Healthy Food, Healthy Markets, Healthy Communities

By Rebecca J. Briggs – South Kingstown, RI

We live in a time when preparing a meal for our families shares surprising parallels with the inhabitants of Rochdale, England, in 1884. Back then, staples such as flour, coffee and sugar were often intentionally contaminated, with limestone, sawdust or other ingredients, to increase their weight and reduce costs for the producers. Today, the scarcity of healthy food and corporate dominance still prevail, as the abundance of “cheap food” fill store shelves, produced by only a handful of major food and beverage corporations.

One hundred twenty five years ago, seeking an alternative to “the corporate company store,” with its adulterated products and limited nutritious offerings, an inspired group of pioneers created the first humble grocery. It was a co-operative community store, owned and operated by concerned Rochdale citizens, and it offered healthier, home-grown and locally accessed foods at reasonable prices in exchange for volunteerism, equity backing and other efforts in making the operation sustainable.

In 2014 New England, reconsidering how and where we spend our food dollars has never been more germane; trusting food manufacturers, processors and retailers has never been riskier. Demonstrably, both low income and upper income families are paying “the high price of low priced food”, through continuing environmental degradation and increased health care costs, especially in many parts of New England. Here, childhood obesity rates are higher than the national average, and the relative cost of nutritious, less processed foods is also among the highest in the country.

The mega-corporations  who support industrialized agriculture – with its inhumane conditions and substandard wages – promote questionable processes such as adding genetically modified organisms into foods unlabeled as such,  advocate low cost over high quality by removing vital nutrients and add synthetic additives to preserve, flavor and color their products. These major conventional food corporations are also buying up natural product companies, and through their interests and influences are complicit in watering down the standards of organic processes and policies. Dean Foods, the largest conventional dairy foods corporation, recently bought Earthbound Foods (the once family owned business that grew to hold a 60% share of the organic foods market). Coca-cola owns Vitamin Water, Odwalla and Honest Tea and has spent millions of dollars in support of the NON-labeling of GMO foods and beverages. Wal-Mart commands 18% of the national sales of all groceries simply by its dominance in the marketplace overall, and is the first choice for many when seeking lower priced organic food, yet the high price consequence, among many, is that a majority of Wal-Mart employees earn less than what is generally considered to be a “living wage” and many independent, locally owned businesses suffer with the big box store’s presence.

Overall, the paucity of whole, healthy, fair trade and sustainably grown food- organic fruits and vegetables, grass fed beef, free range chickens fed non-GMO corn feed, and locally sourced, organic or eco-logically grown fruits and vegetables, stands in stark contrast to the predominance of overly factory farmed meats and dairy products and processed, chemical laden, mono-cropped and petroleum dependent “food stuff”.

We begin the restoration of healthier people and stronger local economies by understanding how healthier food in healthier markets fosters a healthier society. We do this by spending our food dollars in our community, becoming member-owners of our local food cooperative (as the citizens of Rochdale, England initiated) or by joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm, shopping at local farmer’s markets and coastal community fish markets, and by producing our own food in our own back yards.

Rebecca J. Briggs is the Organic Produce Buyer at the Alternative Food Coop, a Certified Nutritionist and organic, whole-foods and medicinal herb educator. She teaches and practices yoga and green juicing classes, and is the mother of an 11 year old boy who loves broccoli.





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