The world population has grown by over 4 billion in the last 50 years, and with the increased population comes an increased demand for affordable food. While Americans comb through Amazon deals, clip coupons and shop at dollar stores to find the best deal on a pint of ice cream, our fondness for bargain groceries creates unseen consequences for the environment. By creating a demand for cheap food, we force the use of unsustainable but cheap agricultural practices that wreak havoc on our lands and the ozone. If we wish to support sustainable farming practices that benefit the Earth rather than destroy it, we must learn to value food and pay a premium for environment-friendly produce.
What you decide to purchase from the grocery store directly affects the practices of farmers hundreds or thousands of miles away. In order to lessen production costs, meat operations must cram many animals into small areas, which increases the production’s methane emissions and decreases the health and welfare of the animals. Crop growers also have to pump fertilizers and chemicals into the soil to squeeze more crops onto limited acreage. Despite the knowledge of the effects on animals and the land, farmers have no choice but to engage in these harmful practices out of a need for profit.
While some farmers splurge on sustainable practices and go organic, the initial costs and unreliable profit margins make the move both difficult and unappealing. Since organic farming requires new equipment to manage the soil and crops and more labor to control weeds, the transition to organic farming can be a money pit. The California Avocado Growers have found that organic farmers’ profits barely reach 42 cents per pound. It costs about $14,420 per year per acre to produce organic avocados. In order to support farmers’ expenses, we must make the sacrifice to spend more on groceries that directly affect the wellbeing of Earth.
In order to give the nation access to the cheapest possible food, distributors transport food across the world, accounting for 11 percent of global fuel emissions. By purchasing locally grown, sustainable foods, we are able to offset the outrageous transportation costs and emissions. Purchasing locally also puts money into the local farming economy and increases demand for sustainable farming practices that are more common in smaller businesses than large, global corporations. Although purchasing a box of locally grown, organic blueberries may cost more, the premium price supports environmentally-friendly practices and helps farmers continue their organic endeavours.
The problem with this is that the food inequality crisis in America makes it difficult for low-income households to pay the premium for Earth-friendly food. In a study by the Maine Organic Farmers Association, the mean cost for organic items surveyed was 68 percent higher than that of non-organic items. Neighborhoods with low-incomes tend to have higher prices at grocery stores than supermarkets in suburban, middle-upper class areas. Low-income households may not be able to make the commitment to purchasing sustainably-grown food and instead resort to cheaper options. If we were to increase the demand for and production of sustainable farming, costs would eventually drop and make the food more accessible for all households.
The demand for cheap food fosters harmful agricultural practices to produce more food for lower costs. As Americans, we hate the idea of clearing the Amazon rainforests for agriculture or polluting rivers with chemical waste. However, as food consumers, we are skimping on purchases at the supermarket and forcing these unsustainable practices. If we value our environment, we must speak with our dollars and pay the premium for sustainable food. This food must not deplete the land nor drain the pockets of those that work day and night to provide us with bountiful dinner plates and full grocery aisles.