Consumers Got Exactly What They Asked For

Prairie Gleanings

A new book points out that consumers are responsible for so many processed foods in our grocery stores. So, why are they so mad at farmers?

Published on: April 27, 2012
Last week, I picked up a new book – An Economist Gets Lunch by Tyler Cowen. The blurb promised a refreshing look at mainstream food production and the foodie revolution through the eyes of an economist. I was intrigued.

I haven’t yet finished the book, but, thus far, I’m impressed. In the early pages, Cowen admonishes the naysayers of modern ag production. Sure, McDonald’s, Hungry-Man and Spam are examples of low-nutrition, mass-produced food that is made possible via our country’s extensive ag and transportation system.

However, Cowen notes, “The printing press brought us both good and bad novels, but was a cultural boon nonetheless.”

And guess who’s to blame for the flood of poor food choices? It’s not mainstream ag. According to Cowen, it’s the consumer – GASP! I know. What a crazy notion that our food production system would supply what consumers demand.

Here’s Cowen’s reasoning. The trend toward heavily processed foods began with World War II. The U.S. put a premium on packaging and shipping foods to our boys overseas. Interesting bit: some of Swanson’s early T.V. dinner offerings were based on an executive’s meal-ready-to-eat experience in WWII.

At this point, a little invention called the television came along and reinforced our fast and easy dinner consumption habits, Cowen says. He also notes that more women took to the workforce. “By 1975, housewives were working 32 fewer hours a week preparing meals and cleaning up, on average, than their counterparts from 1910.”

All of these factors combined pushed our nation toward fast, easy and cheap food sources. It shouldn’t come as a shock that the consumer got exactly what he/she wanted. The next time you hear a consumer vilifying mainstream food production, say, “Hey buddy, I’m just giving you what you asked for.”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Really? Hey buddy, I’m just giving you what you asked for. That's your advice? Luv to hear how that works out for you..... facepalm

  2. Anonymous says:

    What about consumers who are not given a choice; ie those relying on instutitional food such as those in the military, prisons, and via school lunch programs? Federal dollars are used to support these programs that provide unhealthy food items for entire groups not provided with healthier options.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The "hey buddy" comment was meant in jest. Still, I stand behind the premise. Cowen points out numerous times that a restaurant's food quality is dictated by the consumer as much (perhaps more) than the chef. Consumers use their pocketbooks to make it clear what they want on the menu. If they're willing to pay for whatever, they'll get whatever. I think you can apply this same thought process to today's food supply. Heck, the premise also applies to television. "Arrested Development" (one of my favorite comedies of all time) was cancelled after a very brief, yet brilliant, run. Why? Because folks were too busy watching stuff like "Two and a Half Men." --Josh Flint

  4. Anonymous says:

    I suppose if you want to vent your anger or just feel superior, the "hey buddy, I'm just giving you what you asked for" comment might be the way to go. But if you're looking to build better relationships with those who buy or eat agricultural products (i.e. everyone), then... probably not so much. We in ag seem to have a compulsion to prove that we're right and "they" are wrong. Unfortunately, insisting on proving yourself right generally makes you insufferable and a person no one wants to be around.

  5. Anonymous says:

    To "Anonymous": If someone is in prison I'd say that person forfeited the opportunity to have optimum food choices to some extent. It should be reasonable, but economical as well. The military and schools are limited by tax dollar support for more expensive but healthier food for one thing. Nobody wants to pay more in taxes, but everyone wants more from the government. You can't have it both ways.