Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Cost of Food

Now, I really could make this a rant about how much my grocery bill has gone up in the last year, but it is really about my awareness of the true cost of food.  Last night, I actually watched tv (!) and a commercial for some fast food restaurant or other came on with a big juicy picture of a sandwich. 

I started thinking about what it would take for me to make or grow everything that made up that sandwich - to raise cattle, process it, cook it.  To make the bread, the cheese, to grow the vegetables (including the tomatoes to make the ketchup).  Although, unfortunately, I couldn't grow the wheat to make the bread here in the rainforest, all of the rest of it is theoretically possible (WHEN I get a dairy animal and if we clear more of the waiawi for pasture for beef cattle). 

The thought produced an odd mixture of feelings in me.  The thought of all that work for one sandwich was astonishing, but of course, you wouldn't grow and can tomatoes for one squirt of ketchup - you'd have a shelf full.  One sandwich worth of beef would just be a tiny part of a freezer full of beef.  And of course, one sandwich is just a tiny portion of the volume that one chain of fast food produces across the country. 

My techie son would use this illustration to point out why I shouldn't aim to produce a majority of our food myself - we are a part of an economic chain and if everyone opts out, the chain would break.  I argue in vain that the economic chain is doing a good enough job of breaking itself and that locally produced food is an important resource (although I am not about to give up my wheat flour, which has to be imported, no getting around it, as far as I know.  Any trials on Hawaii grown grain in the early part of the 20th century were not successful). 

Sometimes I do feel overwhelmed by the size of the endeavor of producing food on a very tiny farm.  7.5 acres tends to awe my Oahu friends, but it's small if you are thinking in terms of animals.  I am working full time and I am primarily responsible for the gardens and the animals.  I get help with maintenance, but starting, planning, and anything beyond feeding and watering is my job. 

When I consider the cost of my food in terms of labor from growing/raising, to processing and preparing, it is an awesome responsibility.  I can't walk into a grocery store anymore without an awareness of the costs beyond what's on that price sticker - and apparently, I can't watch a fast food commericial without that same awareness. Even going into the cafeteria at school - pans and pans of chicken thighs - a thousand chickens died for this meal...

I was wondering why there has been a rise in young adult novels which deal with disasters and disruptions in food supplies - I think, perhaps, other people are trying to get that idea of the true cost of food into the next generation, flying in the face of what appears to be true - that hamburgers can cost less than a dollar and that thousands of chicken thighs show up roughly twice a week in large pans covered in shoyu or gravy. 

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