The cheap-food wars

Who’s really to blame for food costs?

May 3, 2011

Earlier this spring, global-food expert Louise Fresco tackled Michael Pollan in print, picking apart his sound bites. Now comes another contrarian food-policy expert, Robert Paarlberg, condemning Pollan and his fellow activists for getting it all wrong about food subsidies.

America’s federal farm subsidies and policies, Paarlberg writes, aren’t responsible for foisting cheap junk food on us; rather, they actually inflate the price of our food. And fresh food isn’t really more expensive per pound than processed food, claims Paarlberg, showing a pair of graphs comparing price declines in apples and cookies as evidence.

But the USDA report Paarlberg relied on for his graphs includes plenty of other graphs showing drastic divergences between the price of fresh produce (up, up, up) and the price of unhealthy snacks (down, down, down). And as with the Fresco fiasco, Paarlberg gets dinged by commenters for being uncomfortably cozy with big ag (in Paarlberg’s case, Monsanto).

For another take on the issue of global food costs, read Frederick Kaufman’s recent Foreign Policy article titled "How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis." As the website Boing Boing quoted, “Don’t blame American appetites, rising oil prices, or genetically modified crops for rising food prices. Wall Street’s at fault for the spiraling cost of food.”

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