This is what -15 degrees looks like from inside the RV (actually not that bad, right?)
As I was writing my post about making your own organic latex mattress, I was reminded of a story that I wanted to share with you…
The story is quick, but I think it clearly explains why our health – as a global community – is suffering.
At times, while we were on the road, we’d spend the night in a Walmart parking lot.
Most Walmarts allow you park your RV and spend a night or two in the back of their lot without hassle.
The only time staying over is an issue is if they need to clear the lot of snow (we were asked to move at 3:30 AM in Pittsburgh) or if the Walmart is in a prime location – like right by the beach or in the middle of a big city.
One night, we stopped in Laramie, Wyoming.
It was actually the first night we stopped anywhere with the RV, since we had just picked it up and were on our way back to Connecticut to pack it full of our things to hit the road.
In Laramie, it was snowing lightly, but it also was -15 degrees Fahrenheit.
You could say it was a little cold.
Once we parked the RV, we decided not to turn off the engine over night because if the diesel fuel gelled we’d end up in Laramie for days trying to heat up the fuel lines enough to get it started again – particularly if it stayed below zero.
Since it was our first night in the RV, we had no idea how cold it would be. We prepared for the worst by walking into Walmart to see if they had an extra blanket we could use just so we wouldn’t turn into icicles.
Inside, we found our blanket, and as we were checking out Annmarie and I noticed a few pallets by the entrance that we didn’t see as we were coming in.
There were three of them in a row, each stacked about my shoulder height with boxes of food.
One pallet was stacked high with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
The other Cheeze-Its.
The last, I can’t remember, but it doesn’t matter. The first two are relevant enough.
Above each pallet and mountain of boxes was a banner advertising their sale prices.
The Cheeze-Its were $0.99 for a big old box.
The Mac and Cheese even cheaper at $0.29.
I commented to Annmarie, “it’s no wonder people buy that stuff, you can’t beat the price.”
If you had $4.00 in your pocket when you walked into Walmart, had 5 people to feed and didn’t have any valid nutritional education (even if you did), what would you buy?
A head of lettuce and some apples, or a dozen or so boxes of Mac and Cheese?
The truth is, in terms of calories and staving off hunger, the Mac and Cheese makes more – short-term – sense.
In terms of calories per dollar, you can’t even buy produce for the price of these boxed “foods.”
A head of romaine lettuce (non organic) at $1.00 contains about 100-130 calories.
A box of Cheeze-Its at $0.99 contains about 1950 calories or so (150 calories per every 27 crackers for a total of about 13 servings.)
Now, you and I understand that Cheeze-Its are nutritionally weak (more like nutritionally irrelevant), but they do fill you up.
So when faced with hunger, a box of Cheeze-Its for a family who can’t afford much more, seems like a decent choice.
You can find a similar calories per dollar ratio with the Mac and Cheese.
Basically, what I’m laying out here is a truth about food that needs to change.
The junk is cheaper than the good stuff.
So the decision for a family in need to eat food (regardless if it’s healthy or not) is based on their need to survive.
This behavior isn’t limited to just people with little money. I know people with lots of money who compromise their health every day by buying food that is cheaper – just because it’s cheaper. If organic vegetables cost less, they’d buy them – but they don’t – so they stick to the cheapest food they can buy.
What this experience came down to for me (yes, I was still in the checkout line), is that people who can’t afford food need to grow their own – or at least that seemed like a good option.
When I thought about that for a bit, I saw that was a little idealistic and shortsighted as well.
It doesn’t cost much to get a garden started, but does take a little time to cultivate. I don’t have any hard numbers on this, but I wonder what the time and money spent in the garden would cost vs. the time spent at a job bringing in money to purchase food. Would there be a better return on your investment if you grew your own?
I guess it would depend on where you live, what you planted, and what type of care it needed.
So for instance if you could grow apple trees, avocados, or mangoes they might yield a ton (literally) of fruit in a season or two which would clearly justify the cost of initial planting and minimal upkeep.
Growing other fruits and vegetable, making sure the animals don’t eat them, and trial and error all cost a good deal of time and money to get right.
But this internal dialogue I was having didn’t mean anything, unless my hypothetical family lives in a place where they can plant a tree or even have room for a garden. (There are community gardens, but some have waiting lists longer than the list for Steelers football season tickets – for those of you who don’t know, that’s a long time.)
So for people in rural areas this may not be problem, but in the cities, it becomes much more difficult to manage or even find land to plant food.
You, of course, can get creative and grow things inside, but that may not yield enough and really is only a limited option to passionate health freaks like us. The majority of the people won’t do it.
So the truth is, when all is said and done in a garden, it may not be the most complete answer to help solve our food pricing dilemma. It’s a partial solution for some, a full solution for less, but definitely not a system for all.
The true solution is identifying the true cost of food and making sure good healthy food is cheaper then the junk.
Growing all that wheat to make Cheeze-Its and Kraft Mac and Cheese, producing the cheese (either on a farm or in a chemical factory) and shipping those boxes to Laramie, Wyoming probably – in real costs – is more expensive than the sticker price per box.
The reason it works is because there are subsidies, by the government, paid to the dairy and wheat industries (to the soy, corn and beef industries as well) to help pay for the real cost of making that food (or non-food.)
Back in the RV, under our new – very warm and very synthetic comforter (hey, it was the only thing they had… and, surprise, it was cheap!) – I told Annmarie that I was still thinking about a solution.
The only thing I could come up with is if the government flopped the subsidies.
So instead of subsidizing high energy dependent, low nutrient dense food like wheat and corn, the government could help defer the costs of producing nutrient dense food like spinach and other leafy greens, fruits, brown rice, lentils and more.
Lentils are cheap enough already, imagine if they were subsidized? They might be able to give them away – which would be a victory in itself.
But what would it take to reverse the government funding?
It’s about as challenging as taking away a lollipop from a baby without having it kick and scream.
The industry is so dependent on government money that it would literally fight to the death. It’s their livelihood.
Plus, it’s the livelihood of the government because the industries create jobs and workers pay taxes.
As I was dozing off to sleep, I wasn’t able to come up with a true solution. I, actually, still haven’t been able to figure out just how big of a seismic shift is needed to change the subsidies to actually make them work in a way that works for us.
I don’t even know if that is the right solution at all.
It seems to me that any change that’s needed to be made, needs to happen outside of governmental controls first. Communities need to come up with solutions for their own people, once these systems are in place, we, as a population, can pick the best and roll them out on a larger scale.
Or, just keep them in community, where food really should be grown and distributed in the first place.
Maybe that’s the large scale – on a small scale – solution that makes the most sense.
Stop everything from being so large.
That night is Laramie, Wyoming was over 2 years ago. Since then I’ve seen the inside of at least 2 dozen Walmarts. The situation is the same all across the country.
It’s the same in other countries as well.
The good food is just too expensive for people to buy.
People, as you know, vote with their wallets. If we want good food to win, we need to figure out ways to make it affordable.
I want to know your thoughts: What is your solution to food prices? Have you thought about ways to help change the food system and how food can be cheaper for those who need it most?
UPDATE: Maybe this is one way to start… check out the second video… click here!