The impact of Big Ag on food prices

Written by Anna Larson, New Media Coordinator, Team New Hampshire

When I was interviewing with colleges as a part of the college application process, my mom would always tell me I should prepare a few questions to have ready to ask about the school. Then she would joke that if nothing else, I could always ask about the food, a long-running joke between her and her best friend when they were interviewing for jobs after college. Caring too much about food can seem selfish and indulgent, in a way.

However, food is important. Humans are social animals, and we have had a long and often complicated relationship with food. As different societies developed alongside each other, we developed different diets based on what was available and we could grow in our environment. Now, as a result of the globalization of our food systems, Americans can buy tomatoes in December.

During our Climate Summer training, the thirty of us rotated through cooking duties. For everyone who has never cooked communally for thirty people, there are a few things you should know. Firstly, the amount of food needed to feed thirty people is enormous. Secondly, it takes a lot longer to cook food for thirty than for four. So even though we allotted an hour before each meal for cooking and cooked in groups of four, it often took longer than anticipated. Thirdly, it is easier to spend $5 per person per day on food if you can buy in bulk.

Morgan helps out with the cooking at community supper at the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Now, in our teams, I have realized that cooking in our team of five on a budget is quicker than thirty but also more complicated. One of us is an omnivore, one a vegetarian, two are vegans (including myself), and one is gluten-intolerant. We have been cooking mostly vegan and gluten-free. We have also been very lucky to be given food from shared events, like from a welcome potluck at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church.

Delicious food at the welcome potluck Vanessa Amsbury-Bonilla kindly organized for us at the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Eating on a tight budget has been an interesting challenge so far. For the duration of the internship, we are not supposed to spend more than the allotted money from the program on food. This means we are strongly discouraged from going out and spending our own money on snacks or using our own money to buy food for the group, which could cause discomfort and alter the group dynamic. At least right now, at the beginning of the internship, we don’t have the money to go out and buy more of anything if we run out so we have to always be cognizant of supplies.

We are trying to eat as healthily as possible, but because of agricultural subsidies, the most unprocessed food that is kindest to the environment is often more expensive. From 1995 to 2010, the USDA gave $277,292,000,000 in subsidies for farms (Environmental Working Group, 2012). However, 30% of subsidies go to the top 2% of the 350,000 farmers receiving them, and 5% of farms receive 84% of farm income (Perverse Subsidies, 2001).

A look at the distribution of agricultural subsidies.

Consumers pay an extra $360 a year in taxes for subsidies that help large corporations maintain monopolies and pollute our environment to provide food that does not truly nourish us. These subsidies make it economically viable to grow water-intensive crops like rice and alfalfa in the California desert. Currently, 4% of the US GDP is spent on restorative measures because of poor resource management, leading to pollution and overuse of resources (Perverse Subsidies, 2001).

Food is important. Animal agriculture alone accounts for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (Steinfield et al, FAO of the UN, 2006). It is imperative that the United States government stops subsidizing the cost of growing corn and soybeans that are then fed to livestock, and creatively incorporated into processed foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup, or made into ethanol, an energy-intensive process. Everyone deserves access to fresh and healthy food. The first step towards that is a shift in government farm subsidies. While this is a daunting task, I believe that we can help make this shift happen by being aware of the issues and working together to work towards solutions.

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2 Responses to The impact of Big Ag on food prices

  1. Gail Ruteran says:

    This is a really professional article about a really exciting issue.

  2. David L says:

    Keep up the good work!

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