Food Chain

Let’s talk natural things for a minute (in a grade-school biology sort of way).

We’ll begin with plants. Bugs and bunnies and squirrels eat plants and their seeds. The bugs may be eaten by birds or fish. Feral cats enjoy birds on the regs, fish get bearclawed, and bunnies and squirrels are eaten by foxes or rabid dogs.  But people… my friends, people can eat it all.

So, when the average U.S. consumer goes to a place such as (cough and grumble) Whole Foods, what the hell are we spending our money on? I recently thought I was being frugal at Whole Foods—stopping in for a bottle of cheap red wine, some gluten-free bread, a few salad greens, eggs, brown rice cereal and kombucha. I left with ONE grocery bag, and my whiskey jug of probiotic miracle juice; somehow I managed to spend $71.

Now, there are things they don’t tell you. I have worked in different sectors of the food and grocery industry, so I can tell you things—dark things—about where your dollars are actually going.

Here’s how the grocery store food chain works:

If I am a farmer, I likely grow one money-crop. Let’s say, in this case, I’m a sugar cane farmer in El Salvador. I am paid by the bushel. Therefore, I want my sugar cane to produce as much as possible, so I feed it all the best synthetic fertilizers and use all the best chemical pesticides. My kidneys will likely fail from working hard in the heat and being constantly exposed to chemicals. I’ll probably die around the age of 21. The bugs will eat me.*

I sell my sugar to a manufacturer who processes the raw sugar cane into nice little bleached-out granules that are sold to companies who package up the processed product and make it available in the U.S. market.

A broker then works to market that product to distributors. Distributors market that product to grocery chains. Grocery chains market that product to us.

We are, no matter what we do, the last assholes to get fed. And what you’re paying for is not the product itself. You’re paying the store’s power bills, trash pickup, sanitation, toilet paper, T.V. commercials and employee salaries. You’re paying for the packaging, marketing, broker commission, manufacturing, and more. Spend more at a fancy health food store and feel better about it? Let’s call that an investment in…ego.

Because markets are competitive, pricing remains low. Money trickles down the food chain until the farmer in El Salvador is left in poverty without adequate healthcare, nutrition, or education. But you get cheap sugar!

The simple solution? Learn to cook. Buy food that was in the ground yesterday, even last week. I’d rather see my farmer friend driving a Hummer than another product broker driving an Audi. New food campaign: Franny & Lee want a Hummer!** I can see it now.


* My dear friend Kate Sheehy did a fantastic report on kidney disease in sugar cane workers that appeared on BBC, PRI, and PBS. To find out more, follow this link:


** Franny and Lee are from Chico’s Grub Farm, and I’m sure they’d prefer NOT to drive a Hummer.

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Jen Cartier misses Chico! However, she has taken to the great beyond (er...The Bay Area) to be some kind of chocolate maven while simultaneously figuring out how the hell to navigate her long-ass work commute, and still kick ass at raising three munchkins, loving one soon-to-be husband, and keeping one rascally Brittany Spaniel in the damned yard. She loves Nutella, red wine, and American Spirits. She takes her dog along on runs to wear him out (sometimes he shits in someone else's yard - bonus!) and also to balance her own general consumption of all the fine tasty things life offers, ciggys included. Follow her blog at