Short answer: Enormous government subsidies for mean, dairy, and grains
Long answer: Actually, the short answer is pretty much covers it.
The subsidies are intended to support farming and food production industries and keep prices for these foods stable (not market based), but interestingly, “food” doesn’t seem to include fruits and vegetables.
Thus, meat, dairy and grains (read: corn) are abundant and artificially cheap while fruits and veggies are appear relatively more expensive.
What’s interesting though is that government support of the food industry usually takes the form of a price floor: it guarantees farmers a minimum price for their product. It enforces supply restrictions to keep the floor intact and buys up any surplus in case farms overproduce. The extra goes to school lunches and other food assistance programs (e.g. school lunches).
SO — without this support, meat, dairy, and grains could actually be cheaper. What?
Hello backwards logic. Welcome to the Farmy Party!
The answer to this puzzlah (Car Talk!) is that because the government chooses to subsidize a select few products, and therefore guarantee a steady income to producers, the entire industry huddles around meat, corn, dairy, and soybeans rather than fruits and vegetables.
Given a choice between a gamble and a sure thing, most people have picked the sure thing. Which makes the gamble even riskier and its products more expensive.
Subsidies, crop insurance, tariffs and food diversion programs are all part of this package and some were put in place for good reason:
- Many of these aid programs began after the Great Depression when (poor, heavily indebted) small farms were the norm and many families lost their homes, land, and lives during the price collapse of the Dust Bowl era. Price stability wasn’t just a bunch of lines and points on a graph; it was the difference between livelihood and homelessness
- We’re talking about food. It’s really important to keep that industry going. Without some kind of assurance that producers could at least recover their costs, many farmers would opt out of the business entirely.
- If the government wasn’t restricting supply to keep prices at their floor, corporate farmers would be. And if the government buys the surplus to further ensure price stability, we have access to predictably priced food to distribute as aid, in school lunches, to shelters, and other food assistance programs. Otherwise, we’d be buying that supply from the Big Farming.
- (The last point is not to say that all is well with surplus purchase and redistribution. Most of it does nothing more than outprice local producers, distort the market, and turn our children into walking sugar vaccuums)
Times have changed. Food is still um, important, but it’s no longer produced mostly by family farms. Our farm policy is stuck in the 1940s and has caused massive distortions in what we eat and why we eat it. So… if we’re going to subsidize/stabilize, why not support the foods we should eat more of?
LIKE THIS ADORABLE STRAWBERRY!