Dr. Mehmet Oz’s Dec. 3 cover article in Time magazine, “Give Frozen Peas a Chance (and Carrots, too …)” highlighted the difficult battle faced by those who are fighting in the organic food revolution.
Beloved and trusted by millions, Dr. Oz writes that organic food is more expensive, nutritionally equal to conventionally grown food, and reserved for the 1 percent who can afford it.
Some of this is true, some of the time. Organic food can be more expensive and most studies show that organic food usually is nutritionally equivalent to its conventionally grown counterpart.
But it is most certainly not just for food snobs. People have many reasons for choosing organic foods: to reduce exposure to chemicals, a desire to avoid genetically modified ingredients and a concern for sustainability and the environment are among the most common.
Dollars and food sense
Rather than dismissing organic food based on its cost, let’s ask why conventionally grown food is so cheap. Would it surprise you to learn that we are all at fault?
Our tax dollars fund $20 billion in agricultural subsidies per year via the “Farm Bill,” which heavily favors large-scale, industrial agrochemical farms that produce corn, soy, and wheat — the main ingredients in high-fructose corn syrup, animal feed and processed food.
Many consumers now try to avoid products with high-fructose corn syrup, but we all help pay for its production and widespread use through taxpayer subsidies. Oops!
Cheap meat — in large part possible because of cheap feed — is consumed in quantities that promote heart disease and cancer, not to mention encouraging the environmentally destructive and morally vacant practice of factory farming. If we were choosing today, would we subsidize this practice?
“Avoiding processed food” is frequently the first advice given to those wishing to improve their diet. Too bad we are all making it so difficult to make healthy choices by subsidizing processed foods, making them so darn inexpensive — and therefore so tempting!
Had current dairy subsidies expired recently as feared, milk would have shot up to nearly $8 per gallon. This is pretty close to the price of a gallon of raw milk produced by The Dungeness Valley Creamery, a local — unsubsidized — farm.
Without subsidies, the prices of other conventionally produced foods also would rival organic, locally grown prices. A pound of ground beef would cost $7. A dozen eggs would cost $5 or more.
Not many believe that paying $9 for a gallon of raw, whole milk from locally pastured cows is worth it because the subsidized price we’re used to is under $4.
But there are those who gladly pay these prices and we can tell you they are not the elite food snobs Dr. Oz claims are interested in this kind of food. They are parents, seniors and people of all economic persuasions. They are often people who sacrifice other comforts in order to eat the kind of food they prioritize.
Starting the revolution
If we as a society want to facilitate healthy eating, there needs to be a revolution. Not another “green revolution” from the 1970s, but a true revolution where archaic policies are reformed and the veil of subsidies is lifted to reveal the true cost of food.
Agricultural subsidies should be redistributed to benefit those who are protecting our soil, air, farm workers and the American way of life. Help should be given to those who choose to grow sustainably so that there will be farms and healthy food for future generations.
This revolution has to begin at home — with you. Demand better food by making it a priority in your life.
Eat well and be well this new year!
Mark Ozias and Lisa Boulware are owners of The Red Rooster Grocery. Reach them at email@example.com.