Friday, August 22, 2014

Farmers Don't Make Money and Blue Jeans

Ben Smith  had a piece in the NYTimes recently complaining that farmers, specifically small food movement type farmers, can't make money.  He points back to past farmer organizations and  writes:
But none of these demands will be met until we start our own organizations — as in generations past — and shape a vision of a new food economy that ensures that growing good food also means making a good living.
He never deals with the idea that the Grange, the Populists, the National Farmers Union, the American Agriculture Movement, the various cooperatives weren't able to mold the environment to make the country safe for the sort of small family farmer he wants to preserve. 

I may have made this comparison before, but I forget.  :-(  Anyway, in my youth you could buy blue jeans from Sears or Montgomery Ward or buy Levis or Lees from department stores.  That was about it.  Blue jeans were associated, in my mind at least, with sailors coming back from active duty.  (Farmers wore overalls.)  Today you can still buy Lees, Levis, and Sears blue jeans, but also Lands End and LLBean and Carhart and Kmart and so on for many more brands, and that's not getting into the absurdly priced "fashion" blue jeans which go in and out of popularity. And at least the cheaper jeans are cheaper than when I grew up.  That variety is the result of our wealth as a country: we spend on food maybe a third or fourth of what we did when I was a kid, and incomes are much higher; therefore we can afford to indulge our tastes.

I see the same thing happening with food: a mixture of  fast cheap food, better tasting and often better food (even McDonalds food is better tasting and cheaper than the overcooked pot roast my mother made) along with a much greater choice and a much bigger price range.  I don't know what the best restaurants in New York City charged for a meal in 1950, but I'm sure it's gone up many times more than a basic diner meal has.

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