Live Well
September 2017

The Global Cost of Cheap Food

In a lecture at UC Berkeley’s Edible Education 101 Class, Alice Waters noted that we live in a culture of “fast food values,” where everything has to be fast, cheap, easily available, and the same. While at some point in our history this may have been a good thing, we are now at a point when this mode of thinking is harming us because it underestimates the value of human life.

Cheap food policies began in the 1930s, with the beginning of farm subsidies. The goal of the subsidies was to help farmers in rural areas after the Great Depression. The school lunch program became formalized in 1946 with the passage of the National School Lunch Act, which sought to provide nutritious meals to young children. The Food Stamp Act in 1964 was to improve nutrition among low-income families. All these laws sought to, on the one hand, protect farmers when the economy did poorly and, on the other, support and help low income families get access to reasonably-priced, nutritious food. Setting aside any analysis of whether these policies are still useful and relevant, what we can say is that, today, these cheap food policies have human costs:

The first cost is the fact that consumers have come to expect everything to be cheap. In turn, this means that farmers are under pressure to keep their costs low. They often rely on migrant laborers who work in inhumane conditions, are paid far below minimum wage, and don’t receive any healthcare or other benefits.

Secondly, the excessive reliance on corn and soy farming, which are the primary inputs of cheap, processed foods, has been a key contributor to the obesity and diabetes epidemic in the United States.

The final cost is to the environment. The over-reliance on corn and soy and limited the diversity of plants that farmers will grow. Moreover, when farmers are forced to provide food cheaply, they may resort to methods of farming that degrade the land and the soil. This is a cost that will ultimately be borne by human beings as well.

According to an article in The Modern Farmer, in 2015 Americans spent roughly 6.4% of their household expenditure on food, versus roughly 10% in Europe and 40% in Nigeria and Pakistan. Maybe it is time for us to really consider how our food choices, and how our expectation of things — especially food — to be cheap, fast and easy will affect us in the future.


Cook Well

Upside-Down Peach and Almond Cake

I love fruit desserts because they’re a great way to use some of the imperfect fruit. You could just as easily make this with nectarines or pears. Serves 6-8

3 large, ripe peaches
2 cups almond flour
1 tsp.ground cardamom, optional
5 eggs, separated
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9” round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper.
  2. 2. Slice the peaches into 1/4” thick slices and arrange in a circle around the bottom of the cake pan. Do not let the slices overlap.
  3. 3. In a small bowl, combine almond flour and ground cardamom, if using. Set aside.
  4. 4. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and remaining sugar until mixture becomes light and thick. Add the vanilla extract and mix until well-combined.
  5. 5. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and sea salt until medium-soft peaks form. Stir half the egg whites into the yolk-sugar mixture and mix well. Gently fold the remaining egg whites and half the almond flour into the bowl. When the mixture is almost all blended, gently fold in the remaining flour.
  6. 6. Pour the batter over the peaches and caramel. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  7. 7. Let the cake cool for 10-15 minutes then invert the cake onto a plate and peel away the parchment paper. Serve.

Here are a few of my favorite articles for this month:

This is a great article on how inequality affects every aspect of our food system. READ ARTICLE

Here’s another interesting piece on how to make food equitable and accessible to all. READ ARTICLE

A great piece by Mark Bittman on the responsibilities of being a foodie. READ ARTICLE

This is a lengthy piece but definitely worth a read – it highlights what government needs to do to implement a Farm Bill that makes sense for all of us. READ ARTICLE

It’s shocking how far certain companies will go to promote their products. READ ARTICLE