CLARKSBURG — Where the food industry does not provide for consumer demand, farmers and online stores are filling in the gaps.
“Every week we’re getting people who are trying this for the first time,” said Merv Esh, farmer and owner of Meadow Ridge Farm in Ohio.
His farm is a membership-based business delivering dairy, meats and other fresh foods of a standard that Esh says goes beyond organic.
Esh holds to Weston A. Price standards, which means his cattle are grain-free, grass-finished, pesticide-free, chemical-free, soy-free and GMO-free. (Organic standards do not require grain-free, grass-finished or soy-free.)
Esh said he believes that consumers will eventually push the food industry to higher and higher standards, noting that today there is almost always an organic section in grocery stores.
However, he said people will still eat fast food and whatever is easy to grab.
“I think we’ll almost always have the two sides,” Esh said.
Cathy Shaw is a registered dietitian and program coordinator for the state Public Employees Insurance Agency’s Weight Management Program in West Virginia University’s College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences. She also says the food industry responds to consumer demand.
Although Shaw said she’s unsure whether what’s happening in the food industry with Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods is indicative of a culture change, she said it’s definitely interesting.
“It’s not necessarily making it easier for people to purchase healthy food; it’s drawing in a new market of people,” she said.
Meal delivery services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron, as well as Kroger’s ClickList, are rising in popularity and accessibility, Shaw said.
“I don’t know that they’re necessarily trying to make it convenient to eat healthy; they’re trying to make it convenient for the consumer to spend money,” she said.
Regardless of whether it’s grocery stores, restaurants or online businesses, Shaw said the food industry will provide healthy food. However, given the choice, the food industry would not provide those foods, she added.
“I think the food industry has created a lot of issues with our population in general. I would definitely be happier if the food industry would focus more on what they can do to help the public health, but I also know that there’s a lot, a lot, a lot of money involved, and that’s very unlikely to happen,” Shaw said.
Herbalist and owner of Health Naturally Patricia Parker said she wasn’t surprised when the food industry began going organic, because they saw the money in it.
“I don’t see the food industry for the people and for the health of the people,” Parker said. “I see the food industry as being for profit.”
Parker said she does not think consumers know where there food comes from or when it was harvested. However, she said there are some consumers who demand higher standards.
“(Esh) is marketing to those people that demand this,” she said.
Registered dietitian for West Virginia University Medicine Judy Siebart said, “If I could afford it, I would buy organic.”
Many people can barely afford to feed family with healthy foods on SNAP dollars, plus considering food desserts, she said for many people eating healthy is not a choice.
She said not only is there an issue with price, but she questioned whether organic standards would be feasible.
“How do you feed the world if a crop can be destroyed in a week because of a pest?” she asked.
Regardless of the changes in standards or the food industry, she said, “Eat real food. It doesn’t get more basic than that.”