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[lofo List] Munch on this... WANT TO FEED THE ECONOMY ? WHY NOT PAY US TO EAT LOCAL?
Munch on this...
WANT TO FEED THE ECONOMY ? WHY NOT PAY US TO EAT LOCAL?
Strange to say, but people still claim they can?t afford the switch to
healthier and more sustainable foods. Well, time to blow the cover on
that well-worn alibi.
A few weeks back, attending an academic food conference in rural
Pennsylvania, I came upon the amazing research findings of Hugh
Joseph, a food security expert at Tufts University, home of one of
North America?s leading public health schools.
Here?s his bottom line: it only costs about $10 extra a month to eat
local, sustainable food. That?s all. Considering the extensive social
and economic benefits, what a bargain.
The discovery suggests a pretty inexpensive way (compared to
bankrolling an auto behemoth into bankruptcy, for example) for
governments to support people who want to adopt a recession-fighting,
health-promoting, global-warming-averting diet.
But more about policy implications later.
Joseph makes his case with calculations from U.S. stats, but adapting
the methodology to Canada takes little more than the simple
substitution of donuts for Twinkies.
There?s a lot of American data, because government there provides
detailed costings of some 58 categories of over 4,000 foods, all the
better to make sure that publicly paid food stamps and meal subsidies
for the poor aren?t wasted the way bank and auto bailouts are.
Thus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes a Thrifty Food Plan
that identifies the cheapest foods on offer. Joseph and his students
simply tweaked it to come up with a shopping list strong in local and
sustainable as well as healthy and affordable items. They tested their
case on an ideal shopping list for a woman aged 20 to 50.
Joseph quickly found that a shopping list angled to favour local and
sustainable food choices almost inevitably steered people to foods
that ranked better for calories and nutrients.
?Eating sustainably is inherently a better diet,? he told me.
?Sustainable white bread is an oxymoron.?
Now, it?s true that Joseph didn?t exactly know that the local and
seasonal food he checked off was produced in a sustainable manner.
While Canada has an actual label run by Toronto?s own Local Food Plus,
there isn?t really a tracking process for sustainable methods in the
U.S., unlike the organic designation.
Still, more often than not, local includes a lot of what?s
sustainable, including good farming methods, high standards for
labour, humane treatment of animals, protection of woodlots, no
genetic engineering, shorter transportation hauls, etc.
Joseph?s shopping strategy was simple. He took soda pop, bottled
water, white sugar, processed desserts and snacks, white bread,
luncheon meats, TV dinners, frozen pizza, boxed cereals, unfairly
traded coffee, frozen shrimp, farmed salmon and factory-farm meats
right off the shopping list. He allowed only occasional sprees for
such items as fruit juices and prepared cereals.
Crossing off that end of the shopping list was a saving for both the
environment and the pocketbook. Staying away from fast-food meats,
candies and sweets reduces consumption of corn and soy, the main
products of genetic engineering. Avoiding frozen foods reduces the
footprint caused by packaging, transportation and continual
refrigeration, the heavy smokers from the standpoint of global warming.
I must admit to being surprised by the fuel count for prepared
cereals, which, even without boxes and travel, consume twice as much
fuel as the same amount of bread converted from from grain. Then there
are fruit juices, which heat the globe with processing heat from
pasteurization and refrigeration while gorging on transportation and
packaging energy, often for minimal nutritional benefit relative to
Cutting from the polluting end of the list also saved money that
commonly goes to unsustainable packaging, shipping, refrigerating and
branding rather than calories and nutrients. This freed money for a
mix of fresh local salad greens, seasonal fruits and maple syrup as
well as pasture-raised free-range organic eggs and chicken.
Aside from these treats, Hugh Joseph relied on what he calls a
?hugh-mane? list of staples: lots of tap water, homemade granola,
seeds, nuts, beans and root vegetables.
The final tally: it cost $152 a month for a very frugal woman to eat
according to the government?s Thrifty Food Plan. It cost an extra
$10.23 to eat local and sustainable as well as nutritious substitutes.
And this is where governments need to get into the act. A $10-a-month
per-person government incentive program to eat sustainably would pay
for itself in lower medical and pollution cleanup costs and also
support local economies. Think of a mechanism whereby local food is
indicated on supermarket bills and consumers keep their tabs to submit
at tax time for a rebate.
This isn?t too far-out, considering the massive subsidies governments
now give out, playing favourites with the producers of cheap grains
that form the basis of the junk food industry. Now, that?s a habit
there?s no excuse for.
Lori Stahlbrandt, president of Local Food Plus, is Wayne Roberts?s partner.
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