Consumer concern over their food has always fascinated me.
I totally understand that we should hold some interest in what we eat. It is a matter of what should be a general goal to live healthy, which includes different aspects of life from getting some level of exercise, trying to avoid stress, and similar factors including what we put on our plates.
But in the case of food two prevailing factors seem to overshadow the concern.
On the one hand consumers are still looking for their food to be low cost. It doesn’t take much to get a gathering of people talking about the ‘high cost’ of food.
The concern over the cost really appears out of sync with the rest of our consumer driven world.
The other day I am talking to friends, and the topic of blue jeans came up. The young woman in the group was wearing a pair of jeans which cost $180.
Should we worry about the cost of a pound of ground beef in a world where people pay $180 for a pair of jeans? And no this was not someone earning a six figure salary. She works at a pretty standard job here in the city.
My son came to the house the other day wearing bright orange running shoes. They cost near $100.
If bread were to rise a few cents to ensure farmers a better return, should that be an issue in a world where again people in our city regularly invest $100 plus in running shoes?
It is easy to look at our pay cheque and wonder how it so easily disappears each month, and trips to the grocery store are an easy target as we carry the bags to the car having just paid the bill at the till. It becomes a tangible element of our cost of living, unlike car payments, mortgages and utility bills increasingly paid by a computer program, which somehow makes those cost less ‘real’ for consumers. The cash involved never passes through our hands. We most likely don’t even have to punch a PIN number into a key pad for the money to disappear into payments.
And that brings us to the second consumer issue, that of food safety.
There is concern over the impact of genetically modified food crops hitting the table.
There are questions about what the use of crop protection products might mean to what we eat, and what might happen to our health when do consume them.
Such issues should be something consumers are at least aware of, and be willing to ask questions about.
But I question why what farmers do seem to be the primary focus for consumers.
I at least have an idea what wheat flour is, and understand a herbicide applied for weeds was something used a long time before the grain was harvested, ground into flour, and baked into my bread.
But when I look at the ingredients of a soda pop, or some baked good with a shelf life that stretches months into the future, or bacon that can be stored without refrigeration for months then cooked in seconds in a microwave, there are chemicals involved that have every vowel in the English language, and their pronunciation a greater mystery than the pyramids of Egypt.
Yet we don’t hear about consumer negativism to such chemical cocktails in our food like we do over what a farmer uses to protect his crop from weeds and insects.
I might suggest on the one hand consumers accept the chemicals for the convenience and taste they offer, while they feel they gain nothing of consequence from farm applied chemicals so they can feel good about standing up for safe food. Now that might be somewhat cynical of consumer motivation, but other possible reasons for the disparity of concern are less easily identified.
There is after all some skepticism created if someone who smokes worries about whether their canola oil is GM, just as the cost of food might not come across as a real concern for someone paying hundreds for jeans and running shoes.
It comes down to farmers still producing a safe food supply, and generally realizing far less return on investment than most businesses out there, and that is something consumers really need to understand to better appreciate the food they eat.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.