Allotment Vegetable Growing
Friday 24 May 2013
Allotment Articles - Allotment Gardening
The True Cost of Food
No one who grows vegetables will dispute that a lot of work goes into producing food. Just producing a crop of potatoes involves digging over the land, fertilising, planting, earthing up and then harvesting. All to watch a portion being munched by slugs, various worms and then blight hitting the haulm and possibly getting the lot.
At the same time, household expenditure in the UK on food has fallen relative to income since the second world war.
But what is the true cost of this food?
So what? You may ask.
My conclusion from the above is that a significant proportion of the reduction in the cost of food has been achieved by exploitation of workers and exploitation of a system that ignores the actual cost to the environment – some of which is reflected in the costs we all pay for cleaning our water supply.
It doesn't stop there.
One point I have not addressed is the effects of this factory farming culture on livestock. The cruelty of battery chickens and intensive rearing of other farm animals is being reduced due to vocal advocates of animal rights and the sympathy of the consuming public. Nevertheless, it still continues.
The danger of this is not just to the animals. The development of bird flu (that may transmit to man) and the effect of routine applications of antibiotics that can cause the development of resistant bugs, present clear dangers to people generally.
At the same time as we have pushed the monetary cost of our food down, we have seen the time cost reduce. Peeling potatoes, chopping beans and shelling peas became a thing of the past for many people with the development of frozen foods. Then, of course, the search for ‘added value’ – or increased profit – results in the ready meal.
Why cook? You can sit on your couch and watch famous chefs create fantastic dishes whilst eating your healthy option, cook in 3 minutes in the microwave meal, with an extra portion of micro-chips.
Headlines about obesity, heart disease and cancer abound. They are even suggesting the average lifespan will drop – our kids will not live to be as old as us. The epidemic in asthma may, IMHO, be related to the increase in chemical usage. Looking at some statistics gives a very strange view.
Lets compare household food consumption between 1974 and 2000:
The decrease in fresh potatoes and vegetables is hardly compensated by the small increase in fresh fruit.
In fact, the consumption of potatoes and vegetables – both fresh and processed - has fallen from 1974 total of 2548 to 1986 a fall of 22%.
So, we are eating less fats, sugars etc but becoming a country full of obese people. I wonder how much we can blame it on fast food outlets, one large Big Mac Meal with normal cola contains 1,131 ckal. As a nation we eat more fast foods now than any time in the past. The obesity ‘epidemic’ seems to coincide with this increase.
Nutrition and the Energy Balance
Looking at the figures for nutritional value of household foods could cast some light on the subject.
Now I am pretty sure we are drinking more soft and alcoholic drinks and eating more confectionery than in 1940 but our household gross calorific intake seems to have fallen consistently.
Maybe those fast food lunches, chocolate bar with afternoon break and glasses of cola (at around 100 kcal per glass) are having an effect. Otherwise we would all be starving as the energy input is below that required to maintain weight.
Another factor is the balance between energy in and out causing the problem. As time moves on we have less manual labour so need less calories but although our calorie consumption may have fallen – has it fallen enough?
One thing about an allotment is that it will increase the amount of manual labour undertaken and so may help to reduce obesity by improving the energy balance.
Taking a look at vitamin consumption is also interesting
Now possibly we do not need the same amounts of calcium as we used to but there has been a huge drop in vitamin A over the last 50 years (78%), Iron (26%) and vitamin D (23%) and a 20% drop in Beta-Carotene over the last 30 years.
Beta Carotene is also know as pro vitamin A because it is one of the most important precursors of vitamin A in the human diet. Vitamin A is known to be necessary for good vision and may well have an effect in the prevention of cancer.
How much is compensated for by fast food consumption is unknown. We do know the best source for many vitamins is fresh vegetables and fruit.
The true cost of food is far higher than the price we pay in the shops. Farmers have been pushed to provide standardised products at low prices, the environmental cost of excess nitrogen runoff, pesticide and herbicide pollution is not directly related.
Processed and fast foods have being instrumental in a reduction of health, the cost of curing these illnesses caused by bad nutrition is not factored into the price we pay.
The suffering of badly kept livestock is incalculable and the dangers of diseases such as bird flues promoted by dense stocking and antibiotic resistant bacterial infections due to routine use of antibiotics in animal husbandry is not calculable – except when we may lose our lives.
An increase in cost to reflect the calculable indirect costs would prove a greater burden on the poor than the rich, which seems inequitable. But basic education in nutrition and cooking would enable the production of good quality food from fresh ingredients by all sectors of society. Perhaps even adding school gardens, especially vegetables and fruit would develop skills in children that a generation has mainly lost.
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