Thursday, July 31, 2008
The Economics of Fruit
Stuck into an inhospitable crag bordering the parking lot next of the Record-Journal building, there sits an old neglected apple tree. It's daily washed with car exhaust, and some type of vine has wrapped it up, slowly strangling it. It's quite obvious that no one has done anything for this tree in a long, long time.
And so it was with a great deal of surprise that I noticed it's branches filled with green apples last fall. I did a bit of climbing and came away with a few. To my surprise, the apples were fantastic, and easily the equal of any I get from the orchard.
It's a tree that got me thinking.
Today is a rest day for me, so I thought I'd briefly talk about the economics of my diet.
Someone emailed me recently and said that my diet may may be healthy, but that it's "unsustainable". Not everyone can afford to have fruit, they said. Our nation can't handle lots of diets like yours.
I beg to differ. Fruit growing is something I've been researching lately, and my take on the situation is the complete opposite. There can be nothing more sustainable than fruit.
Take that old tree for example. It's probably been dutifully producing a bumper crop- that usually rots on the pavement of the parking lot while people go hungry in the city- for decades.
Fruit is actually the most efficient use of farm land. Orchards produce the most calories per acre of any crop. We could use a tenth of today's farmland to support the entire nation, or use all of today's farm land planted with fruit trees to feed a huge population.
So why are fruits and vegetables so expensive? It's a good question that I'm very curious about. I think that part of it is that they've taken on a kind of boutique image. I've seen locally grown tomatoes for sale for $4 a pound!
If you've ever grown organic tomatoes from seed, you know that tomatoes cost pennies to grow. $4.00 a pound is ridiculous. I've been harvesting a huge crop from my garden for little cost.
It's the same thing with fruit. Fruit is relatively passive. Sure, orchards trim and fertilize fruit trees to maximize harvests, but you can abandon a tree like the one next to the parking lot and it will keep producing food for you. You can plant a healthy tree and it will still be feeding your great grandchildren. It's actually amazing if you stop and think about it.
As for my food budget, it's actually pretty reasonable. I'm a reporter, and can't afford tons of organic fruit on my pay, but I do pretty well for myself. I buy in bulk.
Even with the increase in price, bananas can be had for .44 cents a pound. The 40-pound box I buy every week costs me $17.60. Because they're so packed with nutrients and minerals, calorically dense, and just plain tasty, bananas form a decent part of my diet.
But I buy what's in season and cheapest. Citrus fruits in the winter, peaches, nectarines and watermelons in the summer, apples in the fall, and anything else that that looks good. If you buy in bulk, you get good deals.
Roger's Orchards in Southington, for instance, will sell you a half bushel of peaches (seconds that taste great, but look slightly ugly) for $16.
I usually spend $50-60 a week for fruits and veggies.
When you consider that I no longer have much use for restaurants, and only grab a cheap salad when I go out to restaurants with friends, it's probably fair to say that I'm saving an additional $20 at least.
The other factor is long term. Sure, I might pay more now for my health, but science says that I'll be reaping the benefits as I age.
Studies have shown that a low fat diet like mine (fat under 10 percent compared to 30-40 percent of calories from fat for the average SAD Diet) has no problems reversing and preventing heart disease. A heart bypass operation costs $180,000. How much does a lifetime of diabetes care cost? Cancer risk has been shown to be very linked to diet. Think about the price of chemo.
How much would you pay to avoid arthritis, headaches, and have tons of energy?
I'd say that the economics are in my favor.
The other ridiculous factor is that the government subsidizes poor health by underwriting meat, dairy, and egg production, as well as grains like corn that get turned into high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient in most junk food. They should be subsidizing healthy food.
Now we're talking about universal health care, so we can pay for the meat that clogs the man's arteries, and then we can pay for the heart bypass surgery to keep him alive.
It's a strange world.