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How cheap is that burger, really?

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In The End of Food, Paul Roberts writes about the high price of cheap American food. This includes the billions of dollars of subsidies to farmers, the vast tracts of forest cut down to raise cattle, the spreading desertification in various countries due to inappropriate grazing, and the health and other costs of obesity. It also includes the chemical runoff that pollutes our soil, air, and water; the degradation of our soils from industrial farming; and the growing resistance of pests to chemicals, which is particularly frightening when it comes to resistance to antibiotics which could mean an epidemic of untreatable disease in people. We can’t make rational economic choices when most of the costs of those choices are hidden. But we can make our choices about what we eat based on health as well as on a wider set of economic issues—by looking not just at the visible price tag but at which purchases will benefit the environment and the local economy. Supporting local farmers who grow their food with fewer or no chemicals may seem a bit more expensive, but would actually be vastly cheaper than industrial foods if all foods carried their full price tag. We can try save money in other parts of our lives where in doing so the negative impact will be less. It is worth spending a bit more on food in order to eat more healthfully and to encourage the sorts of practices that will help restore our soils and our local economies.