For all the grumbling you do about your weekly grocery bill, the fact is you’ve never had it so good, at least in terms of what you pay for every calorie you eat. According to the USDA, Americans spend less than 10% of their incomes on food, down from 18% in 1966. Those savings begin with the remarkable success of one crop: corn. Corn is king on the American farm, with production passing 12 billion bu. annually, up from 4 billion bu. as recently as 1970. When we eat a cheeseburger, a Chicken McNugget, or drink soda, we’re eating the corn that grows on vast, monocrop fields in Midwestern states like Iowa.
But cheap food is not free food, and corn comes with hidden costs. The crop is heavily fertilized ”” both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop ”” at least until corn ethanol skewed the market ”” artificially low. That’s why McDonald’s can sell you a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for around $5 ”” a bargain, given that the meal contains nearly 1,200 calories, more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults. “Taxpayer subsidies basically underwrite cheap grain, and that’s what the factory-farming system for meat is entirely dependent on,” says Gurian-Sherman. (See the 10 worst fast food meals.)
So what’s wrong with cheap food and cheap meat ”” especially in a world in which more than 1 billion people go hungry? A lot. For one thing, not all food is equally inexpensive; fruits and vegetables don’t receive the same price supports as grains. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit. With the backing of the government, farmers are producing more calories ”” some 500 more per person per day since the 1970s ”” but too many are unhealthy calories. Given that, it’s no surprise we’re so fat; it simply costs too much to be thin.
Our expanding girth is just one consequence of mainstream farming. Another is chemicals.
Read it all.