The Real Cost of Technocratic Food

October 11, 2019

Many grumble at the price of organic foods when they realize the importance of eating naturally. It's true that dollar for dollar - natural foods cost more at the grocery and farm store.

Technocratic means "relating to or characterized by the government or control of society or industry by an elite of technical experts." You could call it industrial or factory-farmed if that's a bit too controversial for you. It's just a term to explain our system as we calculate that there is way more behind the price tag on the shelf than we all think. 

We are paying the price for these "cheaper" foods at the other end in a number of ways - a few of them being in the form of our health, the environment, and taxes.

Beef prices vary everywhere, but let's compare our $7.50/lb. ground beef with conventional, grocery store ground beef at $4.25/lb.

The Health Price Tag

The reality in developed countries is clear - our health is failing. Over half of our children are suffering from a chronic illness, not to mention the millions of cases of cold, flu, ear infections and other infections ravaging our children. I could go on and on about the disastrous health stats in developed countries, but I think the gloomy picture is rather clear at this point. 

The average American spent $10,209 on healthcare in 2017. Let's be extremely liberal and say we ate an entire pound of ground beef per meal every day of the year. That is 1,095 meals per year. That means, per meal, we could spend $9.32 for the amount we are paying for healthcare.

I will be gracious and say that half of those expenses are necessary things like insurance, and not life-limiting pharmaceutical drugs or steroids for chronic illness. That doesn't account for vitamins, health supplements, chiropractors, and natural practitioners that are largely out of pocket. So, add another $4.66 to that "beef." We are now at $8.91.

How our Food System Forgets about its Provider

It doesn't take a scientist to tell you that our food system is out of whack today. Yes, we can get oranges in northern Illinois in the winter, but the majority of our food comes from over 1,500 miles away. I don't feel educated enough to find the right statistics to calculate the true cost of greenhouse gases, fossil fuels, and energy for transporting our food per meal. 

Water scarcity is also an issue with the conventional food system. Seventy-percent of water usage is for agriculture. Farmers are using up underground aquifers at alarming rates and paying next to nothing for the water. Most of this water falls on bare soil where it runs off or is evaporated. Regenerative agriculture holds water, prevents floods, and is prepared for droughts. Since these numbers are not readily accessible, I also won't calculate them. Know, however, that this is likely to be a major issue in the years to come and conventional agriculture is driving this issue. 

Conventional agriculture is losing valuable topsoil at an alarming rate. Soil erosion is estimated to cost the United States $44 billion per year. The U.S. population is at 327.2 million. That's a loss of per $134.47 person and $.12 per meal. 

With just calculating soil erosion, we are now at $9.03

The Real Taxes Behind Your Food

Most of us roll our eyes at the taxes collected, and for good reason. First, our income is taxed. Then we pay sales tax on every little thing. For good measure, we are taxed at the end of our lives. 

But most of us don't realize that in the U.S. and many developed countries large, conventional farms are subsidized by tax dollars. That means that farms receive money to farm a certain product desired by the government. In 2017, American farmers received $11.5 billion in subsidies, 15.3% of $75.1 billion in total net farm income. It is pretty crazy to think that these farms would possibly not be in business without the government subsidies. What would farmers do differently if they didn't have this crutch? Would they find more sustainable practices? Would they be able to connect with their customers and shift their practices to meet demand?*

This doesn't count the other governmental pockets that pick up the waste from our broken food system, which is estimated to be about $12 trillion a year globally. I won't add that. Truly, I don't know if we could ever know the incredible price tag. 

That comes from your tax dollars. So, tack on another 15% of costs from you, the consumer, to the "cheap" conventional, grocery store burger to your meal. You are paying $135.15 per year in taxes for farm subsidies, which comes out to $.12 per meal. 

What is our grand total?

Not counting travel costs and their environmental impact, nor the immense loss of water from our aquifers, conventional ground beef truly costs us $9.15 per lb. 

Per the United Nations, we have 60 harvests left if we continue with our current farming practices. It's time to make the change. 

Now, let's consider all the good impact purchasing the regenerative burger adds to our health, the environment, and gives back the government to use the funds elsewhere (or hey, maybe the taxpayer). 

*This is a touchy topic. I (Danielle) come from a conventional farm family and have always seen the role that government and its farming policies have created to create the major farm and food issues we have today. I would like to see new policies favor small farms, family farms, inheriting farms, and regenerative agriculture. But, I know the answer is not more government, but more, loving people coming together to farm and purchase real food. 

Danielle Olson Jones

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