Glad to see someone in the organic community recognize income inequality as a reason for poor organic food sales. Ronnie Cummins from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) asked:
What’s Holding Back The Organic Revolution?, OCA, 20 August 2014
“Organic and climate-friendly food today represent no more than 3% of combined U.S. grocery and restaurant sales.”
“If the overwhelming majority of U.S. consumers say they prefer organics and would like to buy and consume healthier and more sustainable food, then why aren’t they doing so?”
“[Reasons] include the addictive nature and omnipresence of “chemically engineered” processed foods; lack of money and time; rampant nutrition and cooking illiteracy; and labeling fraud.”
I don’t think American consumers are illiterate about cooking or nutrition or labeling. The reason an “overwhelming majority of U.S. consumers say they prefer organics and would like to buy and consume healthier and more sustainable food” is because they are not illiterate. There is knowledge, it’s just not accompanied by behavior. Why not? I think the most potent reason among Cummins’ list is “lack of money.” I won’t even say lack of time because if you have enough money you can buy others’ time. You can either purchase prepared food or arrange to have someone at home doing the food preparation.
As to his first reason, I think sales of processed foods with nefarious ingredients would decline if demand for them declined, which becomes possible when people are able to purchase what they say they prefer.
The solution for lack of money? Cummins said:
“But in fact U.S. organic and grass fed foods (especially non-processed organic foods) would not be that “expensive” if we lived in a society where there were meaningful and sustainable jobs for everyone willing to work; where the minimum wage was $15 an hour, rather than $7.25 (federal); where healthcare costs were not double what they are in other industrialized nations; and where rent, mortgage, educational and transportation costs were more affordable.
The solution to the relative “high costs” of organics in comparison to so-called conventional food is not to pay organic farmers, ranchers or food chain workers less money, but rather to raise the standard of living of everyone, so that Americans can afford to go organic and take control of their health.”
There’s a multitude of factors that affect people’s food choices. Even though Cummins says the majority of consumers prefer organic, I don’t think increasing their standard of living will in and of itself cause them to buy organic. It would, however, remove an obstacle.
The economist, best-selling author, and former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich says reducing income inequality would benefit not just the currently strained and slowly disappearing middle class (who want to buy organic, and a lot of other things, but can’t), but those at the top too. Increasing the middle class’ purchasing power would create jobs, generate tax revenue, and grow the economy … everything that’s good for business.1
Obama was correct in December when he called widening inequality “the defining challenge of our time.”
1 Why Widening Inequality is Hobbling Equal Opportunity, Robert Reich, 5 February, 2014