The Cost Of Groceries

The Green Revolution has been touted as a wonderful benefit to mankind.  Food can be produced with an efficiency and ecnomics of scale unimagined a century ago.  The unprecedented volume means we can feed our numbers as never before in history.  Catastrophic famine is a disaster of the past.  Instead of living with the paradigm of seasonally available foods the supermarkets offer us: "Everything, All the Time."

There has been a trade off to achieve these results.  The quality of the food has declined.  Foods are grown for their ability to survive shipping and look good on display.  The environment has suffered topsoil depletion, aquifer drawdown, salination, nitrate runoff, groundwater pollution and these are only a few of the problems.  The jobs have disappeared as people were replaced with machines.  The wheels of progress have left ruts in the road.

According to the US Census, the average family size is 2.58 people per household.  Since a fraction of a person makes sense only to gubmint statisticians, I'm going to round that up to 3 people per household.  The USDA says the average amount spent on groceries is $40-60 per week per person.  For those of you buying baby food or trying to feed a teenage boy, these figures can be a bit more volitile.  For the sake of discussion, I'll use $50 as a reasonable figure.

Let's do some arithmetic:
1 family = 3 people
3 people cost $50/week each to supply with groceries, for a total of $150/week.
Over the course of a year, 52 weeks, the total for the family is $7800.
That's a lot of bananas.

Back in the days before the Green Revolution, folks raised and grew much of their own food.  A handsome garden, some chickens, and a dairy cow would provide a great deal of food for a family.  What's more, it was raised with quality in mind and done without tractors and combines, petroleum and chemical sprays.  Quite often the workload in the family was divided such that it was the children who handled many of the chores in the garden.  Digging, hauling, planting and harvesting are jobs well suited to youths as they require little specialized knowledge or master craft skills.  In today's economy, this would be termed "entry level" employment.

Entry level employment brings entry level pay.  This means minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour.  Let's do some more of that arithmetic:
$7800 is the amount spent by a family of 3 on groceries in a year.
$7.25 is the federal minimum wage.
$7800/7.25 = 1075.  It would take someone earning minimum wage 1075 hours to feed a family of 3.
A part time job, 20 hours/week for 52 weeks is 1020 hours.

The cost of groceries for a family of 3 is equal to a part time, entry level job.  Rather than put the local youths to work, we hire machines, destroy the environment, and pay to ship inferior products across the nation.  The cost of our current food system is local jobs.

Young people are busy with school nowadays, so fitting a full time job into that schedule is problematic.  Labor laws are restrictive when it comes to child labor, especially under the age of 16.  There are reasons these laws are in place, primarily to prevent the exploitation of children.  The sweat shops are mostly gone from the US but there's still a whole lot of crappy jobs.  Without work experience, a crappy job is what these kids have to look forward to.  Right now the economy is in the toilet.  Youth unemployment is in the neighborhood of 24%.  Those entry level jobs are being taken by older people trying to feed their families.  It seems to me the solution here is to relocalize food production.  Using the money we are already spending on groceries, we could create jobs for the young people as well as those older people trying to feed their families.  The young people get work experience, consumers get good food, and it does not cost us a thing because it's money that is already being spent.



Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline