- Food and Cooking
The High Cost of Healthy Food
Paying more and enjoying it less
We are already paying more for food due to the worst drought in fifty years, but soon prices at the supermarket will rise further because of fuel costs. Does the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables discourage you from buying healthy food? Federal dietary guidelines advise us to consume more vegetables and fruits. Food prices, along with taste, convenience, income, and awareness of the link between diet and health, shape food choices. According to recent government data, processed fruits and vegetables were not consistently more or less expensive than fresh produce. Uncle Sam says that it will cost us each about $2.00 to $2.50 a day to buy the recommended fruits and veggies. They also expect food prices to rise this year at a rate of 2.5 to 3.5 percent. The 20-year average is 2.8 percent. Food inflation was even higher in recent years such as 3.8 percent in 2011, 6.4 percent in 2008 and 4 percent in 2007
Fresh, frozen, canned and dried
Fresh, frozen, canned and dried vegetables and fruit are surprisingly similar in nutritional value. One hundred percent juice lacks the fiber of whole vegetables and fruit but can still be a healthy choice. Canned fruit may be loaded with sugars to be avoided but the rest can be as healthy as fresh.
Do you consider where your produce came from when you buy it? One of the problems with buying fresh produce is the amount of time that passes between picking and serving. Vitamins and flavor diminish the longer the fresh food sits on the shelf, while frozen and canned foods are processed quickly at their peak.
Want to enjoy a nice fresh salad? Time and again, people get sick from fresh produce grown and or packed with unsanitary conditions. During WWII, we had a national movement for "Victory Gardens", a garden in your yard might be a good idea.
Food prices and droughts
Maybe we should eat oil
The value of fresh fruit and vegetables imported by the United States, nearly doubled from 2000 to 2006. Fuel for international travel and transport of goods, including food, is exempt from taxes, unlike trucks, cars and buses. There is also no tax on fuel used by ocean freighters. Escalating fuel prices are one of the major reasons it costs more to buy fruit, vegetables and meat, economists say. With diesel prices around $4 per gallon, it costs more to power equipment to grow food and get it to stores. Diesel fuel powers the vast majority of tractors, combines and semis used to produce and transport food. Petroleum is also the basis for the fertilizers that allow farmers to grow in depleted soils. As fossil fuels continue to rise in price food will be along for the ride.
Worldwide, the entire food production, processing and transportation system is bizarre, inefficient and completely reliant on fossil fuels. From the online magazine Resilience:
"* Oil refined for gasoline and diesel is critical to run the tractors, combines and other farm vehicles and equipment that plant, spray the herbicides and pesticides, and harvest/transport food and seed
* Food processors rely on the just-in-time (gasoline-based) delivery of fresh or refrigerated food
* Food processors rely on the production and delivery of food additives, including vitamins and minerals, emulsifiers, preservatives, colouring agents, etc. Many are oil-based. Delivery is oil-based
* Food processors rely on the production and delivery of boxes, metal cans, printed paper labels, plastic trays, cellophane for microwave/convenience foods, glass jars, plastic and metal lids with sealing compounds. Many of these are essentially oil-based
* Delivery of finished food products to distribution centres in refrigerated trucks. Oil-based, daily, just-in-time shipment of food to grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc., all oil-based; customer drives to grocery store to shop for supplies, often several times a week"
In addition to the reliance on oil, we need vast amounts of water to raise the crops we eat.
California Agriculture, Cornucopia
California Agriculture yields almost half of fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States. Unlike the Midwest, which concentrates on corn and soybeans, more than 400 crops are grown in California. Water shortages are already a problem for California and are predicted to get much worse if global warming continues unchecked. Some models show California's water supply dropping 24 to 30 percent over the century, mostly after 2050. Others expect rain patterns to vary wildly, making farming tougher. In 2012, then U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu warned that climate change could melt the Sierra snowpack and wipe out California farms by century's end. If growers don't have enough water to grow food, prices go up or people go hungry, even climate change deniers will pay more. The chief reason is that much of the state's water supply during the dry spring and summer months comes from snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Meanwhile, demand for water is expected to increase—both because of the hotter climate and population growth. As water becomes scarce, many growers will switch to crops that require less water. Fruit and nut crops which depend on "winter chilling" days may have to relocate while avocados, citrus, sunflowers, wheat, tomato, rice, cotton and maize expected to lose 10-30% of their yields.
The Future of Farming
A Warming World
Warmer temperatures may make many crops grow more quickly, but they may also reduce yields. In some crops (such as grains), faster growth reduces the amount of time that seeds have to grow and mature.This can reduce yields and raise prices. Higher CO2 levels can also increase yields. The yields for some crops, like wheat and soybeans, could increase by 30% or more under a doubling of CO2 concentrations; other factors may counteract these increases in yield. For example, if temperature exceeds a crop's optimal level or if sufficient water and nutrients are not available, yield increases may be reversed. Alternating years of floods with years of drought may make many crops unsustainable; when temperatures are too high, or the soil is too dry or wet many crops will fail to sprout. The drought in 2012, forced many ranchers to sell off their beef cattle rather than having to pay for expensive feed. This is the cause of rising beef prices now, smaller herds fetch higher prices.
What Can We Do?
If you have the resources, the best thing you can do to avoid higher prices and lower flavor is to start a garden. You will be amazed at the money you save and the improvement in the flavor of your food. You might even lose a couple of pounds and improve your health. You can control how much and how many chemicals used on your garden and you can choose what varieties to grow. If you grow enough, you can even freeze, can or dry your harvest and eliminate expensive produce from your shopping list.
Next, support your local farmers’ market. Find out where one is located near you, visit localharvest.org. If you don’t live near a farmers’ market, ask your city to set one up for your neighborhood. Choose local produce when it’s in season at your usual shopping places. Look on the labels to see how far your food traveled and ask your favorite grocery stores, restaurants, even the cafeteria to carry more local foods. Avoid buying produce that has been flown in from abroad. Do you really need raspberries in the dead of winter? Cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, bell peppers and asparagus are the fruits and vegetables most frequently shipped by air. Eating local means, you are buying the freshest and most nutritious food that is available.