The idea that junk food is cheaper than produce because of farm subsidies is so often repeated by food movement leaders like Michael Pollan that almost everyone assumes that it’s true. But the reality is more nuanced.
Subsidies on their own don’t explain why processed foods are cheaper than produce, calorie for calorie. Fruits and vegetables, first and foremost, are highly perishable, which makes everything about growing, harvesting, storing and shipping them infinitely more complicated and expensive. Many of these crops also take a ton of labor to maintain and harvest. Economists who’ve crunched the numbers have found that removing agricultural subsidies would have little effect on consumers’ food prices, in part because the cost of commodities like corn and soybeans represent just a tiny share of the cost of the food sold in the grocery store.
Mainly the piece is about the technology which is impacting the harvesting and marketing of these crops, kicking off with the recent advent of packaged spinach.