Sunday, March 30, 2008

Silent Spring

Now that spring is here, we take it for granted that the birds’ cheerful songs will fill the air when our apple trees blossom. But each year, as we continue to demand out-of-season fruits and vegetables, we ensure that fewer and fewer songbirds will return.

I've already given up out-of-season tomatoes. It's pretty easy given that the typical tomato tastes like water flavored water. But ultimately, I wonder if this is something we should hold consumers accountable for? I used to think consumer-education could be a solution, but now I feel like the vast majority of people are going to chow down on a factory-farmed McDonald's burger topped with an imported tomato no matter how many times Pollan is on the bestseller list.

Maybe I'm being pessimistic and a bad economics student, but I think import restrictions, which hold foreign farmers to our standards, are the unfortunate answer here.

Also: interesting econ aside

The presentation of a pricing policy clearly matters—something disconcerting to economists, who can translate all the pricing into mathematical equations and make the presentation go away. It seems to be acceptable to charge a higher markup for fair-trade coffee, organic bread, or lower-emissions gasoline. It is not acceptable for businesses to say, "We are such fans of exploitative coffee, pesticide-laced loaves, and dirtier gas that we're willing to discount them and accept a lower profit margin." Underneath the gloss, the pricing policies are, nevertheless, identical.

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