My studies at JWU, while composed of many wine tastings, plenty of time in front of a stove, and too many “pretend you own a restaurant” projects, were independently supplemented by research inspired by my own intense and possessing curiosity. I found myself sincerely disappointed that we rarely took a glance at the agricultural industry. Our scope, as food industry professionals, began at the inventory list of a supplier and ended with what we place on the plate of the customer. True, there are plenty of intricacies in between and there is so much to learn in that cross section of the process, but it’s still a limited view.
Anyways, learning about the agricultural industry (subsidies, industrial farming, companies who run the show, distribution systems, etc.) became a hobby of mine. A hobby that is still going strong, and yet I feel as though I have just brushed the surface in regards to the information available on agriculture in U.S. Of what I have learned thus far, I feel compelled to share. I’m going to break it down into an oversimplified equation (forget about actual numbers, I haven’t taken a Math course since high school). Also, keep in mind that I am only addressing plant agriculture, to begin a discussion on animal agriculture would be destructive to my sanity and the stability of this blog – basically, factory farming is so f’ed up that I do not have the conviction to tackle the subject in an inconsequential way, a lot of time and research would be needed for that post.
Back on track, the agricultural equation:
+ Land, buildings, and machinery (a depreciation expense)
+ Rental costs for machinery not owned (the type of equipment that is too expensive to purchase out of pocket, and better off not attained through a bank loan)
+ Fertilizer (nitrogen) + costly pesticides and herbicides
+ new seed [may be harvested from previous season (not likely), bought from a catalog, or dispensed by a biotech company (insert Monsanto, DuPont, Symantec)]
+ general operational expenses (taxes, salaries…)
= cost of production
Now try to make a profit accounting for all of those expenses after selling your crop for cheap cheap cheap. That is, after all, what the consumer and food preparation industry have learned to expect. But if you’re lucky, you produce one of the “golden” crops (corn, wheat, soy) that certain companies and industries determine are most useful to them, enough so to provide a bit of incentive, maybe you will get a bit of that subsidized funding from the government. The issue here lies with the fact that a diet reliant on feed corn, wheat, or soy is nonsense.
Personally, I need a mix of grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables as the basis for my diet. And the essential truth lies in this record. Corn is the highest subsidized commodity because of what it used for. This corn feeds no one as a vegetable, and instead suffers a fate of mutilation in order to become high fructose corn syrup or is directed into feed of pigs, cattle, and chickens – which is the ultimate sad recognition because these animals aren’t meant to rely on a diet exclusively composed of corn and wheat either. At this point we could venture in to the political realm, but my desire to appeal for recognition of the importance of the people who grow fresh fruits and veggies for our hearty consumption not an attack on the leeches that are processed food companies or industrial meat production companies.
A farmer is a person who has dedicated their professional life, their personal life, their whole bodies to providing FOOD for us. Food, you know, the kind of thing that we consume, one of the basic requirements for life, without which we would not be able to survive… Why farmers and public school teachers aren’t some of the highest paid members of society defies logic, and allows a systemic disregard for intrinsic versus determined worth.
How to move forward from this? Be the change we wish to see in the world, so to speak:
For a start we can all begin (or continue) shopping at our local farmer’s market. Cut out any middle men, put the money directly in the producer’s pocket, get to know the guy or gal who grew your potatoes and green beans, learn the incredible value of farm fresh produce. Find your farmer’s market at Local Harvest.
Be more conscious of where we eat out. We probably all remember “locavore”, it’s a ridiculous name for the movement that has been gaining way over the past few years in the food industry. I never hear the term used these days but so many fine dining restaurants, bistros, cafes, etc. have learned the value of incorporating local foods in their menus. It’s more common than you think and there are probably a few spots around that are making killer meals, because naturally they’re more invested in creating an awesome dish with superb ingredients. Give the Eat Well Guide a try, to find businesses near you.
Forget about processed foods! The stuff will eventually clog your arteries and arrange a heart for your future, or give you cancer and kill you… All the while making you fat while it gradually poisons you. The base of these products (corn syrup, canola oil, soy, etc.), ultimately demand more effort be placed on growing the kinds of foods that serve as minute ingredients rather than the crops that serve as contributors to a healthy diet.
GROW A GARDEN! Elevate farm culture into something of daily recognition, of experiential appreciation, learn the pleasures of self sustainment and banish any affections for store-bought meals. #DirtyHandsAreCaringHands
This is all circumstantial, not everyone lives in a rockin’ city like Boston where the chefs are mad about local produce and products, not everyone has yard space for a garden plot, plenty of the U.S.’ population lives in “food deserts” where access to fresh food is practically mythical, and too many of us cannot afford to shop at a place like Whole Foods Market, where any sort vegetable is at arms reach. But everyone is capable of changing their attitudes, altering their consciousness a little to be more appreciative and more demanding.