Eating those externalities

Food in America is too cheap. It’s really hard to get people to grasp that, even when they sort-of already know that a lot of the “externalities” associated with producing and selling food – the environmental damage from toxic pesticides and intensive monocropping, the energy-intensity of the cold chain and long-distance shipping, the reliance on undervalued labor all the way from field to Doordash – aren’t included the prices we pay, but have to be covered (or not) in other ways.

And of course it’s hard to defend higher prices when there are so many eaters who can’t access sufficient food even when it is cheap.

My read on the current moment of anxiety over high food prices – and by extension the entire US economy – is that more of those previously-externalized costs are starting to show up in the prices being paid by people who have been lulled over the past couple of generations into a distorted idea of what food actually costs.

Lois Beckett in The Guardian has a really thoughtful piece about the furor (and some unexpected empathy) over a $22 burrito in San Francisco. The taquería owner profiled says, “nothing has gone down to pre-Covid pricing, which is hard to understand being anything besides greed.” It is hard to understand, but it’s not just greed – it’s a whole lot of things coming home to roost, and a lot of different ways to start dealing with that.

 

4 weeks ago

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