The true cost of food

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Me and my friends, from left to right, Hillary, Simon, Musyoka, Dennis and Michael. We are all in the aquaculture sector. Here we were having lunch and a conversation on why we make the choices of the food we consume.

Serah Mutahi is Assistant Fisheries Officer at the County Government of Nakuru, Kenya. She has a deep understanding and experience in aquaculture. She is one of the 2024 e-course on food systems. Serah wrote this blog to tell us the cost of food is not just the price we pay to buy it.

Let's talk about something that goes beyond the price tag on your groceries, the true cost of food. Sure, we might get a good deal at the store, but what about the hidden expenses lurking beneath the surface? From environmental damage to health impacts, labour exploitation to food waste, the true cost of our food extends far beyond what we see on the receipt. The hidden costs are not just pocket change, they are significant burdens on our food systems.

But here's the kicker, while some of us have an abundance of food choices at our fingertips, millions of people struggle to put nutritious meals on the table. It's not just about affordability, it's about access. And those inequities are not just unfair, they're downright unjust. This has led them to the other alternative of “cheap food”.

Yes, I said it in quotes. It might be easy on the wallet, but what about the toll it takes on the environment, on workers, and on our health. Take labour exploitation, for example. Behind the scenes of our cheap meals are workers toiling under exploitative conditions, low wages, little to no job security, exposure to health hazards and even goes beyond child exploitation.

Processed foods are the other “cheap food”. They are not doing us any good. In fact, they're fueling a global epidemic of diet-related diseases, from obesity to diabetes - the toll on our health and on our healthcare systems. But here's another angle to look at, the impact of processed food on indigenous food sovereignty. Many indigenous communities now rely heavily on external processed food, also on genetically modified food, due to limited access to traditional foods or economic constraints. This dependency is eroding indigenous food, making communities vulnerable to disruptions and loss of control over their food sources.

Taking part in the food systems e-course led me to further realise how to get to the bottom of it. Here's what I have learned about these hidden costs. They are all connected. You cannot tackle one without considering the others. It requires more than just talk; action is needed. It means acknowledging and understanding complexities and interconnectedness of facets in food systems. As a food systems leader I am now informed and it is my responsibility to influence the best choices and lead by example.

The next time I am served with a plate of food, I will think about the true cost of my food. So should you. Because the choices we make today have far-reaching implications on shaping the demand. This way we can also effectively call upon relevant stakeholders to visibly reduce the hidden costs without increasing the consumer price or harming the environment.


Serah Mutahi

Serah W. Mutahi

e-course participant

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