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Raj Patel is against cheap food

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Tom A. Peter/Staff/File

(Read caption) Alberto Gomes says his small ethnic grocery store in Cambridge is at risk of folding now that the Brazilians are trying to save money by buying cheap food and the cost of his imported Brazilian and Portuguese products have sky rocketed.

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Raj Patel, award-winning writer, activist, and academic, recently spoke out against cheap food at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food’s International Dialogue in Milan, Italy. “When you pull at the price of cheap food, the food system unravels,” explained Patel. “Cheap food helps keep wages down. If food prices go up, even more people will go hungry than the 850 million we already have.”

Patel demystifies a new type of accounting that takes into consideration the social, environmental, and health impacts of food production. He points out, “There’s a theory of change here, of a kind. In a world where prices reflect environmental damage, you reward good behavior. If you internalize costs, agroecological food at your local farmers’ market ends up being cheaper than the packages at a supermarket.” This method of accounting is called true cost accounting and could radically change the food system.

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“If we get the prices right, sustainable food can compete on a level playing field and win,” says Patel.