Many people want to eat well and feed their families wholesome, nutritious food, but in today's tough economic climate many people feel they simply cannot afford to do so. Unfortunately when you compare the cost of real foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables with processed, packaged foods, they are often more expensive and it can seem like eating well is just not affordable. We also pay more for organically grown product and ethically-raised animal products, which for many people may not seem feasible.
A big part of the problem is that we've come to expect cheap food. While reduced food prices may seem like a good thing but what about the hidden costs of this seemingly cheap food?
Some of the hidden costs of cheap food include:
The biggest cause of poor health in Australia are the so-called lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, and a poor diet has a big role to play. The costs of poor health to both us as individuals and to society as a whole are huge, in terms of economic costs (lost productivity, health care costs ect) as well as the effects on quality of life.
When you buy cheap, factory-farmed meat, eggs and dairy products you are, albeit unwittingly, contributing to the suffering of animals. Producers are only able to keep the prices of these products low by farming en masse using intensive production systems. This means the intense confinement of animals such as the use of battery cages for laying hens and sow stalls for pregnant pigs. Factory-farmed animals are often subject to painful mutilations without the use of anaesthesia or pain relief and are routinely fed antibiotics and sometimes hormones to promote growth and control disease.
Large-scale industrialised farming relies heavily on use of chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers. Not only do these chemicals affect our health, they also wreak havoc on our environment, polluting the soil, air and waterways. Land clearing to make way for farms is a major threat to biodiversity. According to a government-sponsored report from 2000, 'The main reason for the declines is loss of habitat caused by over-clearing of land for agriculture".
So while organically-grown product and ethically-raised animal products do cost more, this reflects the true costs of sustainable farming and raising animals in a humane and ethical way.
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Question: Can you talk us through the basic costs on our health and wellbeing of eating -cheap food'?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: Cheap food is a myth as someone or something will end up bearing the costs somewhere down the line. In terms of our health and wellbeing, cheap food is often highly processed and full of additives, which we all know is not conducive to good health. Cheap food is also produced with an emphasis on quantity rather than quality. Crops are sprayed with chemical pesticides and fertilisers to increase yields and animals are farmed intensively. This means they are confined, subjected to painful mutilations and fed hormones and antibiotics on a routine basis.
Question: Does this surround the myth that eating healthy is expensive?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: It's unfortunate that sometimes it does cost more to eat good quality fresh food but when you look at the benefits of eating this way, it's totally worth it. The higher price of good quality, healthy food, such as organic fruit and vegetables and ethically raised animal products, reflects the true costs of sustainable and responsible farming methods, where the nutritional quality of the food, the humane treatment of animals and respect for our natural environment are all taken into consideration.
Question: What is classified as -cheap food'?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: Cheap food is food that may not cost much in dollar terms but that has externalised costs because of how it was produced. These externalised costs include negative effects on our health, animal welfare and the environment. We would classify intensively-raised, factory farmed animal products (caged and barn-laid eggs and most pork products - unless labelled organic or certified free range) and most mass-produced, heavily processed foods as cheap foods.
Question: What are the benefits of eating a diet of wholesome and nutritious food?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: Where do we start? The biggest health problems facing us here in Australia, and in other developed countries, are heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer, and these all are very much linked to what we eat. Eating a diet consisting mainly of wholesome and nutritious foods greatly reduces your risk of these diseases. Aside from reduced disease risk, a healthy diet increases energy levels and enhances vitality so you just feel better.
Question: What types of food are we talking about when we say wholesome and nutritious foods?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: Eating a diet of wholesome and nutritious foods is really just about getting back to basics. So, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and quality animal products. Foods should be eaten as close to their natural state as possible and heavily processed, pre-packaged foods kept to a minimum.
Question: What advice do you have for families trying to educate their kids about wholesome and nutritious foods?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: It's definitely important to lead by example. If kids see their mum and dad eating a healthy diet, that will be normal to them and they're more likely to do the same. Also, moderation and balance are really important. As long as their diet consists mainly of healthy food, the occasional treat is fine. Finally, try to inspire a love of good food in your children by exposing them to a wide variety of delicious foods and involving them in meal planning and cooking.
Question: Can you share with us a typical day's food diet, for you?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: I usually start my day with a wholegrain breakfast cereal (my current fave is Byron Bay macadamia muesli) or porridge made from rolled oats and quinoa. Lunch may be leftovers from last night's dinner, a roll packed with salad, avocado, humous and cheese or, if I'm feeling motivated, a salad with boiled eggs or toasted nuts thrown in for protein. My dinners need to be family friendly and I try to balance the foods my kids love (tacos, pasta, meat balls etc.) with some healthier options (soup with home made garlic bread, stir-fries etc.). Being a vegetarian in a household of meat eaters, I also try to include a few meat-free meals each week. My kid-friendly, go-to vegetarian meals include corn cakes, falafels and spinach pie.
Question: How can packaged foods affect our health now and in the future?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: A big problem with packaged foods is that they often contain additives, things like colours, flavours, preservatives etc. I try to buy fresh wherever I can and when buying packaged foods, such as bread, breakfast cereal and some snack foods for the kids' lunchboxes, I look for those with the most natural ingredients and the least amount of additives.
Question: Can you provide us with some of the tricks of finding good quality and cheaper organic produce?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: A great way to buy organic food more cheaply is to join a co-op. Other options include shopping at farmer's markets or growing your own.
Question: Why do you choose to eat organic?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: With regards to fruits, vegetables and grains the main reason would be to reduce my family's exposure to pesticides. The government assures as that the levels of pesticides in our food are completely safe but the information I've read suggests the contrary and I'd rather be safe than sorry. When it comes to animal products, buying organic provides assurance that the animals have been reared according to high animal welfare standards and the farms are checked on a regular basis to ensure they comply with the organic standards. The organic standards are also quite strict about what can be added to foods in the manufacturing process, so eating organic foods excludes many of the nasties I don't want my family eating.
Question: Can you talk about the importance of eating good quality and consciously farmed meat?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: Choosing good quality, consciously farmed meat benefits everyone. For one it's healthier as it has a lower total fat content but a higher proportion of healthy fats, such as omega 3s and conjugated linoleic acid. Also, organic and free range farming methods don't routinely use antibiotics and growth hormones. Secondly, it is obviously much better for the animals as they are not confined or subjected to painful mutilations and are reared in a way that allows them to carry out their natural behaviours. Finally, organic and free range farms are usually smaller scale and have a focus on environmentally sustainaible practices when compared with intensive factory farms.
Question: What inspired you to start Consume with Care?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: It was seeing the movie Food Inc. We made a decision the very next day that we wanted to do all we can to raise awareness about the problems of our current food system and share our passion for animal welfare and sustainable food with others.
Question: What is Consume with Care?
Natalie Penn and Debbie Kertesz: Consume with Care is a not-for-profit organisation aiming to raise awareness about how our consumer habits affect our health, animals and the planet. Through our website and other social media platforms we want to inspire and empower consumers to make ethical choices. We believe that via the simple act of shopping, each and every one of us can have a positive impact and make a difference.
Interview by Brooke Hunter