Friday, January 18, 2008

Cheap food at all costs?

The BBC World Service radio talk show World Have Your Say had an interesting programme today about tradeoffs between food costs and other nutrition and environmental goals. After reading an earlier post on U.S. Food Policy, they called to ask whether I thought it was essential to seek cheap food at all costs. They were juggling a bunch of other interesting interviews with callers from places like Nigeria, Kenya, and India, with a lot of insight into hard food choices in less developed countries.

My own hunch is that the tradeoff between healthy food and cheap food for hungry people is overdrawn. Several factors can make food too expensive: more packaging, more processing, air freight, placement high on the food chain (animal products), rare or exotic sourcing (caviar), and nutrition and environmental quality (organic, local boutique farming). Most of those factors suggest healthy wholesome food and low cost can be complementary. Even when these goals are competitive to an extent, as in organic food, the tradeoffs probably don't break the budget. It would be folly to pursue cheap food at all costs.

1 comment:

Silvia said...

Unfortunately, many of the large Ag corporations court "relationships" (ie, good PR) with food banks and anti-hunger groups based on just this premise-- that the only way to keep food affordable is to keep it cheap via large-scale, industrialized agriculture. It's hard not to wonder, what if food became more expensive, but we had universal health care and more assistance for housing? Perhaps our budgets would just shift, so that there was more money available to pay for healthy food.