“Dad, why don’t we eat cereal from a box like other people?” Karsten asked a few mornings ago while eating yogurt, fruit, and a homemade muffin. Our kids are starting to figure out that our “normal” isn’t exactly the norm.
“Most cereals are empty calories,” I explained. “They fill you up at breakfast, but won’t give you energy for long.” My brother and I ate cereal as kids, but as teenagers working on the farm, we quickly learned that we’d have to eat ten bowls of Total at 5:30 in the morning if we didn’t want to be starving by 9 am. That reality hasn’t changed for me though ten years in the Marine Corps, ultra-running, and working on my own farm.
“Cereal companies also pay farmers very little for the grain compared to what they charge us to buy cereal,” Sarah chimed in. We didn’t go into the math for the kids, but here’s an example:
Organic, food-grade yellow corn is around $10 a bushel (56 lbs). With a little bit of grinding, cooking, packaging, and shipping, food companies sell you a 10.6-ounce box of cereal for $5.00. (I looked up cereal prices just to be sure. 10.6 ounces? When did boxes get so small?) That’s an increase of more than 4,000%. A food ingredient buyer for Ralston-Purina (they produced breakfast cereals such as the “Chex” line) told my dad decades ago, “If farmers knew how easy it is to make cereal, they’d revolt.” I’ve never seen my dad eat cold cereal. Ever.
How we eat isn’t just a nutritional choice, it’s our economic vote. Right—a vote—a choice with a bit of influence. What has more influence, the votes we cast every two or four years, or the dollars we spend—or choose not to spend—almost daily?
The biggest corporations have at least as much influence on our lives as politicians: corporations decide what to charge for phone and internet service, and where those services work; corporations determine the differential between what they pay employees versus what they charge you for services; if they are large enough, corporations set the market for raw materials versus what they charge for products, such as food.
The biggest corporations also wield significant political muscle. Just research the political influence of Monsanto or Koch Industries. If only half of the information written about those companies’ political influence is true, they might carry more power than a swing state.
I don’t think that all corporations are bad, but I consider my economic decisions because they likely have more impact than a single vote over the long term.
Several years ago, in a sidebar conversation about farm politics at a Farmer Veteran Coalition event, a representative from the USDA in Washington D.C., chided me when I said I was a political independent. “You’ve got to pick a team,” she scoffed, “or your voice will never be heard.”
I won’t “pick a team.” Politics isn’t the NFL (though it seems to have gone that way—lots of hype and senseless loyalty). No political party, special interest group, or national organization fully represents my thinking or supports my interests and beliefs. I can’t think of a current party or candidate that I would support without serious misgivings.
My economic votes are more straight forward. I usually buy used tools and machines, I try to limit my fuel consumption, and support local business when it’s an option. How I spend my money won’t break the food giants or turn around a small business, but like our collective political votes, our cumulative decisions make a difference.
This morning, we ate homemade rye bread and eggs. I made the bread and Hazel gathered the eggs yesterday afternoon. A satisfying meal all around. I’ll cast a few more economic votes today and some tomorrow. The money I spend is my choice and my voice.
[In case you’re wondering how I’m leaning for November, I’m still undecided between Berkshire and Tamworth.]
Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
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