Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why are Unhealthy Foods So Cheap?

If you haven't caught on yet, I am not very fond of processed foods and grains.  Processed foods are edible substances that required some sort of manufacturing.  Parts of the harvested food is typically taken away and unnatural chemicals are added for coloring, flavoring, nutritional fortification, or for preservation.  Despite what a lot of people say, this food like stuff is not at all healthy.  I would guess that 80% of the items in your average supermarket are manufactured food like substances.  Most of these items contain some sort of grain, including the meats that are fed grains.  Grains are cheap but why?  

One word, SUBSIDIES.  Subsidies are monies given to qualified farmers if they grow certain products.  Below is a top 20 list of the 2009 United States Department of Agriculture Subsidies:

(click for top recipients, payment concentration and regional rankings)
Number of Recipients
Subsidy Total
1Corn Subsidies**8,631**$3,975,606,299
2Cotton Subsidies**118,449**$2,270,123,381
3Wheat Subsidies**10,763**$2,232,477,345
4Conservation Reserve Program448,132$1,866,558,139
5Soybean Subsidies**5,042**$1,727,643,051
6Dairy Program Subsidies50,848**$1,148,283,594
7Rice Subsidies**611**$434,103,182
8Sorghum Subsidies**2,922**$270,141,110
9Disaster Payments37,997$243,838,571
10Tobacco Subsidies59,575**$202,918,426
11Livestock Subsidies24,994**$168,328,882
12Barley Subsidies**4,032**$107,689,567
13Peanut Subsidies**1,903**$101,808,869
14Sunflower Subsidies**231**$54,406,960
15Canola Subsidies**30**$21,807,319
17Oat Subsidies**1,478**$8,481,591
18Wool Subsidies9,526**$6,493,338
19Flax Subsidies**22**$5,519,682
20Safflower Subsidies**107**$2,103,872

That is the amount our government gives to farmers of various products.  Of the 14 edible items on this list, 8 of them are grains.  By giving farmers subsidies to grow crops, this will  drive the cost of base material down for the food manufacturers.  This subsidizing means cheap food like items end up on the grocery store shelf for consumers to buy and then eat.

Grain subsidies total $8.5 billion while livestock (animal based foods) farmers received just $168 million from our government.  That is 50 times more money going to grains than go to livestock farming.  Hell, tobacco got more money than livestock.  Is tobacco better for Americans than meat that makes us smart and doesn't cause heart disease?  Do you see any fruits or vegetables on that list?  Is tobacco better for us than fruits and veggies??? 

Weight control problems in our country are at an all time high with 68% of Americans being classified as overweight or obese.  Here is a quote from that report:
"There is a very strong correlation between adult obesity rates and socioeconomic status. Among individuals earning less than $15,000 per year, 35.3 percent were obese compared to 24.5 percentof adults earning $50,000 or more per year."
We know that carbohydrates make us fat and grains are the greatest source of carbohydrate in the Standard American Diet (SAD).  Based on the fact that the majority of our subsidies go to grains and the fact that the lower the income the greater the chance of being obese, wouldn't people in power stop and think that maybe the poor are consuming what they can afford, cheap grain foods?  

Besides handing out subsidies, the USDA also makes the dietary recommendations for our country.  In 2005, they recommended that Americans should eat more and a greater variety of fruits and vegetables. Why didn't this governing body then subsidize the heck out of fruits and vegetables to make them more affordable and accessible?  This would be the perfect example of put your money where your mouth is. (pun intended)

So unhealthy food is cheap because our government pays the farmers to grow it.  This same food is then consumed in high quantities because of it's ease of access.  As a result, our country continues to get fatter and sicker.  When will these people look at the facts and realize they continue to make the problem worse?  Why not subsidize real foods like naturally raised fruits, vegetables, and livestock?

In the meantime, please do not get your dietary advice from these myopic bureaucrats.  If more people choose real foods, the prices will come down with or without their subsidies.



Anonymous said...

But Michelle Obama is going to solve the obesity crisis by telling kids to get up and move. Please. Maybe she should use some of her sway and get Barrak to do something about the subsidies.

Karen Clementi said...

Or do away with subsidies all together and let the system become self correcting.
I really like your summary. I linked to you on my blog.

Chuck said...


Glad you liked it and thx for the link. I like the idea of no subsidies. Maybe more people would seek out higher quality food direct from the farmers.

Wildcat said...

AAAaaarrrrgggghhhh!! Okay, math may be off but this seems like roughly 15 BILLION dollars!! Holy smokes, Batman. Can this be correct? One problem I forsee with subsidizing organic, pasture raised meat is that, after seeing photos of feed lots, I'm not sure there is enough good pasture land in America to raise all the meat we consume. Perhaps we should cut back some? I know, American =/ (doesn't equall) conservative. Maybe we need a new philosophy?

As for the tobacco subsidies: I have a friend who used to have a horse farm in Tennessee. He said that there are lands (farms-mostly personal horse farms) there which receive payments to NOT grow tobacco. These payments are attached to the land, so a new owner moves to the property and they get paid to not grow tobacco. Really out-dated, but I can see where the good idea was. Hopefully these are the tobacco subsidies.

BTY, got here via Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Chuck said...

You know I have heard of farmers being paid not to grow things. Funny the example was a horse farm. I was just telling someone how they were a big waste of money. I wonder if some of these huge grain farms were converted to pasture if that could sustain the demand? Betcha
Joe Salatan might have an opinion.

healy said...

good article nonetheless. .it's worth to read.

Raine Saunders said...

CP, I like the point made about subsidies and that grains and tobacco get more than fruits, vegetables, and meats. It's not surprising, but it definitely makes you begin to understand why we have such a terrible health epidemic in this country. Great article, keep spreading the word about this important topic. Here is an article I wrote about this topic - Is Cheap Food Really Cheap? The Hidden Costs of Industrial Food...

Marty said...

I would be interested to see how much of these subsidies go to TRUE family farms (that all politicians speak of when talking about farmers) and how much goes to the huge corporate farming entities like ADM....and then follow the campaign contributions. Same things with the Dairy Association - just follow the money. Just think how much money it must cost to run the "got milk" campaign to place all the ads and pay very famous/rich people enough to agree to pose with a ridiculous milk mustache. They must be rolling in the dough - helped by these subsidies.