Good Food and Price Consciousness
October 22, 2017
Author: Bianca Yang
It’s hard to find good food in America. I think there are three contributing factors: Extreme price consciousness Extreme preference for convenience Seeing food as fuel Lack of quality ingredients
Americans are so, so, so price consciousness, it’s destroyed the market for high-quality goods. Whole Foods was renamed Whole Paycheck, and those who shopped there were assumed to be either extremely rich or crazy vegan hippies. Corn and other extremely subsidized crops sell for prices so cheap as to be unreasonable, and any other vegetables with prices more than $1 each or $1/pound are considered carefully before purchase.
People here love also sales. There is a positive feedback loop hidden in this mechanism, where some genius discovered that discounts boosted his revenues and decided to use them more. Then people, being the “rational” beings they are, decided to move their dollars to discount-eager stores. Since selling things in grocery and convenience stores is very much a commodity business, everybody else in the industry jumped on the discount bandwagon to stay in the business. And now this behavior has been heavily ingrained into the psyches of the modern shoppers.
The whole organic not organic argument was a big deal mostly because organic goods were more expensive. There were minimal arguments about organic food tasting better (I think it does), but mostly people were concerned about price. Nobody cared about whether the organic food was actually grown in better conditions, whether it was better for them, or whether it was better for environment. Everything revolved around price (partly concerned convenience, because organic was easier to find at specialty shops like Whole Foods). Now that Costco and most other major retail chains with a grocery department have added major organic offerings, no one even thinks twice about eating organic.
Let’s talk about convenience. Most people I know would rather eat at the dingy sandwich shop 5 minutes from their office than drive 20 minutes to a restaurant they can actually enjoy their meal at. Most people also function under a sort of hyperbolic discounting model for distance to their current location. They prefer restaurants, shops, experiences, etc., that are close, because we’ve be taught to value stability. Stay where you are and be grateful for what you have. Why would you go somewhere else with worse facilities when you could just enjoy the luxurious American lifestyle?
There is a big argument in favor of mobility, which I think you should read about in Tyler Cowen’s [The Complacent Class](https://www.amazon.com/Complacent-Class-Self-Defeating-Quest-American/dp/1250108691). Mobility changes your brain by virtue of novelty. But back to food. I don’t have much more to say about convenience, so let me jump into my unifying argument: we see food as fuel, not as an experience.
This is a view commonly heard among body builders and fitness enthusiasts. They love to talk about how eating kale and coconut milk and chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner gives your body the essential fuel it needs to function as a fat-burning machine. I won’t deny that eating vegetables and healthy fats and fiber is better for your health, but I don’t think we should completely abstract away the pleasure that eating gives us.
This view has also resulted in people being more and more willing to shorten their meal times. Because food is just fuel, we should try to be as efficient in eating it as possible. Rather than eating solid foods which take time to digest and chew, we should all live off Soylent or nutritionally complete IVs. This way, we can work at max productivity, all day long, like machines.
This is a dangerous view because humans are not machines. We are intelligent beings with emotions and physical wants and needs and desires for higher purposes. We should strive to escape the banality of the world and transcend to a higher spiritual plane. One way of regaining our sanity in this world of move fast and break things and work yourself to death so you can achieve 50% growth year over year ad infinitum is to take the time to appreciate our food.
Food is such a delicate thing. It has to be carefully grown and harvested in the right conditions and nurtured along its delivery path our plates. We’ve completely abstracted away this process, and most people now probably think farming is very low class or dirty or unpresentable. Farming is hard work. It’s honest work that grounds and connects you with reality. Being in the garden, and working on the dramatic game (see Finite and Infinite Games) of gardening really opens up your mind to a whole new world of possibility. Release yourself from the chains of society and become an infinite player.
For those who don’t understand my references, I recommend you read Finite and Infinite Games, by James P. Carse. This is an excellent book that details a model of the world that I think is more correct than others commonly propagated. It helped me come to be at peace with myself.
To conclude this essay, let me just say that the above three factors of price consciousness, hyperbolic discounting on convenience, and the food as fuel ideology resulted in the incentives to not have quality ingredients. If food is just fuel, who cares about quality and tastiness? Just get those nutrients in so I can continue working. If I want cheap food, who cares how it’s made or the long-term effects? Convenient food is probably not going to be quality food. The big corporations have molded and guided our preferences in this direction. If you agree with my views, stop letting them push you around and start making a stand for a better quality of life. Start by eating good food.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always up for a chat (or a job offer :0).