It's easy to get caught up in the sensationalism of a $4 peach. The average shopper would likely say that's a ridiculous price for a single piece of fruit. A few might be tempted to make a moral stand. If that is the price of knowing everything about that peach, then it is completely worth it.
The problem is that to focus on the price of the peach means that we are not discussing what really matters: the cost of the peach.
The argument over pricing is centered on the correlation between higher prices and what is good for you. In other words, the dollar menu is evil and $8 for a dozen eggs is inherently noble. But hiding in the value judgments over the value of food, we're failing to look at whether or not a peach should cost $4.
Food has been transformed into a commodity, but we've stopped examining the cost of raw materials. We don't want to know the costs. We just want to know if a peach is on sale. I do want to know the cost, so I asked Brooke Salvaggio, co-owner of Bad Seed Farm, how she goes about pricing her produce for her downtown farmer's market on Friday nights.
"When pricing my products, the number one rule is to NEVER CHARGE FOR MY
TIME. If [co-owner and husband] Dan [Heryer] and I, as farmers, actually priced our fruits and
vegetables according to the time it took us to grow them, then folks
would be stuck with a $20 zucchini," says Salvaggio.
Her pricing algorithm is not only based on what the market will bear. She looks at the prices at local organic markets and grocery stores, and farmers' markets around the country. Those numbers are balanced with the crop yield and current season.
But the average shopper likely has no idea that the process for figuring out the price of a tomato is so complicated. We just know that $4 is ridiculous. But what if it's not ridiculous? What if our tomatoes actually should cost $14 and our potatoes should cost 12 cents? Until, we start to think about the costs, the debate over what we're paying is meaningless.
"As far as the "true cost" cost of food goes, many people just don't
connect the dots. It is not just the hypothetical "cost" of
environmental degradation, poor health, diminishment of natural
resources, exploitation of labor and human rights. These are all
things we know to be true as a result of the industrial food system and
cheap calories, BUT we don't see them as actually biting into our
pocket books," says Salvaggio.
[Image via Flickr: Muffet]