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Aug 30, 2009 10:22 PM

LA Times anti local/slowfood/overpriced food piece

I really liked this piece, but I imagine it will irritate many fellow CHs.

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  1. She's missing the point, which to me is to eat like Waters and Pollan while paying the same or less for food than most Americans.

    Yes, I splurge sometimes on $7/pint ice cream, but most weeks I spend less on local, farmers' market products than my friends spend buying overpriced flavorless produce and fruit from Safeway, and stocking their pantries with the latest boxed convenience foods (which you can eat and eat and eat and never get full on).

    At least in San Francisco, it's easier to get a week's worth of produce for under $10 shopping smartly at a farmers' market than at Safeway or even Walmart. And then your money is going to help a small farmer survive the recession. So even without going into the details of why one way of life is smarter than another in the long term, eating locally can be very wallet friendly. For example, how often do you see any of these prices at a big box store? Bear in mind that all these products tend to be organic, fresher, and last longer once you take them home, in addition to being cheap to begin with.

    4 lbs eggplants for $1
    all kinds of tomatoes for $1/lb (cherry, early girl, heirlooms...some were even 75cents)
    large bunches of vegetables $1/lb
    organic butter lettuce, $1 head
    Gravenstein apples 50 cents a pound
    carrots $1 bag
    2 lbs varied squash $1 a bag
    2 1/2 dozen eggs $3
    $1 for huge bundles of any herb (basil, mint, sage, rosemary, dill, parsley, tarragon, etc). HUGE, at least two or three times a standard supermarket bundle (and six or seven of those ridiculous plastic boxed herbs they sell)
    $5 for 4 lbs grapes
    whole stewing chicken $5, a meatier one for $6.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Pei

      Just try finding prices anywhere near that level at farmers markets in the Los Angeles area. You'll come away with sticker shock!

      1. re: Sam D.

        Try finding year-round decent farmer markets in south Florida without driving 45 minutes to get there. That defeats the purpose of "local" I would think.

        The article and the people it criticizes are both extreme. IMO, there should be a happy medium. Shop cheap when you can, shop local when you can. In SoFla our farmer markets magically reappear everywhere during season (October-May). I'll shop there when they decide to show up again. They need to put forth a little effort too! ;)

        Kidding, don't flame that one.

        1. re: OysterHo

          I don't think we have many year round markets in west central Florida. Any I've seen are open Oct/Nov-May, and with urban sprawl the way it is, most people probably have to drive 30-45 minutes to reach the farmer markets we do have.

          I think I agree with the author. Locavore proponents always mention how much less we spend on food than in the past, but we also spend much more on healthcare, college education, and other things that aren't all that discretionary.

      2. re: Pei

        The prices you list do not reflect my experience at the greenmarket AT ALL. I'm in Manhattan (which shouldn't be all that much more expensive than San Francisco). But here, it's more like:

        Eggplant: $1-$4/lb
        Tomatoes: $2-$5/lb
        Eggs: $4-$6/dozen
        Squash: $2-$4/lb

        I shop there, but with restraint.

        1. re: small h

          "I'm in Manhattan (which shouldn't be all that much more expensive than San Francisco)."

          Having shopped both, I can say both that Manhattan greenmarkets are on the whole more expensive than SF-area farmers' markets, and that many SF-area markets are more expensive than the prices Pei cites.

          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

            I don't doubt that is true. Although I am a staunch defender of the often surprising affordability of both Whole Foods and the greenmarkets, it does no one a service to exaggerate it. The only $.75/lb tomatoes I've seen in recent years (and that includes supermarkets) look like they'd been run over by a bus.

            1. re: small h

              Prices in SF are undoubtedly often higher than I'm stating, but it's summer and all the prices I posted were accurate of fresh seasonal produce in good condition at the Civic Center Wednesday market. There were plenty of expensive items too, but I'm flexible.

              And even at the higher prices, closer to what you posted, it's cheaper than the local Safeway. I agree it doesn't benefit anyone to exaggerate or post prices of farms 30 minutes away, but there are a lot of good options to big supermarkets.

              1. re: Pei

                This topic has been argued to death (here and elsewhere), so that last thing I'll say about it is that this:

                <it's cheaper than the local Safeway>

                is not even close to true, where I live. At the Union Square Greenmarket you cannot buy cheese for under $15/lb or bread for under $2.50/loaf. Those ain't Safeway prices. Also, Union Square actually *is* 30 minutes away from my home, by public transportation. Not everyone shares your good fortune with regard to living the locavorganic (made-up word) lifestyle. And that always seems to be at the core of these discussions.

                1. re: small h

                  Locavorganic--what a great word! Mind if I use it in conversation?

                  1. re: nofunlatte

                    Not at all. Just be sure to add "as small h (air quotes) calls it" and then roll your eyes. Ok?

      3. I don't care how much other people choose to spend on their food, furnishings, clothes, etc. It's when they start trying to take away my choices or make them more burdensome, that I get really annoyed.

        For the most part, I strongly agree with the article's author.

        1. Who knew that a free-market conservative would be so threatened by other people exercising choice in their purchasing?


          1. It's an opinion piece, and the author demonstrates her ignorance in many ways in it, including the ironic citation of Haagen Daaz as her favorite ice cream, which is one of the only national brands that still makes their ice cream au natural (i.e. only with cream, eggs, sugar and natural flavorings, like her precious dark chocolate).

            The issue isn't really processed foods (which are of concern on the nutrition front with the increase in obesity, etc.) but the sustainability of the kinds of agricultural practices we currently employ in the United States, and encourage elsewhere.

            Sustainability will be the main issue of the 21st century, whether you (or the author of that reactionary opinion piece) like it or not. We are running out of new frontiers to exploit without regard to the side effects. The idea that maximum yield for minimum cost, at least with regard to agriculture, is running its course, because it does not take into account the real value of inputs (mainly petroleum based) or the by-product of such practices, foremost environmental damage.

            Not even considering the issue of global warming (which is huge, consider this link: , very well respected scholars predict that there will be worldwide collapse of fisheries in the next 40 years ( ) , food prices are going up (including for the notorious corn crop, which when it was cheap found its way into almost everything we consume) along with environmental degradation caused by over-reliance on petroleum-based inputs in all of our commercial agricultural crops. Environmental damage from agriculture can be seen annually in the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico ( ). Pollution from factory livestock farming is an issue all its own ( ).

            Water shortages are happening in many parts of the country, , with one of the primary blames being unwise agricultural practices.

            What is happening now is that we are importing our unsustainable agricultural practices to other countries, to feed a demand for cheap food that seriously is out of step with reality. In the area of economics, what it comes down to is that our food production practices do not include the cost of the externalities they generate. Externalities such as the agricultural runoff that causes the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, or the waste produced by farmed salmon which is threatening the very existence of wild salmon species. The idea of sustainability in agricultural practices will cause food prices to go up, but only because it will force the commercial agriculture industry to address its own waste, which up until now has been freely foisted upon the rest of us to deal with.

            If you ever were taught by your parents to be wary of a cheap price on something, because it was "too good to be true," that is the principle that is coming into play today with commercial ag practices. Cheap food is too good to be true, or viable. We are all paying the price for it, from increases in food safety scares to environmental degradation.

            I would recommend that you do a little bit more reading and investigation on this issue before you get behind an opinion piece like that.

            1. The author of the article is very melodramatic and throwing out numbers without looking at the whole picture is disingenuous.

              For example, "... Americans today spend "40% less on clothes, 20% less on food, more than 50% less on appliances, about 25% less on owning and maintaining a car" than they did during the early 1970s. Over that same period, Census Bureau tables show, U.S. median household income rose by at least 18% in constant dollars... "

              She doesn't account for the cost of housing so you can store the cheaper car, clothes and appliances; and have a place to eat cheaper food.

              According to the US Census, the median price of a house in 2000 was $119,600 while in 1970 was $65,300 (in yr 2000 dollars)... so price of a house has gone up $54,300. That's +83%... If we include the higher income, the typical American is still paying +65% more for housing. That's a lot of clothes, appliances, food and car maintenance that can't be done.

              Also, there are many reasons why the median income rose... the most common is most households are now dual-income while back in the 1970's it was most likely a single income household.

              In regards to food, we all buy via our pocketbooks. However,the message I get from Shell, Waters and Pollan is that we should know where food, and other goods, come from and where are money is going.

              1 Reply
              1. re: dave_c

                I heard her on public radio's Talk of the Nation. Ugh. Dreadful woman. She is just plain ignorant and misses the point, and I totally agree about her recklessly throwing out numbers and anecdotes. She refuses to account for the fact that government funding subsidizes in countless ways our artificially "cheap" conventional agriculture, in everything from research to toxic cleanup.

                Here in Portland I pay supermarket prices at our farmers' markets, and get food that is many times superior in freshness and quality than at Safeway.