Can food save a town?

Can food save a town?

May 08

I’ve been reading The Town That Food Saved by Ben Hewitt recently, all about a few “agripeneurs” in Hardwick, Vermont, who are trying to build a model for a local food economy. Part of the book is dedicated to questioning the motives and methods of these enterprising individuals, which has sparked some thoughts in my own mind.

Local food is always perceived as being expensive and rather elitist. And, frankly, it does seem expensive every time I buy it. But should that be the case? Ben Hewitt wonders if local food shouldn’t feed the locals first and foremost, which will most often mean average- or low-income families. So how can we make local food cheaper?

Ben goes on to speculate that maybe local food isn’t really so expensive. Maybe it’s just an illusion. One serving of local, organic food (especially in a restaurant) certainly costs more than one serving of supermarket food, but the profit margin must be a lot less. Processed food is made with incredibly cheap ingredients, yet retails for a lot more than the sum of their parts — the consumer pays for ingenuity, assembly, packaging, shipping and marketing. The same amount of local ingredients may cost more, but they’re also much more valuable — higher in nutrients and lower in chemicals.

Naturally, this comparison can only go so far, because food takes so many forms, and even the same food prepared the same way can vary so much in cost from place to place. But, on the surface, it certainly rings true to my ears, especially at the extreme. Processed chicken molded into a nugget and covered with starchy filler certainly might taste better and cost less, but does that really make it cheaper than a locally-raised, chemical-free chicken drumstick?

5 comments

  1. This article recently caught my eye – http://politicsoftheplate.com/?p=864&utm_source=streamsend&utm_medium=email&utm_content=13905341&utm_campaign=Food%20News%20Wednesday,%20May%2010

    I haven’t dug into all the specifics of the study, but pretty interesting!

    • John V.

      Thanks for this, Adrien! This kind of information is exactly what we need to know.

  2. Also, I hadn’t heard of this book, but am excited to add it to my reading list! Thanks for sharing his interesting ideas. :)

    • John V.

      Glad to be helpful, Christine. It’s a great book, if a little bit overly philosophical.

  3. Consumers also pay for processed foods through taxes. The corn and soy subsidies that we pay for make current animal production (and HFCS production) levels possible, and if the supply of subsidized-corn-fed animals wasn’t so large, the prices wouldn’t be so low. Just because you’re not paying for it (or as much) at the McDonald’s counter doesn’t mean you’re not paying for it.

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  1. Doubts | With Respect For Food - [...] John, I’ve been reading through The Town That Food Saved, and I came across a great quote (It’s lengthy …

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