Where’s the food without the farmers?
That question was the slogan for Kimball’s 92nd annual Farmers’ Day celebration on Saturday. It’s a good question.
Only about one percent of Americans are farmers or ranchers, yet as a nation we enjoy the easiest access to the world’s safest, most nutritious, and least expensive food. We all know that if we want food, it’s as close as the grocery store. That being the case, few Americans spend time worrying about their food, despite a good deal of overblown and sensationalized reporting.
Since American consumers don’t spend much time worrying about the availability, safety, nutrition or price of food, what do they think about at shopping time?
When it comes to food, these are the most common criteria consumers use to make purchasing decisions:
Quality. When it comes to fresh meat and produce, consumers use their senses. What looks the best? What feels and smells the best?
Nutrition. Which foods provide the best nutrition?
Price. What is the highest quality food I can afford on my budget?
Source. Which foods are labeled organic, natural, local, etc.? Which are name brand? Which are generic?
Safety. Which foods are the most safe? Have there been recent recalls for contamination? Which foods are “non-GMO” or “antibiotic-free”?
Taste. What foods do I like best? Which foods taste the best to me and my family?
Most consumers don’t uniformly rank these criteria, rather, they use a combination of all criteria when making their purchasing decisions. At the end of the day, they are, unsurprisingly, looking for the biggest bang for the buck. A combination of the best quantity, quality, nutrition, safety and taste for the least amount of their hard-earned dollars.
It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that despite a lot of media misinformation about food, Americans continue to enjoy access to the highest quality, most nutritious, and safest food available on the planet. And wonder of wonders, Americans pay less for their food than consumers in any other industrialized country.
So “best,” as it turns out, is most often a compromise. Consumers purchase the best overall quality they can afford.
And here is where a lot of confusion comes in. Many consumers would like to be able to afford the most expensive foods available based on the assumption that the higher the price the higher the quality. That’s a common and generally reasonable assumption to make, but as it turns out, there’s seldom a direct correlation between cost and quality.
As an example, foods labeled organic, natural, antibiotic-free, and non-GMO are generally more expensive. This is in part due to the increased costs of producing such foods, and in part due to consumer demand. Everyone “knows” that such foods are better, right? They are safer, more nutritious, and tastier than “regular” food, right?
Well, as it turns out, this just isn’t so. Any number of peer-reviewed studies, including many conducted by the FDA, CDC, USDA, and similar agencies around the globe have found no nutritive difference between organic and non-organic foods. Likewise, there is no nutritive difference between foods labeled “natural” and those not so labeled.
While many studies speculate about the potential of health or other problems resulting from the use of GMO foods or antibiotic use in food animals, these remain speculation. To date there is no credible evidence of a single human health issue caused by these foods or procedures.
These are facts you can share with your non-agricultural fellows.
Now it’s time to look at taste. Many consumers believe that organic, natural, and/or locally sourced foods taste better than foods which are not labeled organic or natural or come to the supermarket through the usual food supply chain. In some cases this is correct, particularly when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables. Who, for instance, doesn’t rave about the flavor of a fresh garden tomato or an apple plucked directly from the tree?
On the other hand, the cost of these specialty foods can be quite prohibitive. So is there no hope for the non-wealthy consumer? Are millions of Americans destined to never taste good food?
The proof is in the taste test. If you’d like to try it for yourself, do your own side-by-side test and directly compare common supermarket ingredients with ingredients labeled organic, natural or local. Then compare. It’s that simple. Perhaps you can invite some of your non-agricultural friends to join in.
You might all be surprised at the