The True Cost of American Food

True Cost of American FoodLast Friday, Green Eatz attended the True Cost of American Food conference in the food-conscious city of San Francisco. The Sustainable Food Trust, a small, non-profit organization from Bristol, UK, brought together this gathering of the great and the good from the sustainable food world.

Prince Charles – Sustainability Advocate

Patrick Holden is not only a Welsh organic dairy farmer but also the CEO of Sustainable Food Trust and the charming MC for the day’s proceedings. After starting the day with a jog and a swim in the San Francisco Bay, Patrick told us of his meeting with Prince Charles for tea and being served by the prince not the butler!

The Prince of Wales was an early advocate of organic farming and converted his Duchy of Cornwall farmlands to follow sustainable and organic methods over 20 years ago. He was not able to attend in person but sent a personal video message to the event, championing the cause of sustainability and true cost accounting of unsustainable practices.

ag_environmental_impact_0Global Eco Guy – Food System is Broken

Johnathan Foley’s, or the @globalecoguy, speech focused on the unsustainability of our global agricultural system:

  • The global food system is not meeting the current needs of the people
  • The global food system is failing our needs for the future
  • Nothing has hit the planet harder than agriculture.

850 million people are living with hunger today, so how will we feed another 2 billion in the future? he asked. Around 40% of the land surface of our planet and 70% of our water is used by global agriculture. In addition, agriculture is responsible for 24 to 50% of ALL greenhouse gases.

Agriculture is the number one factor in climate change, not energy or transport.

Johnathan suggested five areas to focus on:

  1. Deforestation – especially regarding livestock and palm oil
  2. Deliver more food on less land
  3. Be more efficient with resources
  4. Rethink of meat-centric diets and biofuels
  5. Reduce food waste

Tyler NorrisPublic Health dependent on Food System

Tyler Norris is a passionate advocate of the link between the food system and public health. After 100 years of increasing life expectancy, today’s children are expected to live 5 years less than their parents.

‘The food system is not working and we are paying for it with our health’ stated Tyler. The food delivered is low in nutrition, high in fat, sugar and salt and has led to a country where a third are obese, a third are overweight and only a third are a healthy weight. These health issues are concentrated in lower-income neighborhoods, but how can behaviors change when there are so many barriers to overcome?

He told of the CHAMACOS research undertaken in Salinas, a poor farming community in the heart of California’s ‘salad bowl’. The study tested children born to farmworkers for pesticide exposure at birth and then for neurological and behavioral outcomes. Higher exposure to pesticides and fertilizers at birth resulted in lower IQ, worse cognitive control and attention disorders.

Our health is not only determined by what we eat, but also what are parents eat and what they are exposed to.

True Cost Accounting for Food

Our current measurement for a successful economy is that of GDP. The problem remains that it does not account for natural resources, and creates incentives for doing business in unsustainable and unethical ways. Alexander Muller of TEEBAgFood believes we need a new framework that includes all costs. For example, diabetes in America costs $827 billion in treatment and lost productivity but is not factored into the cost of producing unhealthy sugar-laden foods.

Steve Hilton had a more radical vision of changing the system: fight the Culinary Industrial Complex by crowd funding campaigns that challenge and remove Big Ag supporters. One hundred percent of the members of the current Senate Agricultural Committee receive money from Big Ag companies such as Monsanto. If we could remove them and put power back in the hands of the people, then we can create a food revolution.

Wow! All that and it’s not even time for lunch! Subscribe to our mailing list and come back next time for more thoughts on the true cost of American food…

Author: Jane of Green Eatz

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  1. Lately I’ve been growing a lot of my greens. I’ve taken to pointing out that the cheapest solar collectors you can get are yummy plants. Chard, kale, and cauliflower are my current favorites. This evening I harvested a 4 lb. cauliflower and 10 oz of greens. Had a filling supper and there is plenty left over. Very little impact on the economy, all I bought was a six pack of cauliflower starts late last year and some fertilizer. Gardening is an excellent value!

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    • Hi Tian – yes, growing your own is a fantastic sustainable solution. One suggestion, why not save your food scraps to make compost and then you won’t even have to buy that! Regards Jane

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