The Real Costs of Food


It probably comes as no surprise, but if you are an average consumer then the cost of your daily diet is more than what you pay at the cash register. Sure the food on your average grocery store shelf comes with a price tag, but it doesn’t tell you all of the other “costs” that went into growing, processing, storing, & getting it to you, all while lining the pockets of large agribusiness companies. The government subsidies–direct and otherwise–that are actually your taxes, plus increased carbon emissions, poor diets, degraded planet, and destroyed cultures all have real costs that don’t get calculated into the price you pay. This is all the result of bad food and farm policy in the 20th century now exacerbated by global politics and a push for ‘cheaper’.

If the farms and the regional food supply [aka Local food] everyone has taken a recent interest in are to survive over the long term, consumers need to realize that food is simply going to cost more. It should. It has cost far too little for far too long. Just compare what we pay with what people in other country’s pay. Our entire food system has been set up so that your average expectation is that food should be cheap. But it is not. And if you add up all of the external costs of that cheap loaf of bread, the price you pay is really much higher than what you take out of your wallet or pocket book.

Choosing local food is different than making a choice between a Ferrari and a Hyundai. With a Ferrari the high price tag is a result of artisanship, performance and perceived value. Yet a Hyundai will also get you from point A to Point B, just not as fast or in as much style. So if the basis for our discussion is purely transportation [or calories if we’re talking food], then maybe a cheap loaf of bread is all you need. If we’re talking about getting their fast, then of course the Ferrari is the obvious choice. But if we’re making a broader, philosophical choice [what’s better for me and the world around me], then we’re making an entirely different choice. It is not just a choice of calorie source or excitement, but of other values as well.

Locally produced food also comes with added values. When one chooses–or considers choosing–local food it as if you’re now throwing something unconventional into the mix. It is like saying, OK now you can choose either a Hyundai, a Ferrari, or a Segway. It is an entirely different thought process and value system that causes someone to purchase local food or use a Segway. You can get calories anywhere; you can get cheap food at any big box store; heck, you can even probably get luxury foods around the corner. But with local foods you can only get them locally. That added value of locally grown has benefits that can’t be provided by the cheaper global versions.

The cost of local food is real and here to stay [most likely]. The real question is whether consumers, your average consumers, are willing to pay more now [and keep their money circulating in the local community] or pay less and see their money fly away. Remember the next time you buy food from a local farmer you’re also buying open space, scenic vistas, clean air and water, and the chance to eat good, healthy, real food. Sure, the price you pay for local food may be higher, but it is a price based on costs that are real and upfront. Then again, so is the food. Yum!

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About Farmer Mike Biltonen

Mike Biltonen is lifelong farmer with a passion for great tasting, sustainably grown food. He also has an opinion and this blog is his soapbox. But mostly he just likes to farm. Enjoy!
This entry was posted in cheap food, food costs, global, local farming, luxury, safe food, segway. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Real Costs of Food

  1. Also: Locally grown, small farmer food, is much more likely to be healthier (more nutrient rich) than what’s shipped, for example, from Chile.

  2. jing says:

    i totally agree with this… we should patronize our local food first.

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