Food distribution inequitablePublished 10:20am Friday, April 18, 2014
American agri-business is the most successful model for the efficient growth of food in the history of the planet.
But the distribution system, in part based upon capitalism, is among the worst of any system in use.
Ideally in a capitalist system food is grown by farmers who exchange their crops for dollars. Workers earn dollars with their labor or ingenuity and use those dollars to purchase food from stores operated at a profit.
Competition determines prices and weather determines abundance, shortages and availability.
That is how the capitalist form of food production would work, were it actually in place.
In America, though, not everyone can afford or access enough food, or afford healthy food. According to a new report by Feeding America, a hunger-relief charity using data collected from a 2012 federal survey of 44,000 households, 49 million Americans are “food insecure.”
Food insecurity is defined as people who report they sometimes eat less than their needs, go hungry, or eat less nutritious meals that are less expensive than healthy, fresh foods.
Of those in this group approximately 10 million of working poor whose earnings do not cover the costs of food, child care and shelter.
Another 17 million are children. The balance of food insecure Americans are people facing transitions in employment, the long-term disabled, those with mental health issues and those who have not had a history of continuous employment.
The social safety net offers some protection for the hungry through school free breakfasts and lunches, SNAP (food stamps) and local food banks subsidized by the state and federal government. These services are complemented by private charities and individuals who attend to those in need.
But in spite of all of these resources, the number of hungry in the most food rich nation in history numbers nearly one-sixth of the population of the United States.
The problem lies in the distribution system.
Capitalism requires waste. Some crops, about 7 percent annually, are never harvested because by the time the crop matures the market prices for the crop will not cover the cost of harvesting.
Some crops are never grown on productive farmland because farmers opt to participate in the 1985 Food Security Act which pays $50 per acre to not grow certain crops. Large industrial farms receive about 75 percent of these subsidies while 62 percent of farmers never receive any subsidy.
In our supermarkets there is daily waste in the distribution system. Rotisserie chickens are often discarded after a few hours of availability. Fresh foods are forbidden for employee consumption and are securely tossed at the end of the day. Meats and cheeses are often removed and destroyed prior to “use by” dates to present the appearance of always fresh products.
Perhaps most damaging in the distribution system is the confluence of government and business resulting in subsidies in certain crop segments like corn. In the U.S. about 50 percent of the annual corn crop goes to oil companies that create ethanol fuel, all of it supported by subsidies to those industries.
Subsidies also cost consumers when protecting industries like sugar that would otherwise be non competitive without interference in the capitalist model.
Finally, food is a global commodity sold on international markets, traded as commodities in financial markets and created not with the intention of feeding people, but with the goal of earning profit.
As a result, hunger is irrelevant to the criteria that define success in food production. It is not irrelevant to families who can barely scratch by on their means to access food for today and tomorrow.
Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.