Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Brief Discussion Of Food And Income.

Fair Food Fight, a food activist blog has recently caught my attention.  They mean well, I'm sure, but the premise of many of their arguments is flawed.

The reason for their flaws seems to be that they need their ideas to always prevail while making sure certain people are always seen , not just as in the wrong, but part of a concerted effort do some harm.

So the food companies(corporations), ag companies(corporations), the products they sell, and even the government are all part of the problem in their eyes.  This leaves little room for facts, which they didn't consider when they formed their ideology.

What follows is a comment I left on their blog, The Devaluation of Food, Farms and Our Future.  The blog touched on other things, but I took plenty of room just responding to their call to make food a higher percentage of our income.  Enjoy.

If you look at the history of agricultural and economic development, the percentage spent on food is a fairly accurate indicator of wealth in a country.

It starts at 100% or very close to it, where nearly everyone is subsistence level farmers.  People were very poor because all of their money went to buying food.  They were the ultimate locavores... except they were perpetually starving.  The food they grew was barely enough to keep them going and that was before they had to sell some for money to buy other things. 

So that extreme doesn't work.  People can't go pursue other interest, because their labor is needed on the farm.  Speaking of which, we needed to have a lot of kids because we needed the labor.

Saying that we need to spend more on food, doesn't necessarily mean that we'll go backwards as a nation, but it also doesn't mean we'll all weigh less.  It's a flawed premise, assuming it's the cheap cost of food that makes people heavy.  Over-consumption of calories is what makes people obese.  We over-consume because food is much easier to find, ready to eat, and because we are too poor to be secure in our food choices. 

As humans, we have ALWAYS eaten whatever we could find.  Until recently, we couldn't eat enough, because we could never find enough food.  So the real problem is discipline and restraint, a concept which humans are relatively new to.

You can craft a caloric budget that allows for the foods you want along with exercise to help keep the balance.  You can do this with the prices of food now and especially if food is even cheaper.

I think the proper way to look at this is to say that people don't make enough money.  When we live paycheck to paycheck, you are never completely sure you'll have enough to eat in the future or have the money to buy the food(as cheap as it is).  So what we do is search for the best values for our money to stretch our dollars.

So if your theory is correct then paying more for that food will make people buy less of it, but that ignores thousands of years of human instincts.  More likely, we'd just spend the extra money and seek out more calorically dense foods, rather than more nutritionally dense foods.  When I have lot's of money, I am not so concerned with getting enough to eat.  I can eat a light meal, knowing that more is available later.  But as a poor person, which I most certainly am, I am much more likely to go to a buffet and consume larger meals. 

So that's it.  I was searching for specific ag econ graphs showing caloric consumption over the years as well as Engel Curves showing income vs food expenditures, but I got bored.  Link this blog, and follow me on twitter @samvance  If you already follow me, get someone else to.


  1. Just like anything, one must consider the source of an article when reading. I read FFF often and enjoy most the post's that I find there.

  2. I consider the science more than I consider the source, although I do check to see if the person has expertise in the pertinent field. If the science is right, it doesn't matter who's saying it.


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