CUpS: Talks

Talks by writers, scientists, and food experts

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Paul Hawken: The High Cost of Cheap Food (video)

Excerpted from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s, Cooking For Solutions 2010 media conference, Paul Hawken eloquently explains how the price of food is divorced from its true costs, and what this really means for society, at large.

This is a central theme that runs through much of the sustainable food movement’s core beliefs, and those advocating a profound change to the existing structure of the food system. Michael Pollan, in his 2008 “Open Letter to the Next Farmer In Chief“, writes:

“Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration— the last time high food prices presented a serious political peril. Since then, federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda.”

Indeed, the massive consolidation of agricultural food companies into giant transnational corporations may well trace its origins to Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, whose prime directive was to develop a plan to keep U.S. food prices at a reliably low level. With the recent decision of the Department of Justice to investigate the mounting evidence of over-consolidation of the food industry, it seems fair to ask whether the pendulum of centralization, maximization of production, monoculture industrial farming, and the existence of mega-farms (technically referred to as CAFO’s), has shifted the pendulum too far.

The high cost of cheap food begs a serious question: who should foot the bill to cover the full external costs of industrial farming—the American people, as has largely been the case—or the corporations who chiefly benefit from the existing structure?

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1 Comment

  1. Jack Reich says:

    No meaningful change is going to happen until Americans begin to have a conversation about these issues, and exhibit a willingness to change our habits, our customary ways of eating, of doing things. Without us changing, how can there be any change? Yet which of us is actually willing to change? I am not optimistic….