Traditional Wellness Wisdom

Is cheap food really cheap?

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When shopping for food, do you purchase whatever is on the shelf? Or, do you consider what’s in the food you eat and how it is produced before buying?

Where your food comes from is just as important as making something at home from scratch. The ingredients and how they are produced say a lot about just how healthy that food really is.

When you go to the grocery store or out to eat at a restaurant, consider the following about the majority of food sold and served:

  • Most grocery store and restaurant meat comes from factory farm environments where animals are confined and live in unnatural conditions. Animals are shoved together in small and sometimes filthy spaces,  surrounded by waste lagoons, animals are administered hormones, steroids, and antibiotics.  They are fed  genetically-modified corn, grain, and soy, and renderings of bio-waste products.  The feed can cause health issues since it is not what the animals were designed to eat. The waste generated by factory farm facilities contaminates our air, soil, and ground water, which places nearby residents at risk for exposure to pathogenic bacteria like E.coli and others.
  • Factory farms can be small or large in scale, but are highly specialized, and function like a factory (hence the term “factory farm”). These facilities use fossil fuel, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, and synthetic fertilizers derived from oil. Small-scale, organic farming operations have been shown to use 60 percent less fossil fuel per unit of food than conventional industrial farms (Norberg-Hodge, Helena , Todd Merrifield, and Steven Gorelick. Bringing The Food Economy Home: Local Alternatives to Global Agribusiness, 2002).
  • Conventional produce is grown with pesticides and herbicides, and increasingly more from genetically-modified and engineered seeds, and with modern farming methods which are as harmful to the landscape. This type of farming, called mono-cropping, is damaging and strips the soil of its nutrients – substances which are vital to the nutritional density and flavor of the foods you eat. The over-use of chemicals like insecticides and pesticides has caused rapidly-developing resistance in pests which has rendered these chemicals increasingly ineffective. The production of herbicide tolerant (HT) biotech crops, particularly Monsanto’s RR crops, has resulted in the development of superweed strains that are nearly impervious to even conventional methods. Biotech info discusses how cross-pollination techniques, a method employed by GM companies like Monsanto, lead to further and further resistance in these superweed strains.
  • Conventional produce contains higher amounts of water and less nutrition. From Sustainable Table: “A comparison of the nutritional content between organic and factory farmed, conventional vegetables showed that organic produce has higher nutritional value. Organic lettus had 29 percent more magnesium, organic spinach had 52 percent more Vitamin C, organic carrots had 69 percent more magnesium, and organic cabbage had 43 percent more Vitamin C, 41 percent more iron and 40 percent more magnesium.”
  • Processed foods contain chemically-laden “food-like substances” which contain carcinogenic ingredients, hydrogenated and highly processed oils, MSG and other excitotoxins, are synthetically fortified and contain little to no nutritional value. The result is less nutrition and more toxins.
  • Vegetarian and vegan diets don’t necessarily support sustainable agriculture. Many vegetarian and vegan products on the shelves including vegetables, fruits, grains including corn, soy, and legumes come from conventional sources and their growth, production, and sale damages the environment. The majority of soy and much of the grain produced in the world comes from genetically-modified sources.
  • Industrial crops are responsible for damaging farmlands and are destructive to topsoil and biodiversity because of methods employed in their farming. These farming efforts are known as monocropping – planting the same strains year-after-year, which destroys beneficial organisms and bacteria essential to health. They also use toxic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Monsanto has over 250 million GM acres worldwide. Sustainable farming doesn’t need harmful chemicals to control pests and weeds, but instead uses nature to manage its land and crops.
  • According to Sustainable Table, “Factory farms also threaten our health by incubating infectious diseases that can spread to the human population. Sometimes diseases are transferred directly from animals to humans. In cases of direct transmission, a worker who comes in contact with a diseased animal or its manure can contract the disease and pass it on to their family and community.”
  • Industrial food has the appearance of a “cheaper” price tag on the shelf, but the hidden costs are almost endless. Conventional food is subsidized by the government to “keep prices down”.  Who pays for those subsidies? Every tax payer in the U.S.  Consider how much time and money you may spend in the doctor’s office and hospital, paying for drugs, surgery, and other procedures to “cure” your ailments.  Medications aren’t designed to cure health problems,  but rather support a system that keeps patients returning time and again for more appointments and medications.

Supporting industrial farming keeps corporations going which have a track record of damage to health and environment. Dollars spent in the industrial sector don’t support smaller, family-owned farms whose goal is to produce healthy food that preserves our health and the environment.

Benefits of small-scale, sustainable farming and food

When you buy sustainable food from small-scale producers, you support local communities and healthy farming practices. The amount of fossil fuels used to transport these products is reduced, and the overall CO2 emissions into the atmosphere are lowered as well. Read more about the benefits of organic agriculture systems from California Climate and Agriculture Network.

Although conventional medical recommendations tell us to stay away from saturated fats and red meat, grass-fed beef, eggs, and dairy do not clog our arteries. Unlike their factory counterparts, pastured animal foods contain CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, an important antioxidant), Omega 3s, minerals, Vitamins A, D, E, and K2.

Read an interview with Dr. James Carlson, M.D., a board-certified family physician, osteopath, and clinical biochemist from the Weston A. Price Foundation site.

The process of grazing a herd of cattle on open land and moving them around from pasture to pasture on a day-to-day basis allows regeneration of the land as well as replenishment of nutrients in the soil and grasses. This type of farming actually encourages the health of top soil – one of the most critical areas of the environment which has a profound effect on health. When farmers work with the land to encourage natural biodiversity and development of microrganisms, the result is a win-win situation for all involved, the land, humans, and animals. Organic Grass Fed Beef Info thoroughly explains the vast differences between how  grass-fed animals and grain-fed animals are raised.

Scientific research shows that sustainable, pasture-raised, and organic foods provide significant health benefits for consumers. In addition to being raised without synthetic hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, sustainable meat is more nutritious than meat produced by industrial agriculture for the reasons discussed above.

A  report by the French Agency for Food Safety (AFSSA) revealed that organic foods are higher in both mineral and antioxidant content than their conventional counterparts. Another study from The Journal of Applied Nutrition found that the overall mineral content of organic foods sampled was higher than conventional – apples, potatoes, pears, wheat, and sweet corn. Mercury levels in the organic foods were found to be 27 percent lower than conventional.

From a joint study conducted by CDC scientists, the University of Washington, and Emory University, results reveal that pesticide levels in test subjects dropped to undetectable levels upon switching to an organic diet. When the subjects switched back to a non-organic diet, pesticide residues almost immediately became detectable. (Schafer S., Kristin, et al. “Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability.” Pesticide Action Network of North America, May 2004)

Many health problems have been attributed to the consumption of these so-called foods, and yet the distinction is seldom made. Toxins and chemicals in our food supply are responsible for the appearance of earlier degenerative diseases than in the historical past.  Body Ecology provides a description of toxins in the products we eat and drink and those both in and outside of our bodies.

What are the hidden costs of cheap food?

Here is a comparative analysis of several processed foods versus a real, whole food free from chemicals and other toxins typically found in industrial food from Windy Ridge Poultry, in Alfred, NY. The Windy Ridge Farmer has displayed this chart for customers to view at his farmer’s market booth:

organicfoodcost

Switching to natural, organic, and grass-fed foods seems expensive on the surface, but when you consider health problems that can occur as a result of consuming processed foods, not to mention costs incurred on health care, environmental, and tax systems we pay for directly out of our own pockets, doesn’t it seem worth it to spend more now and save later?

Industrial food may have a cheaper price tag at the store, but the long-term repercussions of eating this way for an extended period of time will amount to a higher price tag in the future in more ways than one: you’ll pay with your pocketbook and your quality of life.

Read more about the hidden costs of industrial food from Briar Patch Co-op and Civil Eats.

To learn more about factory farms, visit The Food & Water Watch web site. Here’s the factory farm list for every facility in the country by state.

Join up with the Millions Against Monsanto Campaign to help preserve the environment and health.

Have you switched from processed to real food? What changes have you noticed in your health?

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