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We All Need To Eat Better.

We all need to eat better, but the truth is there aren’t enough fruits and vegetables grown in America to make it possible. The U.S. food supply contains less than 60 percent of the vegetables required to meet recommended daily allowances, and less than half of the fruit. To change that, the U.S. would need to more than double the acreage devoted to fruit and vegetable crops.

The bulk of food costs are tied to transportation, processing, and marketing a full 84 percent. A very small portion goes to farm labor. The bulk of food costs are tied to transportation, processing, and marketing a full 84 percent. A very small portion goes to farm labor.

Poor and working class families spend a much larger share of their paychecks on food than the affluent. In 2010, households earning from $5,000 to $35,000 a year spent 16 to 35 percent of their income on food, whereas those earning $70,000 a year or more spent 8 percent. Imagine spending a third of your income on food! Our current food system makes eating healthy very difficult for a lot of Americans.

All over our country, but especially in urban areas, there are communities where the primary grocery options are in liquor stores and convenience stores. Produce, if it’s offered, is often past its prime. People living in these “food deserts” spend a great deal of non-work time driving; (and gas is not cheap) to get to a supermarket. It’s hard to believe if you live in an area where there are plenty of grocery stores that there are communities where they don’t exist. But it’s true.

Food companies don’t want you to know it, but most of the convenience they’re selling us is an illusion, a study of dual income families’ cooking habits found that those who use convenience foods don’t save any time on meal prep. But what really shocked me was the price comparison. Making Hamburger Helper from scratch saves 69 percent off the cost of the box, and 42 percent on the overall price of the meal.

Farms in the Midwest are primarily dedicated to growing commodity crops like rice, wheat, soy, cotton, and corn. In 2008 we spent 42 percent of the nation’s farm subsidies on these crops (used primarily for sweeteners, fuel, animal feed, and grain) and just 5 percent on fruits and vegetables. Our fresh produce is grown largely in California or overseas.

Farming has become an industrialized process, and most communities are fed by a shrinking number of very large farms, rather than a vast network of small, independent ones. Today, 6 percent of farms, at an average size of more than 2,200 acres, generate 75 percent of farm sales, making the 2010s an era of unparalleled economic concentration in agriculture. The vast scale of these farms is no accident: As supermarket chains consolidated in the 1990s, creating huge demand centered at one company, farmers had to get big, too. After all, a chain of 200 stores doesn’t need just one pick-up full of green peppers, but several semi-trucks’ worth. And those who couldn’t get big simply had to get out. So much for small farms being the back bone of our nation.

Walmart got to be our country’s largest grocer by leveraging massive quantities of scale, but here’s the thing: those economies require industrial food, boxed stuff that can sit around without going bad. Healthy food like produce can't be made as cheap. And though one in four American dollars spent on produce is at Walmart, it’s not the cheapest place for it. Produce at a local supermarket is cheaper by 8 percent, and the meat cheaper by 17 percent on average. Walmart may draw you in with deals on the processed stuff but these are called loss leaders, but as soon as you start putting the fresh stuff in your cart, you may actually end up spending more.

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