Upside to High Prices?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Some people draw a straight line from cheap, subsidized corn prices to the obesity epidemic and the accompanying high rates of diabetes and heart disease. Anna Lappé, co-founder (with her mother, Frances Lappé) of the Small Planet Institute and author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Nina Planck, former director of New York's Greenmarket and author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why, discuss whether or not higher food prices means we’ll eat healthier food.


Anna Lappé and Nina Planck

Comments [15]

Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

I happen to shop at Trader Joe's because they have certain particular items that I look for. But any Mets, Key Food, etc. will have equivalent priced, less processed items. My point is one doesn't have to spend $4 for a single tomato in order to eat well. There are options if you are educate yourself and follow through in shopping wisely.

Apr. 10 2008 11:17 AM
Laura from NYC


"It is not hard at all to eat healthy and cheaply" if you have a Trader Joes or even a full-service supermarket near you, or you have a car. The problem for a lot of people is that they lack both. And if public transportation is an option, it usually comes at a great cost of travel time.

Apr. 09 2008 05:18 PM

Jon I think you're absolutely correct. The family farms have indeed been screwed in this horrible cycle of the big grain industry (not to mention all the Monsanto lawsuits).

I certainly can't afford to eat organic produce all the time, but like to do so on occasion (and of course buy from farmers markets). It's just unfortunate that you have to pay a premium for fruits and vegetables that actually taste the way they were intended to taste!

Apr. 09 2008 01:51 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ


I support organic farming and I do buy organic food when it is on sale at the same price as non organic food. I also buy and support local produce whenever possible because it’s the best for the environment, organic or not. But I have also spent a lot of time out in the Midwest where all the staple crops (wheat, corn, soy) are grown. The real problem with over priced organic food is due to its lower crop yield. An average independent family farm out in the Midwest is going to be at least a 1000 acres plus. That farmer has to get everything he can out of his crop to pay for taxes and his tractors, implements and combines that can cost well over half a million a piece. The farmer just can’t afford to loose 30% of his crop if he chooses to go the organic farming way. You can’t scale these farms down, it’s too late. You can’t make new small family farms down the street because land is to insanely expensive and there aren’t enough small family farms left in this country to sustain this county’s food demands.

I think the real solution is to invest heavily on how to make organic farming as efficient if not more efficient then modern day farming practices. That being said large scale farming, not matter how you do it poses many problems such as contaminated run off. Organic fertilizer in your tap water in some cases can kill you a lot faster then chemical fertilizer.

Apr. 09 2008 12:45 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

I get a pound of whole-wheat pasta at Trader Joe's for around $1.30. A can of diced tomatoes costs around $1.70. A bag of frozen spinach costs around $1.30. Adding some fresh garlic, a little chopped red pepper and I'm able to make, at least, two dinners for my partner and I at $2.50 for each sit down. For desert, we have fresh fruit. So make that $3.00 a dinner for two people.
It is not hard at all to eat healthy and cheaply.

Apr. 09 2008 12:25 PM

Jon, Robert, in all the reading I've been doing, it seems like there are steps you can take immediately that don't necessarily involve spending $4 on a tomato.

Obviously, if you're eating any produce (organic or otherwise), it's still better than eating a premade meal in a box filled with Monsanto's Frankencorn products. As far as avoiding cheap animal products containing cheap corn, that's a tough one. In my neighborhood I have access to inexpensive foreign cheeses (all of which, to me, seem a safer bet unless you're going for organic local choices). Meat is probably best regarded as a treat, as opposed to a 3-times-daily choice.

In any case, you also need to consider that organic foods are probably closer to what food is actually "worth." I know this is rough for low income people, and agree that we really need a comprehensive guide to what those of us either temporarily or permanently on a fixed income can do to avoid as much of this poison on a budget. One major step you can take is just to avoid everything with high-fructose corn syrup.

It's not elitist to educate, but it would be if you expect everyone to switch to every organic alternative. Unfortunately, one employee of Monsanto was quoted saying something to the effect of "let's wait and see" when another inquired about the effect of genetically modified produce on children. Basically your kids are guinea pigs.

Apr. 09 2008 12:11 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

Absolutely Robert… I grew up in a lower middle class house with no help from the Government. If my mom had to buy $4 tomatoes, we would not have had tomatoes on the dinner table. Not because my mom didn’t love me or care about me but because she also had to worry about paying for all the other food on the table plus the mortgage, the water bill, the electricity bill, gas bill, car repair, etc, etc…

Apr. 09 2008 12:09 PM
Not Relevant from NYC

East Harlem has a green food market at 100 & Madison in front of the housing projects. It's a new market.

Apr. 09 2008 11:58 AM
DP from Crooklyn

this subject deserves more time and attention

Apr. 09 2008 11:57 AM
Laurie from Manhattan

Please announce a free film fest on this issue.
April 12 in Harlem, April 19 at Cooper union. Details at

Apr. 09 2008 11:57 AM

Currently the food in US might be crappy and cheap at the counter but in reality the richer (tax paying only) are at least subsidizing the poorer (welfare/subsidized citizens/poverty-wages).

Paying in effect a VAT would open the poorest to free market prices.

This is happening w Tortilla riots, even gas/petrol in China etc. where govt. had been shielding the poor from real prices.

Apr. 09 2008 11:57 AM
Robert from NYC

That all sounds good for her to rationalize the outrageous (sometimes) prices of "local food" but has it occurred to her that some people just can't pay those prices, e.g., $20 and even more/ lb for some meat? Yes, a little more but some of the prices I see in the Farmers' Markets I can't pay for a one day meal. It comes out to paying almost the amount to eat out for the night. Pay a FAIR wage, get it, FAIR.

Apr. 09 2008 11:55 AM
AWM from UWS


Where is the perspective here?

The poorest around the world will starve but at least we won't be as fat and sick when we stuff our faces with our countless choices of "food".

I have a great idea... a consumption exchange program. If you can't control yourself and you diet you go to the third world and we'll accept a starving child in your place.

Apr. 09 2008 11:53 AM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

I can’t afford $4 tomatoes and high priced “all natural food” and I can’t afford to drive around in a Land Rover. Could you please ask your guests where I can get healthy food at common man prices and not Bread and Circes prices?

Apr. 09 2008 11:53 AM
hjs from 11211

this segment should have been given more time

Apr. 09 2008 11:52 AM

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