by Natasha Chart, Sun Aug 19, 2007 at 11:46:55 AM EDT
"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." - Peter Drucker
The industrial revolution has elevated efficiency to a virtue in itself. Turned to food production, that has meant a model that favors as few people as possible producing as much as possible of one or a few things. More staple crops; industrial grade corn for corn syrup, wheat destined to be dehulled, unbranned, and bleached of anything good that remained after. It's all about the calories, and we produce a lot of them.
Meanwhile, those excess, low quality calories never seem to quite satisfy. There are snacks everywhere we turn, sugar in everything we buy processed, and this wash of calories is making this country sick.
The same goes for meats. Pasture raised, grass fed meat is healthier; lower in calories, lower in fat, and higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. Also, it tastes better and the texture is very nice. It's satisfying.
Yet efficiency demands abundance of those things that are easier to produce, and so between 1985-2000, the cost of soft drinks dropped by 23% and the costs of fats and oils dropped by 15%, while the costs of fresh fruits and vegetables went up by a whopping 38%. (Dan Imhoff, FoodFight: The Citizen's Guide to a Food and Farm Bill)
Many people looking at our agricultural market immediately leap to blame subsidies, and that's part of it. It's true that it's been the policy of the government since at least the Nixon administration to encourage farmers to get big or get out, and subsidies have been a large part of helping large farms outcompete smaller farms, often unfairly. Yet subsidies are also symptoms of a larger problem, and that is the concentrated and monopolistic middlemen of agribusiness, who no longer have to pay farmers enough to cover the costs of production.
Can you think of any other industry that routinely, as a matter of course, pays below production costs for their raw inputs? It's corporate welfare on a scale most people have never imagined. And it's all in service to efficiently concentrating production in fewer and fewer hands, while producing poorer and poorer quality food, and destroying even more of the environment. Yet it's a situation that Congress could begin to remedy without having to either stop subsidies or spend a lot of money.