Healing Gaia

Good Food Isn't Cheap, Cheap Food Isn't Good

We benefit from low-priced food today at the expense of our food security tomorrow. A country that cannot feed itself risks losing self-determination.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published July 29, 2015

Twenty years ago, I wrote that family farms in Canada were at a pivotal point in their evolution. Farmers could continue growing crops based on the corporate agenda or they could lessen their ecological impact by adopting a model that encouraged eating local, in-season, organically grown indigenous foods. Consumer buying power was imperative to changing the way food was grown and distributed. Ironically, very little has changed.

Canadians have developed a sense of entitlement when it comes to buying cheap food. What's really needed are consumers who recognize they have a duty to ensure fairness within the marketplace.

This begins with paying farmers a reasonable price for the food they produce, and it extends to buying food that is produced in an ecologically responsible way.

In our quest for cheaper food we play into the hands of multinational corporations. By doing so, we fail to realize the real cost of the food that we're consuming.

We benefit from low-priced food today at the expense of our food security tomorrow. A country that is unable to feed itself is a nation on the brink of losing self-determination.

Food security can only be maintained when prices reflect the true cost of production and when local farmers are free from undue pressures to grow cash crops for export or biofuels. That's why it's important to consider the political, social, economic and environmental impacts your food purchases have - not only in Canada but around the globe; not only today, but for generations to come.

Sustainable development in any sector is achieved when successive generations inherit natural resources virtually equal to the amount inherited by preceding generations. To be truly sustainable we have to be able to feed ourselves while staying within our own ecological boundaries. We're not honouring those boundaries.

Multinationals are efficient at vertically and horizontally integrating themselves throughout the food system. They can afford to use intensive methods of production, create short-term surpluses to drive down market prices, or even sell at a loss until they corner the market for a specific commodity.

This formidable leverage forces family farms out of business, enabling multinationals to purchase even more land. Investment funds are also purchasing farmland.

Vandana Shiva gave a lecture on The Violence of Monoculture in Toronto on February 23, 1994. During her talk, Shiva explained the history of land ownership following India's independence. The Land Ceiling Act (LCA) limited individual ownership to 17 acres.

As multinationals moved into this part of the world, the law was changed to exempt export crops from this restriction. Corporations could hold up to 98,842 acres of land, employ highly mechanized methods of production that included the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

This change effectively undermined the intention of the LCA to ensure that individuals and families were able to grow enough food to feed themselves.

Farmers around the world continue to be pressured to switch from saving their own seed to purchasing patented, genetically modified seed. Using these patented seeds allows companies, like Monsanto, to collect a yearly royalty from farmers. Should a farmer try to save some of the patented seed, they will be sued by Monsanto and could potentially lose their farm.

Monsanto wants to control the food supply from seed to table. They believe that life can be patented. It cannot. They want to offer only the most profitable varieties for sale to increase their bottom line. Limiting genetic diversity in this way sets all of us up for a famine far worse than that experienced in Ireland in the 1840s.

It's well documented that GMOs can, and do, contaminate non-GMO crops in neighbouring fields. Yet, Canadian patent laws hold farmers accountable when GMO crops invade their properties. In less affluent countries the yearly royalties charged for seeds indentures farmers to companies like Monsanto.

Climate change is impacting farmers across the country and around the world. As temperatures continue to climb, growing seasons will extend. With longer growing seasons, Canadian farmers may replace traditional grain and pulse crops for human consumption with GMO corn for export, feed, or high fructose corn syrup production.

Canadian prairie farmers will find themselves in direct competition with the tar sands for valuable water resources.

Embrace eating as a political act. Purchase locally grown, non-GMO foods. Read labels to see how far that inexpensive jar of pickles has travelled and be sure to factor in the environmental costs of shipping it half way around the world. Demand that GMO produce and products be labelled so consumers can make informed choices.

Put food on the agenda during the federal election. Ask candidates about their party's stand on:

Be sure to remind candidates of this wisdom from Albert Einstein: "an empty stomach is not a good political advisor."

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

9 Comments

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 29, 2015 at 11:43:15

Ending poverty and hunger, Ms. Nicoll, is not going to be accomplished by raising the price of (and access to) food. A "duty to fairness in the marketplace" would recognize that poor people need to eat and raising the price of their food comes at a significant cost.

The improvements to our food supply, increased competitiveness in (and productivity of) agriculture, and the consequent increased access to food for the poor was one of the great human achievements of the last century. It's a shame to see advocates calling for this great human advance to be rolled back.

I'm all for local agriculture; the food is better. That is selling point enough. Trying to end globalized food production and jeopardize food access for all is counter to your stated goals.

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted July 29, 2015 at 16:18:08 in reply to Comment 113154

Good article, but I do agree with this comment. With wages for much of the population remaining stagnant or even decreasing over the past few decades, the pressures of many families to survive on even the cheapest, nutritionally deficient foods are increasing.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 29, 2015 at 20:02:16 in reply to Comment 113166

I would suggest that a better solution is to tackle poverty by reforming our economic and tax polities.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted July 29, 2015 at 22:00:54

It's exactly the same food only with a different marketing plan. Instead of the farmer taking all the risks and getting all the rewards he shares it with the consumer who buys it before the harvest. So if there is a bumper crop the consumer gets more than anticipated. If the crop is small then the consumer gets less. Not much different than the conventional model. If there is a bumper crop, typically most or all producers will have a bumper crop and the price falls. The consumer than can buy more with his dollar. If the crop is meager then, again, typically all the producers will have a meager crop. Less of a harvest means higher prices for what there is.

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By Dalaine (registered) | Posted July 30, 2015 at 07:08:58 in reply to Comment 113154

I would argue that there have not been "improvements to our food supply", nor has there been "increased access to food for the poor". This is a myth spread by the industrial food system. Our food supply has never been more at risk, most of what is sold as 'food' is not in fact food in the sense that there is any nutrition in it, and billions of people are starving both from too little food and too much food. Just one suggested reading: The End of Food ( http://www.quillandquire.com/review/the-... )

North Americans currently spend the smallest proportion of their income on food than at any point in history (just under 10 percent, compared to 17.5 percent in the 1960s, for example). Coincidentally, the percentage of overweight and obese people is edging up over two-thirds, the highest ever. That is not a "great human advance". We won't even get in to the externalization of the environmental costs of industrial food production, or the loss of local jobs.

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By peaches (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2015 at 16:07:55 in reply to Comment 113180

So those peaches I just bought are not as nutritious as the peaches I ate 40 years ago? How about the broccoli we had with dinner yesterday? The pork chops I had 30years ago were better for me then the ones I'm going to have tomorrow? Here I thought the pork that is available today was better than what we used to get because they have been bred to be leaner.

Making food less expensive and therefor more accessible is a good thing. The fact people eat to much is not, but it is a personal decision. I don't want to go to a situation where people are lean because they can't afford food, which has been the case for much of our past.

Making food cheaper makes it more accessible for the poor which is a good thing. Not only is food cheaper but we have access to produce all year round that was unheard of not that many years ago. I just don't see the down side in the improvements. Do people make poor decisions and eat to much and also eat empty calories? Absolutely but that is their decision not yours to make.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted August 04, 2015 at 18:42:00

Here I thought the pork that is available today was better than what we used to get because they have been bred to be leaner.

That's assuming that pork fat isn't food - which it is.

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By Dalaine (registered) | Posted August 04, 2015 at 21:49:42 in reply to Comment 113252

You are absolutely correct that those supermarket peaches are not as nutritious as they were 40 years ago. Mass produced tomatoes, for example, have about one-third of the Vitamin C that they had in the 1950s. Have a look at The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker for some startling information about how the quality of our food supply had deteriorated. Also, for your information, food produced in the industrial agricultural system is relatively cheap because of government subsidies and because of the externalization of many costs of producing the foods (like the toxic wastes from pesticides and the degradation of the soil). Additionally, having 'access to produce all year round' is not a good thing. It means that mass produced out of season fruits and vegetables are shipped thousands of miles contributing further to pollution and climate change and when that produce arrives in our supermarkets it can be weeks old, has very little nutrition in it and tastes like cardboard. Not sure that benefits anyone except big agriculture.

Comment edited by Dalaine on 2015-08-04 21:50:31

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted August 19, 2015 at 14:29:14 in reply to Comment 113274

Sorry I dont follow. Never said pork fat wasn't food. I said today's pork is better because there is less fat. Most experts will agree that we should limit the amount of fat that we eat. Especially animal fat. Pork fat is food, quite delicious when done right, it just isn't very good for us. So back to my original point less pork fat is better

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