Fighting for a Sane Food System

Pushing back against our broken food system by choosing heirloom vegetables, cooking from scratch and eating grass-finished beef don’t make you a food snob. They mean you’re conscientious.

  • Growing vegetables — even by container gardening on a rooftop — is one way to make organic, heirloom vegetables an affordable food option.
    Photo by Neighborhood Restaurant Group
  • A non-organic Whopper Meal from Burger King costs nearly twice as much as a home-cooked, organic hamburger dinner.
    Illustration by Matthew Stallbaumer
  • Organic, heirloom potatoes provide more food, at lower cost, with better nutrition and flavor than heavily processed potato products.
    Photo by Fotolia/sarsmis

We live in a world of sound bites. The in-depth discourse that dominated pre-television days is in short supply in our impatient, hurried-up world. If you disagree with someone, that person frequently pays attention for about one minute before dismissing your argument. If you can’t score your point in that time, the conversation moves on.

Those of us who care about the food system have plenty of wrong-headed thinking to counter these days — and we need to be able to present our arguments quickly. One common and extremely frustrating misconception I encounter is that my approach to sustenance makes me a food snob. I’m viewed as some sort of elitist if I spend my food dollars on local, compost-fertilized produce and pasture-based meats. But spending $20 or $30 on a meal of low quality and lousy nutrition is somehow seen as normal.

An egregious example of this way of thinking appears in the blockbuster documentary Food, Inc. when a family of four — husband, wife and two teenagers — stops at Burger King for super-sized dinners and then laments their inability to afford fresh produce at the supermarket. Although I haven’t been to Burger King in 35 years, a quick online search reveals roughly how much that meal would have cost. With the super-duper soft drinks, fries and deluxe burgers, each of those meals would have cost at least $8, or a minimum of $32 for the family.

For that amount of money, that family could have purchased a pound of our farm’s grass-fed beef — a premium, world-class ground meat — plus buns, the fixin’s and potatoes for some french fries, and everyone could still have enjoyed a great-tasting quarter-pounder and fries. I guarantee you that a pound of our ground beef contains more good nutrition than that family’s Burger King meal. This is not to pick on Burger King nor its customers. I don’t begrudge people eating there; what I begrudge is people eating there because they think it’s cheap and convenient, and then telling me they can’t afford my product because it’s expensive and inconvenient.

The result is a victim mentality that permeates every food discussion. The idea that people can’t afford good food is practically axiomatic in our collective thinking. Because the sticker price of my food — which I’m calling “integrity food” — is often more than the sticker price of industrial fare, I’m tempted to react apologetically, head down, guilty as charged. I define integrity food as food that’s raised in a way that heals the environment and builds the soil, creating sustenance that’s nutrient-dense and life-affirming — including for the lives of the humans who raise, process and consume it. And even though we know that’s a worthy context for our farming and market gardening, a lot of us in this integrity-food movement are sometimes apologetic and even allow ourselves deep down to be swayed by that “I can’t afford good food” mentality.

So I’ve been thinking: Can we of the integrity-food persuasion sound-bite our way into altering the conversation about the price of food? Can we articulate a charitable, inoffensive answer that challenges this allegation of elitism? I don’t know whether I have an answer, but I have some proposals I’d like to try on for size. Each sound bite is meant as an inquiry, not an assault, intended to invite deeper thinking whenever we’re faced with the accusation of food snobbery or the automatic assumption that quality food is expensive food and therefore out of reach for ordinary people.

10/27/2014 7:04:57 PM

@Dr Pieter Dahler -- That much copper in my neighborhood would disappear quicker than you can pull a tooth! My brassicas, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, etc., are even higher than those beds. Spinal arthritis runs in my family. I *like* deciding what's for dinner by standing on the back porch and seeing what needs harvesting. The bees and i agreed, the blueberries were awesome this year, and i managed to put-up enough grape jam and raisins to last the winter. I CHOOSE to grow most of my produce for the year, and my waist-high garden beds with rain-barrel-fed reservoirs below, filled with compost, take care of me, my sons, and my granddaughters. Like @rcfjr, i'm a seed saver so it's as close to free as possible. That saved money plus a chest freezer enables us to buy meat from local farmers we know.

10/27/2014 4:34:16 PM

Preaching religion to the quire again? I was hoping for a few tips that may be new to me, or rehashed ones that would be worth trying. All one has to do is take the tomato journey. The one where the tomato comes from the commercial grower. Follow it during it's long costly journey to your table. Every hand that tomato touches cost you money and all the energy that is consumed during planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, and then presented for sale is scary at best. Now compare that to the journey my tomatoes take. I walk out the back door and pick one and return to the kitchen. I don't have to spend gas for the car to take me to the market, stand in line, pay for it, and that commercial tomato is not even close to the quality and taste of mine. What is best of all is that my tomatoes are all FREE. Most all of my garden has zero cost. I'm a seed saver and seed trader. My compost pile rivals Washington DC and stored rain water waters my garden. Nothing but the best for my garden. As far as i see it, anything other than your own private produce department is a waste of time, money, taste, and quality. I won't even mention the environmental issues. Next time you draw me into reading an article, please share some mechanics and hold off on most of the preaching. I sing better than most.

10/27/2014 8:19:40 AM

A fantastic read! This is a very straight-to-the-point argument for a food system that makes sense. I feel ready to face the naysayers!

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters