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Fascinating piece in Scientific American about the importance of the modern food economy, which makes a wide range of foods from all over the globe available virtually year round. While locavores and environmentalists would argue that there is something unnatural about the current state of affairs, the story makes the point that something as simple as the cheeseburger - which did not even exist 100 years ago - could not exist without industrial food production techniques.

Blogger Waldo Jaquith tells the magazine that “it’s quite impractical—nearly impossible—to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in spring and fall. Large mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive—requiring a trio of cows—and demand many acres of land. There’s just no sense in it.”

Scientific American frames the dichotomy this way:

“Thanks to fertilizers, genetically modified crops, concentrated farming operations and global overnight shipping, much of the world was lifted out of starvation (but not malnutrition, ironically enough) because it could finally grow sufficient quantities of food with decreasing labor inputs.

“But these same advances that allow food to be grown out of season and in all corners of the globe contribute to a whole host of environmental problems, from deforestation and nitrogen loading of water sources (and the resulting dead zones) to the insane quantities of water being consumed.”
KC's View:
I find this fascinating, and illustrative of the fact that most people probably don’t really understand where our food comes from, the advantages and repercussions of modern food production technologies, and what the costs are. And a cheeseburger is such a great example, since it is an item that is beloved by so many of us.

I think this suggests a wonderful opportunity for marketers to really explain things to shoppers ... or at least to those shoppers who are interested in such things. If we accept the premise that at least a percentage of the consumer population makes values judgements as well as value judgements when they make purchases, this is a perfect place to tell people about values and value. Let shoppers set their own priorities, but allow them to make informed decisions.