Top | Sift

The politics of real food

(article, Culinate staff)

You've heard it hundreds of times before: Cheap food isn't really cheap. If you want to eat real food, you have to be willing to pay more for it. A recent Zester Daily op-ed, by farmer and cheesemaker Kurt Timmermeister, repeated these familiar arguments, with an emphasis on the economics involved: 

bq. We often focus on sustainability in discussions of small farms and local food. What we tend to talk about is whether their agricultural practices are part of a system that can perpetuate good soils, clean water, and healthy food well into the future. . . . \[But\] the definition of a sustainable farm should depend primarily on whether the farm is financially viable; whether it is profitable enough to continue in business for the next year and for many years to come. Whether it can sustain itself. 

As Chow reported recently, however, the old assumption that good, clean, and fair food should be expensive has come under fire at Slow Food USA, with many defections by supporters over the nonprofit's recent $5 Challenge Campaign:

bq. For years, Slow Food’s mission statement leaned heavily on the idea that Americans should spend more of their income on sustainably raised food from farmers’ markets and artisanal producers, rather than looking for deals on cheap, nonorganic, mass-produced stuff. Recently, however, Slow Food USA changed its tune to appeal to younger and less affluent potential members. 

So, do you continue to support your local farmers by paying a premium for their goods? Or do you campaign — as Josh Viertel, Slow Food USA's president, would like you to do — for food reform so comprehensive that real food is actually affordable for all? 

Of course, perhaps it's possible to do both — but no one has yet suggested a blueprint for a combined short-term/long-term action plan.