07 March 2013

Is It Just Me? Organic Food?

by Dr Mark Keown

At the local supermarket the other day I was taken by the cost of organic food. The “ordinary” carrots were $1.69 per kg, while the organic ones were $4.34 per kg. That’s two and half times the price! This annoyed me and set me thinking.

The first question I have is this, is it really justified? If you Google, “why is organic food more expensive?” you get a whole range of answers mainly due to supply and production costs. I suppose that is fair enough. But the problem is that it means organic food is an elitist food which only those who actually have the choice can buy. With the growing disparity between the rich and poor and the cost of living for those at the bottom end, they will never get to eat it. These of course are also the people who need it most, for it is from the poorer end of the spectrum that we find the greatest need for such foods to improve health. There is an irony here too, as often the people who care about organic food are “green-minded” and concerned for social justice. Yet the food they endorse is elitist and out of reach of the poor.

The second question is whether it is worth it anyway, is it better for you? A bit of a search found that there is no conclusive evidence that organic food is healthier for people (e.g. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9517246/Organic-food-is-not-healthier.html). I wonder if the whole thing is not dissimilar to drinking bottled water as opposed to water from the tap. What matters more is that people eat regular amounts of fruit and vegetables, and ideally this food is fresh. Organic food, however, without the use of pesticides and chemicals is likely better for the environment, which is a good thing.

The third question I have is this. Why is everything good for you so expensive and what is not so good for you so cheap? Why is fizz cheaper than milk? Why is organic so much more expensive than non-organic? Why is junk food so much more expensive than the better quality stuff? Why is fish, so full of Omega 3 and other things so expensive? People eat fatty mince and sausages with the thought of snapper a distant dream. We live in a bizarre world! The rich don’t only get richer, they get healthier – the poor get poorer and sicker and die younger. It is another example of the marginalisation or our underclass. I don’t like too much government intervention, we have far too much of it already in the wrong places. However, I would think that there are some things that a government has to do. One is to legislate to bring up the quality of life for the marginalised where food is concerned. One way to do it would be to ransack the taxation and subsidisation laws around food so that those at the bottom can go to the local supermarket and eat healthy cheaper than eating rubbish. When are we going to get a party who takes this seriously enough to actually do something about it? What can churches do to help people eat well? Community gardens? What else?

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