They have ripped up the better half of Dundas St. between Dovercourt and Lansdowne for sidewalk and streetscape reconstruction. It’s noisy and messy. But on the bright side the construction company seems to have learned from its mistakes on the north side of the street, because the crews have been pretty good, on the south side, helping mothers with strollers navigate the ramps and trenches to access the store where I work.

Rumour has it they’ll be ripping it all up again in October for more work, leaving me with no questions as to how our city money is spent and re-spent. Well, maybe one question.


I’m told that when the city has street work to be done, it has construction companies bid on the job. According to one insightful healthy food shopper, the scenario goes something like this:

1. Company 1 bids on the job saying that it will cost the city x dollars and take y time.
2. Company 2 makes a bid saying they can do it for half the cost and in half the time…because they have a dragon to help them.
3. Impressed, the city goes with company 2.

What happens then is that the job drags on, taking longer than scheduled, and ends up costing much more than quoted because, as we all know, there’s no such thing as dragons!

Now, you might think the city would do some research beforehand to cost their projects before believing in impossible fantasies. But they don’t. And so they do not know the real cost of things—which in the end costs us more.

It is a bit like the cost of food.

A real tomato does not cost 30 cents. This is what a tomato-like fruit costs, with added chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides because it is grown in depleted soil, and is likewise depleted of nutrients, like vitamin C, and has little flavour.

The cost of a real tomato grown under the sun in healthy soil, containing all the good taste and nutrients we expect from fresh food, is $1. That is the real cost. It is more expensive, but it is the cost of doing it right. The good thing is that there are no hidden costs that follow. In fact, you are compensated for the higher price with a cleaner environment, more vibrant local economy, and healthier food.

Doing things right the first time costs more, but at least we only have to pay it once.

Supermarket aisle

I am tired of people complaining about the cost of food. I know, I sound like a terrible human being. Yes, prices are going up, and of course food has to be affordable. But we are pretty spoiled here in North America compared to the rest of the world when it comes to many things, and the price of food is no exception.

Take a minute to consider how much (or little) of our income that we actually spend on food compared to other nations:

• USA 9.6%
• UK 11%
• Japan 17%
• South Africa 27%
• India 53%

If you’re in North America, you’re spending less than 10% of your income on food. This figure used to be much higher. But believe it or not, it has been steadily decreasing over the past 90 years.

And now, after all this time, the landscape is changing.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), led by newly appointed Jose Graziano da Silva, says the increase is due to bad weather (droughts and floods in food producing areas), high demand, and a switch to higher protein diets. There was much talk about food shortages in 2009, and in February 2011, the FAO Food Price Index reached an all time high — this is a measure of the monthly change in international food commodity prices.

Mr. Graziona says prices are going to stay high — and volatile. And volatily, he says, is worse than high prices, because farmers are hesitant to invest in agriculture for fear of not making their return. Graziano partly blames this volatility on the “financialization” of key commodities by financial markets, i.e. speculation.

The price of food in Canada is rising, but we will not likely feel it until the end of the year, when according to the Globe & Mail — the rising cost of wheat, soy, corn, sugar and vegetable oil will have trickled down and be reflected in supermarket prices.

The UN points the finger for all this at the rising cost of crude oil. While it’s true the cost of wheat has doubled, the cost of wheat makes up only 15 cents of the price of a loaf of bread. The rest comes from processing, packaging, overhead and transportation.

Rising fuel prices are much more of a factor. 1L gasoline is up by 20% from last year, and the price of diesel, used by most transport trucks, is up 30% from last year. This will have a major trickle down effect on… well, everything.

So what can you do to minimize the strain? There are different ideas out there floating around. Start growing your own food during the warmer months to reduce food bills. Buy as local as you can to minimize the distance the food must travel. Buy food that has as little processing and refining as possible — to avoid the costs that each of these stages adds on.

One piece of advice was deceptively simple and made me laugh:

“Quit wasting it.”

Use all the plant. Save the bones for soup. Freeze and can and jam and pickle the food you do have to stretch it as far as it will go — because the current lifestyle to which we have become accustomed may well be changing.