How inflation reveals the wonderful necessity of local food

You’ve probably been hearing about the hysteria around inflation and food prices, the weight of petrol on logistics, or the woes of food distribution in light of lockdowns and economic uncertainty. Yet, something more nefarious threatens our pantries; that familiar boogie man is commercial retailers. If you’ve been paying attention to the debates surrounding prices and inflation, you may have discovered that profits in almost every major retail space have gone up conveniently with the rise in inflation. The narrative around inflation breaking your bank balance cannot be solely laid upon on them pesky government folk. Maybe we should be looking at food monopolies that bully farmers and price-gouge consumers.

The average cost of a shopping basket is far too expensive for the average South African, and current food distribution greatly contributed to this unfortunate reality. On the customer’s side, the price of food pays back the inefficiencies of mass storage, ludicrous rentals, logistics, and marketing costs; all things that bear no nutritional or social value of food. The hyper-concentration of retail chains, the lack of consumer choice, and anticompetitive practices empty our wallets and lighten our bread baskets. On the farmer’s end, the erasure of bargaining power and coercive exclusivity deals have led to the bullying of small farmers in relentless ‘supply-and-demand’ economies. What is more, the workers on these farms suffer as capacity reduces each year, lowering the quality of working conditions and creating tensions between farms and hands. All coupled together, these material conditions reveal contrived reasons for our inflation terror being experienced post-lockdown. The loss of export markets, global pricing affecting the cost of staples, and active price-gouging in everything from meat to bread leads the ‘consumers’ and ‘producers’ to bear the brunt of institutional avarice. Hence, we are motivated to source and supply local food at prices that protect and enable local farmers and customers. The basket that arrives at your doorstep needs to go beyond organic; it needs to be efficient. So let us provide a few vital reasons to shop as close to source as possible.

Grow the basket and cut the waste

Obvious waste starts in the convenience of packaging. Plastic may lessen the trips from the car boot, but the price on our planet and physical health only expands when you consider that you are paying for something the consumer never really needed. Without going into how the petrochemical industry greatly benefits from not finding a sustainable alternative, shopping can be done without packaging, or at worst with packaging that can be used as mulch or compost. Buying from a farmer and having a single vehicle deliver the goods sees a reduction in packaging around the product, and significantly reduces the trips to the store and the chances for bags to be forgotten at checkout. Finally, the saving on plastics and paper around your veggies only drops the cost of the overall shop, leaving your basket fuller at no expense to the customer.

Give power to yourself and your community

If a butterfly flaps its wings in São Paulo, why must your roast chicken cost five rand more per kilo? Anything and everything we require can be grown on our shores,  so buying local is the more sensible option. And global markets affecting the price and yield of your dinner plate is a tad silly, if we’re being frank. When your produce comes from a local farmer, that regular purchase is an investment in the security and well-being of your immediate community, not some beef baron hell-bent on burning the Amazon. Safeguard against the madness of ‘comparative advantage’, and guarantee that when times are tough, the power to thrive and grow is kept within the village.

Protect your natural environment

Aside from limiting trips to the car, it must also be stated that mass retailers produce a lot of waste and pollution before selling a gram of food. Considering the electricity needed to cool shelves of plastic-wrapped goods, or  wincing at the litres of over-priced petrol to drive potatoes from Limpopo to Gauteng to be sold back to Limpopo, food distribution is simply not working that well. Consequently, everyday department of our ecosystem suffers under this manufactured demand, and the only real solution would be to develop capacity locally to supply food to locals. Personally, I love  the air-conditioning and pebble-black minimalism of Woolworths, but it’s not worth the environmental consequences to support industries that care little for future generations. So buying from local farmers that declare their methods and work within the constraints of their local environment really is the only option here. And when the penguins at Robberg won’t need to surf on polystyrene in our bright, green future without cold-storage trucks and the mass-industrial leek complex, they’ll have you to thank for shopping straight from the farm.

The graces of negotiation

Times change, and so do the conditions for growing and producing food. But when a retailer wants to change the pricing on a can of beans, the average Joe or Josephine doesn’t really have the power to negotiate. Now if you know the face and name of the one who grows your food, discussing why and how pricing works is a simple exercise, and actually a vital process in developing a strong relationship with your farming community. Furthermore, farmers get direct access to the sentiments of their customers, ensuring that they always adapt to the needs of their community within reasonable and sustainable pricing. This exchange is something that both builds strong relationships with farmers and their clients, and fosters a realistic understanding of what it takes to grow or afford food.

Conclusion

Discussing food pricing always leads to the forces that manipulate the cost of what we eat, but the responsibility – unfortunately – does lie with us putting pressure on markets to move away from “corpo-foods”, and towards hubs of farmers that care about you and the land they toil. Whether it is cling-wrap squeezing your bank balance or executives marking-up oranges as a tax for hand-sanitizer, your local farmer is not only a steady and healthy supply of cost-effective groceries, but also an investment that may help keep these inflation blues away, just a while longer.

Want to grab a weekly veggie basket straight from the farm? We have mixed-variety baskets packed weekly for you.

The opinions and suggestions in this piece are not intended to insult your food-executive mates at the golf club. This article is intended to share my own observations and advice for purchasing food sustainably, and should not rustle the jimmies of grown adults, unless said grown-ups are complicit with extracting wealth from working people in a pandemic.


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info@scarabhill.co.za

+2785542312

+27634939817

+27634939817