart that we might not be able to put the unnecessary, processed items in our cart b/c we are paying a fair price for our raw foods. We may have to grind our own wheat and make our own bread. We may have to order our meat by the 1/2 of a cow and share with a couple of friends each quarter of a year or so. It may mean that we have to join a produce CSA and work one weekend a month to subsidize our own vegetables. It means we have to be less selfish with our time and get organized and pre-plan. Oh, I am looking in the mirror here, that is why it might be painful to some of you along with me. The only reason our food supply is in the wreak that it is, is because we are too lazy to vote, to be voted up on, to educate ourselves beyond television hype and to stop being a consumer nation that throws things away when we are tired of them. We will have to become more frugal and give more than we take; and save more than we throw away. Good thing Wal-Mart has those recycle centers out front for to recycle before we go in and spend our hard earned money on something we don’t really need :)>.

  5. 5 Christine April 1, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    I agree that if we had more local family owned farmers who supplied for their local area it would be better for us. In the country I am from you will see only local butchers, local farms, and local small grocers. When you get your meat he butchers it that day right there. It’s amazing when I hear my mother and father talk about it.

    We mass produce way to much in this society. We mass produce foods and we mass produce houses. All the land which could be a farm is now eaten up by some new fancy housing development which ever house looks the same. Our markets are overwelmingly large and makes one dizzy with options. Just give me what I need not 10 versions of it!

    I try my best to go to our local farmers market and our local butcher. We are fortunate to still have these in our area though it’s the only ones that are out there for miles. I would rather support them with my money then support some corporate company that has a massive store.

    We have to take care of our own people in our area.

  6. 6 Joel April 1, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    One big reason why organic foods cost more is simple supply and demand. As an organic chicken farmer, I get to see these effects first-hand. Our chicken feed prices went up 50% last year. Now, our retail prices didn’t go up 50%, but they did have to go up to offset our increased costs. Why did our feed costs go up? Simple: a shortage, first of organic corn, and now of organic soybeans. Organic soybeans are getting scarce, and they are the major protein source in most chicken feed.

    The price game is very complex and has many factors, some of them globally influenced. China, for example, has recently imposed a 25% tariff on exports of grain, because they don’t want shortages of grain in their country. That is making grain prices go up, because China is a major exporter — or has been. Last I heard, they supposedly had 3 times the organic acreage that the USA has. Whether that’s really the case is anyone’s guess.

    The best thing to do is to buy as local as possible.

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"I can't say I don't believe in your God, but I don't believe He meant the world to be as it is." ~Nicholas Higgins. North and South.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you are licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what." No idea where that last quote came from, but I like it!

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