I think I'm a little behind on picking this one up, but my ire was triggered yesterday and it got me thinking. The place I'm working now recently moved offices to 20th and 6th ave. I was really excited about moving back to this 'hood for several reasons, all of them having to do with food. First the Union Square Farmers Market. Second, Rainbow Falafel. Third The City Bakery . Since I've been on 'the diet,' Rainbow Falafel has been a no-go. The farmers market is a thrice weekly stop. And besides the delicious tempting baked goods at City Bakery, I remembered that they had a really nice cold food/salad bar at lunch. I specifically remembered that they had a delicious baked tofu with tahini sauce, and I also remembered that it was kind of expensive, so you had to choose with care.
I went a week or so ago for lunch. I didn't feel like I got a lot of food, but right as I was closing up the box, I saw one of my favorite things: watermelon salad with mint and feta. I had to get a few (2) slices of melon with a little bit of cheese. I waltzed up to the counter, put it on the scale. "That will be $18.56 please." I'm sure I made a funny and surprised face. $18.56, for food I served myself in a box? Really? I paid and left. I was a little hurt and angry. I felt like I'd been ripped off. My food didn't taste quite as good as it should have. I blamed myself - I'd taken too much food. But I decided not to go back for awhile.
But yesterday, I broke down.
I wanted some of that tofu. I figured I would be really careful this time and not get too much food. Here's what I got: a spoon full of sauteed greens, 4 pieces of tofu with sauce, 3 (small) pieces of cilantro chicken, a spoon full of roasted cauliflower, a spoon full of roasted broccoli, two wedges of watermelon with feta. Total cost: over $15.00! It must have been the watermelon that put me over the edge.
Again, I was dismayed, but what it really got me thinking about was how expensive good food is. There's been a lot of debate lately about how 'elitist' organic and local food is, specifically against Alice Waters who is considered the 'mother' of the slow-food movement in the states. And to some extent, I have to agree with the multiple attacks against her. She does defend herself, but as a person of more than modest means, with no outdoor space, no kids, a full-time job and as someone who actually cooks at home, even I often have a hard time deciding if I should spend the extra cash on the organic version of one food or another, if I should limit myself to what's in season rather than something that looks really tasty and I'm craving, even when I'm surrounded by lots of opportunities to 'shop the right way.' So I can't imagine how difficult it would be if I was a mother of several kids, had a strict food budget and lived in the suburbs where I had limited options for buying food and limited time to do it. People will do the easiest thing even if they feel somewhere in their heart that it may not be the exact right thing.
My grandfather lived a self-sustaining lifestyle well into his 70s - garden, chickens, milk cow - even to the point where he could have generated his own electricity from a water turbine he'd built to run his sawmill. And he didn't do it as a political statement - it was just how he did things. My father and stepmother grow a big garden and preserve much of their own food. My goal at some point is to do the same. But for most people, they don't know how to do this, they don't have the space or means to do this, or they have no interest in doing this, so in the world we live in now, they have to PAY someone else to do it for them.
This means that only wealthy people can afford to eat in the slow food, sustainable way. The cost of good food is definitely partly a product of the US government farm bill and big agriculture who get HUGE subsidies to grow corn and soybeans that feed into the fast-food food chain. A great uncle on my mother's side (Uncle Ivan who makes delicious beet wine), got paid a government subsidy to NOT grow any corn so that there would be a defined amount of corn in the market which would maintain corn prices. And as this SF Gate article points out (and is a nice answer to some of these questions) that organic farming gets very little in subsidies from the government, thus the reason for organic food being more expensive. Truthfully, I don't think we should look to the government for answers, but we should look to them to level the playing field.
I guess I feel like some place like The City Bakery should take a different approach. I know they pay more for organic and local ingredients, but maybe they should charge a lot more for the bad-good food - like those delicious pretzel croissants, muffins, brownies and cookies, and charge less for the good-good food like the tofu and the roasted cauliflower (which can't be local, 'cause it isn't in season!). Rather than $7.50 a pound, maybe $5.50 a pound. Then maybe the person who works at Starbucks down the street can have lunch at City Bakery rather than McDonalds.