John Hopkins of Forks Farm with his humanely-raised chickens on pasture.

As organic produce has hit the mainstream during the past decade and a half, the inevitable criticism is of cost. One often encounters such sentiments as this: “Costly organic produce is fine for the wealthy few, but it’s too expensive for most people and we can’t feed the world that way.”

I do have some sympathy for this view. After all, neither a private school Latin teacher nor the proprietor of a small seasonal restaurant earns a princely wage. Paying triple the price for a pasture-raised organic chicken can be shocking at first. But ultimately the attitude that we can’t afford more for our food and that local, organic produce is elitist is an incorrect, disturbing, and damaging view, which does much to explain why the food culture of the US is so different from that of Italy and France, among others, where food is cherished and esteemed.

In the US we expect food to be cheap. Although Americans spent nearly 50% of their income on food in 1901, that amount has dropped to around 13% today, of which almost half is spent on eating out. This means only 7% of our income is spent on groceries. By contrast, we spend 33% on housing and 19% on transportation. This should give us great pause. Is the quality of our housing and transportation really worth around 8 times more to us than the quality of our food? It’s not surprising, then, that the quality of our food, both in stores and restaurants, is lacking compared to countries which value and prioritize food.

The very best imported artisanal pasta still only costs around $5 per pound, still less than a dollar per serving. Pasture-raised organic chicken, even at triple the price of supermarket chicken, still only costs around $2 for a moderate serving, about the cost per serving of a mediocre take-out pizza.

I would argue that Americans could and should spend at least twice as much money on groceries as they do currently. For twice the money, the entire food system could be transformed. We would no longer need cheap produce trucked from California or flown in from Chile. We wouldn’t need to live with or rationalize the immoral and disgusting conditions in which most animals are raised in this country. We wouldn’t need to be embarrassed that farmers are forced off the land unable to make a living.

We could have the same food culture as Italy and France if we chose to. All it requires is the desire to value food and the willingness to spend what it takes to raise high quality ingredients. Too often, when people hear even a partial description of the horrific conditions in which most livestock live and die in this country, they say “Stop! I don’t want to know!”, pretending that willful ignorance is a replacement for moral responsibility. Now is as good a time as any to commit to local, humanely-raised, high quality meats and produce. To find the farmers in your area, go to www.buylocalpa.com.

— Justin