The $9 organic burger at Farm Aid

I am old enough to recall the '80s rather clearly (and, isn't it a bit scary how '80s fashion like humongous oversized sweaters seem to be making a comeback now? What's next, the return of footballer-sized Dynasty shoulder pads?), so I remember when the first Farm Aid concert took place. At that time, family farms in the U.S. were in dire straights, so a bunch of musical artists, inspired by the massive Live Aid concert, got together to raise money and awareness for the plight of the American farmer.

Fast forward to 2006, and Farm Aid benefit concert - or to give it its full official name, Farm Aid '06 presented by Silk Soymilk - is still on. This time though, their emphasis has shifted to forward the "Good Food = family farms" (my capitalization) equation. As this Associated Press article states:

With that farm crisis passed, the organization is mostly concerned now with connecting farmers and consumers. Musicians talked as much Saturday about getting kids to eat fresh food as they did about keeping farms commercially viable.

The line from the report that struck me the most is this one, describing the food available at the venue:

Others downed organic beer, pork sandwiches from a Missouri family's hog farm, soy milk and $9 organic hamburgers.

Granted that food at venues like concerts can be eye-poppingly expensive, but serving $9 burgers at what I presume to be an event aimed at middle-class and working-class families, that's pretty outrageous.

Unless you live in an agricultural area (like California), the majority of the farms local to you are going to be small operations. Producing almost anything on a small scale is usually more costly than producing things on a large scale, and those costs are passed down to the consumer. I don't think this issue has been really covered much in most food-related main stream media or blogs. After all, the vast majority of food blogs are written by fairly well heeled middle-class or thereabouts people, and food media is aimed at that demographic.

When you can afford to eat out regularly at expensive restaurants and buy luxury food items without worrying, a $9 burger is no big deal. Neither is a 'local-organic' tomato that costs twice what a tomato costs in the supermarket. When you are barely making ends meet, and have a family to feed, those things are out of the question. A lot of people face this dilemma. So at the moment it can very hard to eat cheaply yet eat local, or organically for that matter. Does this mean then the the poorer you are, the poorer your diet? The current state of affairs seems to point in this way, and I fear that the food-class gap may grow wider for some time.

I think the biggest problem is going to be some food producers taking advantage of the whole 'Good Food' trend and marking up the prices for the 'Good Food'. You see this happening already. When "organic" and "locally produced" become associated with being well-heeled, that's really disturbing. I think that I prefer the association this kind of eating had with 'hippies', circa 1970s, more than this.

Filed under:  essays ethics

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hi maki! that's so funny, those were two of the topics of discussion this morning. i just bought an outfit that in retrospect has a very fun boy three/bananarama quality about it (big sweater, velveteen cropped trousers); i was thinking about returning it as i'm fairly sure i still have this outfit from the eighties. but then again, maybe i can pull out my big brooches, neon plastic earrings, and rubber bangles and start using them again.

the other thing was that we just received a lovely parcel of wild rice grown in the rice paddies of a family friend in zamboanga, in the southern philippines. it is truly exquisite, very fragrant and delicate--i think if this quality of rice was for sale in the western world, it would command top dollar. the ironic thing is that while the family is quite comfortable, by non-third world standards, they'd be considered impoverished. they grow the rice because they can't afford to buy it, and they do it organically because it's cheaper to use natural means of pest elimination than use chemicals.

I'm new to the food blogging world but this is actually the issue that inspired me to start one. I'm American but live in the UK so my blog is focusing on the British organic scene, but it's the same problem: organic food is almost exclusively marketed to the middle and upper classes. Let's hope we see this become an issue in the food community.

santos, one argument I see quite a lot is that organic farming is more expensive than conventional farming. I think that this is a bit misleading - switching over from conventional to organic can be expensive, and probably one reason why a lot of existing farms are reluctant to do so. (and that rice sounds wonderful...drool)

Caryn that sounds like a great topic for a food blog! I've also put you in my expat food blogger list. Good luck!