Food Sourcing in the US: Problems and Solutions


For food distributors in the US, it is much cheaper to make their products in an overly unnatural manner than to maintain a slow farming structure. It is also faster, making the market of consumers larger and the output levels of food higher. Let us say that business is booming for food corporations. Tragically, this is the way which the US has found to get affordable food to most Americans. At this point, the American diet has been battered down to foods which are not nourishing. In a country so massive, it makes reasonable sense for a food distribution system to be based on high production and consumption. But, it is worrying that the average American diet implies overconsumption of food groups like meat and grains, and under consumption of other key food groups such as vegetables, dairy, and fruit (USDA ERS).

It is important to note that this is an issue to do with how the US has implemented farming and production on the mass level. In addition, unfortunately, most food that is farmed or made in a more sustainable or less distorted manner is notably more expensive. This issue is not getting easier as the prices of organic food are rising quicker than their conventional counterparts. Good and nutrient rich food is becoming strikingly unaffordable, and Americans cannot eat better than what is distributed at inexpensive prices. They resort to eating food which is killing them slowly. 

The worst part is that the government allows this all to happen without consequence; when comparing the US to Europe or Latin America, the country has quite a limited scope of regulations on food production. Certain harmful food additives that are banned in Europe can be found all throughout American grocery stores. Most companies are able to release any kind of food into the US market through a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) loophole called the “generally recognized as safe” designation (Daily Mail). For example, artificial food dyes in the EU are not banned but require warning, and in the US the issue is unregulated. Many popular snack foods contain red dye 40, a dye which is derived from petroleum and is linked with causing symptoms of ADHD. Further, titanium dioxide is banned across Europe, yet is frequently used in the US for the making of primarily candy, but can also be found in ice cream, frozen pizzas, and so on. Titanium dioxide is categorized as a carcinogen but remains well present in the food Americans eat on the daily. 

A manifestation of the poison called food in the US is its obesity rates. The obesity rate between 2017-2020 was 41.9% of the adult population. However, a more important correlated statistic is that of obesity’s costs: In 2019, “Medical costs for adults who had obesity were $1,861 higher than medical costs for people with healthy weight” (CDC). This may indicate a not-so-surprising money-making agenda behind the food industry and its impacts. Obesity is linked heavily with type 2 diabetes and heart issues, connecting the medical expenses clearly with the impact of obesity. 

Further, obesity disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities in the US; while 14 states have a high obesity rate (above 35%) of Non-Hispanic White adults, almost double the states have such high rates met among Hispanic adults – 32 states – and Non-Hispanic Black adults – 38 states. Furthermore, it is noted by the CDC that obesity prevalence is lower among those with higher income next to those with a middle class earning. Obesity and the food industry’s backwards ideals are affecting society’s less privileged the most – to eat well and balanced within the US is a privilege.   

The solution for such a problem is neither evident nor simple, and there is only so much that can be done without the active influence of the government. For those who have sufficient privilege, freedom, and capacity to do so, however, purchasing locally is of the essence. Localizing the food industry brings great benefits. Said benefits can mainly be reflected in increased economic prosperity. According to Fair Food Network, “economist Michael Shuman determined that shifting just 20 percent of food spending in the city of Detroit would result in a boost of nearly half a billion dollars, including more than 4,700 new jobs and an additional $20 million in business taxes to the city each year. In today’s economic climate, we cannot afford to ignore the power of the local food economy.” This demonstrates the possible gain from moving groceries local. 

First year IE student Nicholas Miller Hardcastle said, “Sourcing food locally is good because in a lot of small economies in the US their largest export is money… None of the money actually stays within the community, it all goes to major companies.” When people do their groceries at big chains such as Trader Joes, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and etc, they are sending their money earned locally to a big corporation, instead of letting it realize its value within the locality. 

Sustainable agriculture keeps money within the local economy. “If you’re purchasing locally, that means that the money goes to local businesses who have to then pay taxes on that money. If you have more taxes coming in, you have more money for public projects and overall social welfare,” Hardcastle said. 

Driving forward local food sourcing can be positive pressure which could lead to change in the American food industry. Additionally, purchasing locally is not limited to such big aspirations in its potential benefits: buying locally allows for a farm to table experience where food is fresh, rather than preserved for its trip to and stay at a supermarket. Buying locally also fosters community and is much more sustainable than big scale agriculture currently is. For a shift in the scarring issues coming from the food industry, it is important to take actions that are smaller scale but have a direct impact.

Featured image by: Getty Images

Eloise Dayrat
Eloise Dayrat
I am a first year LLBBIR student. I am Colombian and French, but grew up in the US. I am also lactose intolerant, but my breakfast is still yogurt every morning. Sometimes I order my coffee with oat milk in it to compensate. I love music and spend the entirety of my excessively long metro ride to IE discovering artists. I love to run – that is when I don’t have class at 8am. And, I like to write, particularly about politics, history, and social movements and relations.

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