“True Cost Accounting for Food: Balancing the Scale,” addresses the unseen costs of a broken food system. The new book suggests that a better food system is possible if the true cost of food is taken into account during every step of the supply chain, from farm to rubbish bin and beyond.
“True Cost Accounting for Food” provides a new lens through which to understand the social, human, economic, and environmental costs of food. True cost accounting is a holistic food system assessment tool intended to illuminate and measure the flows, externalities, and dependencies of the food system, both negative and positive.
Edited by Dr. Lauren Baker, Paula Daniels, and Dr. Barbara Gemmill-Herren, the book begins with an introduction from the trio that details the myriad factors that true cost accounting encompasses.
“Behind all the food that we eat is a vast realm of unaccounted for interactions: the diversion of water from rivers; the extraction of nutrients from the soil; the discharge of pollutants to air and water; the exaction of labor to grow, manage, pick, and package; the release of carbon dioxide to transport and deliver; and so on,” they write.
“When we shine a light on these interactions it becomes clear that a 99¢ hamburger costs all of us a lot more than the dollar placed by a consumer into the hands of a cashier.”
True cost accounting is a “new economics of food and a new relationship with the land and the food that we eat, starting with a holistic view of a system out of balance and ending with a new approach to business and integrated reporting,” the editors conclude.
One assertion throughout the book is that true cost accounting can be used as an economic tool to research and incentivize sustainable agricultural practices.
Chapter 2, titled “Cotton in Egypt: Assisting Decision-Makers to Understand Costs and Benefits,” by Helmy Abouleish, Thoraya Seada, and Nadine Greiss, details a 2020 study that compares the price of conventional versus organic farming in Egypt — a country with extreme soil erosion and drought.
“Organic food is in fact already cheaper to produce than conventional products, if the externalized costs for pollution, CO2 emissions, energy, and water consumption are considered,” Abouleish, Seada, and Greiss write. “These are currently transferred to society or future generations, but if they would appear on supermarket bills, this would be evident to everyone.”
Similarly, chapter 9 explores how a true cost accounting approach may help encourage almond growers in Central California to use regenerative farming practices.
In “Foster Healthy Soils in California: Farmer Motivations and Barriers,” Authors Joanna Ory and Alastair Iles explain that the upfront cost of purchasing, planting, and growing cover crops often dissuades farmers from using the technique. Less than 5% of intensive vegetable farmers along with the Central California coast use cover crops.
The authors argue that growers are unaware of, or don’t understand, the environmental, social, and economic benefits of cover crops. They point to improved bee health, erosion control, water filtration, carbon storage, reduced use of synthetic fertilizers, and the prevention of soil health degradation. More information — and incentivizing policies — could lead to a greater uptake of sustainable agriculture practices.
Limited knowledge about the costs and benefits of the agriculture industry also impacts shoppers.
Consumers are often unaware that for every dollar they spend on food, they pay an additional dollar in hidden costs, authors Patrick Holden and Adele Jones write. Those costs can crop up as taxes to clean up polluted waterways, or as environmental degradation that will affect future generations to come.
The book also highlights success stories of communities that have learned how to price commodities holistically.
The book’s collaborators see “True Cost Accounting for Food,” as a powerful resource for food systems change, containing solutions like sustainability investing and agricultural subsidy reform. True cost accounting “has the transformative potential to amplify the positive benefits of food systems,” editor Lauren Baker tells Food Tank.
For thousands of years, civilizations have been controlled through their food chain — our world today is no exception. And with a global population of 7.8 billion, controlling the global food supply is big business.
What impact does the control and monopolization of our food chain have on human health? Triple board-certified physician Dr. Zach Bush answers that — and more — in the video below, “Chemical Farming and the Loss of Human Health.”
According to Bush, the world is experiencing a chronic inflammatory epidemic: “If we have a chronic inflammatory epidemic in the world, then we must be overwhelming the immune system of all of the public for the same reason at the same time,” he says.
Bush suggests that sometime between the late 1980s and early 2000s, we did something to the environment that destroyed the ability of our immune systems to protect us — and in the process, we sparked a rise in a number of chronic diseases, including autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, thyroid disease, and Crohn’s disease.
Bush believes that “something” was the invention of industrial-chemical agriculture and the introduction of toxic pesticides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller.
Spraying food with chemicals prevents plants from forming the building blocks needed to properly nourish not only humans but all mammals, Bush said — and that ultimately destroys our ability to ward off illnesses.
Exposure to agrochemicals isn’t limited to the food we eat. About 4.5 billion pounds of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup weedkiller, are sold each year to treat soils. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the Roundup actually hits a weed — the other 99.9 percent goes into the soil and is eventually washed into our waterways, Bush says.
Watch “Chemical Farming and the Loss of Human Health”:
On April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, I was honored to be asked to speak at Riverside Church in Harlem, the church where 51 years ago to the day MLK Jr. spoke out about the injustice of the Vietnam War. From that same pulpit, I gave a talk about the role of our food system and the food industry in deliberately subverting public health and targeting the poor and minorities. The day was focused on MLK Jr’s fight for civil rights and social justice for the minorities and poor. The harm of the food system, however, affects all of us. This is the transcript of the speech I gave on that auspicious night.
As a doctor, I took an oath to do no harm. Today, I stand here because there is harm being done to millions and I must speak out. We know all too well the visible forms of racism in our society. We know the inequities in income and opportunity. We know the brutal violence and discrimination of the police. We know the shooting of black children. We know the name of Tamir Rice. We know the name of unarmed black men shot in the back. We know the name of Stephon Clark.
But we don’t know the names of millions of African Americans killed every year by an invisible form of racism, a silent and insidious injustice.
This is an often-internalized force of racism and oppression that disproportionately affects the poor and African American communities.
We do know that 1.3% of all deaths are caused by gun violence. And it is real and tragic and needs to end.
But we may not know that 70% of deaths are caused by chronic disease—mostly the result of our toxic food system.
More African Americans are killed by bad food than anything else.
The science is clear—our processed, sugary, starchy diet is the single biggest cause of disease and death—type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, and even dementia.
Our food system is the deadliest weapon used against the poor and minorities— keeping them poor, sick and fat, hijacking their brains and biology.
We are told that it is our personal choice, that being fat results from eating too much and not exercising enough. That blames the victim—the subliminal message is that it’s your fault you are fat and sick.
We may think that what we eat is a personal choice that is rooted in our cultural heritage and family customs.
But we know that the food industry designs our food to be addictive, that they hire craving experts who work in taste institutes to design what they call the bliss point of food—all with the purpose of creating heavy users. These are their internal corporate terms.
What if I told you that the food industry specifically targets the poor and minorities?
It is easy to get someone who is already drinking a 20-ounce soda to buy a 2 liter bottle of soda.
How can we take care of our communities, when 23 million Americans live in food deserts? Where the only food available is processed junk from convenience stores, fast food outlets, and the closest grocery store is more than a mile away. And where it’s hard to find fresh fruits and vegetables or healthy food.
But the problem isn’t only food deserts.
It is food swamps—communities filled with fast food chains and bodegas plying highly processed addictive foods. They sell gallon cups of soda, and other sugar-loaded beverages, and there are fast-food chains peddling burgers, fries, and fried chicken on almost every street corner.
We know that your zip code is more important than your genetic code in determining your risk of disease and death.
Forty percent of them are overweight. We now see 3 year olds with type 2 diabetes—which we used to call adult onset diabetes.
We are told that kids’ behavior problems results from bad parenting.
The research shows that African Americans are far less likely to graduate from high school or go to college.
But if our children go to school with a breakfast of Coke or colored sugar water and Doritos or Flaming Hot chips how can we expect them to focus or pay attention?
These are not foods. They are food-like substances with no nutritional benefit.
This diet creates an “achievement gap” because kids are too sick to learn—and affects far more kids of color than any other group. These kids are less likely to go to college, earn good incomes, and more likely to get sick and die young.
One in 10 of our kids are on ADD medication. And the science shows the junk our kids eat is a big part of the cause.
Do you really think it was a coincidence that Paula Abdul and all the judges on American Idol had a 24 -ounce container of Coke in front of them at every show?
Top sports stars receive tens of millions of dollars from soda and fast food giants to promote their products to our children who idolize them.
Yet it doesn’t have to be that way.
Charter schools in the poorest most disadvantaged communities of color who feed the kids two to three healthy meals a day find that the kids are more likely to go to college than go to jail.
And we incarcerate African Americans at five times the rate of white Americans. Much of that is the result of racial targeting by the police and judicial system.
But it could be that much violent crime is also the result of our diet that robs us of our minds, affects our thinking, judgement, and ability to make good choices.
You may think that’s too far-fetched. But studies have shown feeding violent prisoners healthy diets in prisons can reduce crime by 56%. When adding a multivitamin—because they’re all so nutritionally deficient—violent crime goes down by 80%. We know that the task of ending mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow is complex and urgent.
We know that the task of building a just food system is also complex and urgent. We have to build a new food system together. Part of this task is listening to the voices of those directly affected by our toxic food system.
I once received a letter from a prison, from a murderer who changed his diet in prison and realized that his whole life of eating junk had made him violent and eating real food transformed him into a different person.
The food industry employs nefarious tactics to prevent change. They buy friends, silence critics, and sweeten their profits.
I was part of a documentary called Fed Up—a movie about how our food system makes us sick and fat with addictive sugary, starchy products.
I met with Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, and she explained to me to that non-violence also includes non-violence to ourselves. She was excited about showing Fed Up at the King Center in Atlanta.
But a few days later I got a call that the we couldn’t show the film.
Why I asked? The answer: Coca-Cola funds the King Center.
The Dean of Spelman College in Atlanta told me that 50% of the entering class of African American freshman women had a chronic disease—type 2 diabetes, hypertension, or obesity.
I asked her why there were Coke machines and fountains all over campus. Coca-Cola is one of the biggest donors to the college.
Is it any surprise the NAACP and Hispanic groups oppose a soda tax?
We cannot stand for this.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
We can no longer be silent about this.
If you are African American you are 80% more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, over 4 times as likely to have kidney failure, and 3.5 times as likely to suffer amputations as whites.
Yet we remain silent about the role of the food system killing millions of Americans. They tell us it is all personal choice.
Big food corrupts public health and advocacy groups. They fund hunger groups like the Food Research and Action Center and Feeding America.
These hunger groups strongly oppose limiting the use of food stamps or SNAP to buy soda, despite the fact the single biggest item of our food stamp bill (over $7 billion a year) is soda, or 20 billion servings a year to the poor.
Soda and sugar-sweetened beverages are the single biggest cause of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Our bodies, our health, our children, our communities have been taken from us.
It is time we take them back.
It is time we say no to big food and institutionalized food injustice that is causing this slow-motion genocide.
It is time to free ourselves from corporate interests that privatize the profits and socialize the costs of their products.
Taking back our food and our food system is a revolutionary act.
There are things we can’t change as individuals.
But we all eat. We vote three times a day with our fork.
The single biggest political act and the single biggest act of self-love, of rebuilding our communities, is to choose real food.
So, what is real food? It’s pretty simple.
Next time you pick up something to eat, ask yourself this question: Did God make this or did man make this?
Did God make Doritos or a Coke? No. Did God make an egg or broccoli? Yes.
We can teach our kids and teach ourselves how to choose and eat food that brings life not death.
Big Food would have you believe that it is expensive, that it is difficult, that it takes too much time.
Don’t believe them. It is not true.
We need to educate our kids, ourselves, and our communities. We have to do this together. In fact, we can only do this together.
Black lives matter. Yes. And black health matters, too!
The harm done by the global food industry affects nearly all humans on the planet in some way.
This must stop. We can stop it with our fork, the most powerful weapon we have to change our health, our communities, our economy and the health the of the planet.