People, Not Profits

For weeks I’ve been puzzling over a bumper sticker I see regularly: “Food for people, not profits.”

What does this mean?

I get that profits make the price of food higher. Eaters everywhere want more and better food at lower prices.

But what about farmers? They are the people producing more and better food. Are they not supposed to get profits from their labor? If I were a farmer, I would take umbrage at that proposal.

Maybe I just don’t understand the slogan. Can anybody explain it to me?

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4 Responses to “People, Not Profits”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Correction: profits make the price of food lower. This is how capital investment works: Profits draw more producers into a market. More producers increases supply. More supply lowers the cost to the consumer. Producers are drawn into the food market so long as their capital produces a greater return there than other potential places. When profits are insufficient in food/agriculture, capital flows to other places where profits are higher. The outflow of capital from food production because of poor profits will raise the price of food to the consumer. When technology is developed to make food production really cheap, profits spike! We should all want this because it will attract more capital to the food industry and prices will come down. (This is called a shift in the supply curve). Such technological breakthroughs won’t happen if capitalists aren’t given incentive to invest in research and development.
    The amount of $ Americans spend on food, as a percentage of income, has been decreasing practically forever because of this system of profits; we now spend something like 20% on food; primitive people used to spend 90% of their time labor and wealth on food.
    Economics education is insufficient (to say the least).
    A better bumper sticker: “Food profits profit people”

    • timstafford Says:

      Thanks for that. You’re right, in general. (I took Econ 101 too.) Of course there are exceptions, such as: if the market is imperfect. (Do higher profits for drug companies make prices go down? Possible but not proven.) The American market for food is certainly not perfect. But it’s close enough for these economics truisms to apply, I’m pretty sure.

      In view of this, what on earth does this slogan mean?

  2. Nate Says:

    Hi Tim,

    Like any slogan, especially one on a bumper sticker, it grossly simplifies a very complex issue.

    My guess is that it symbolizes a position toward food and agricultural policy that favors local, independent, environmentally friendly farming and whole, unprocessed foods.

    US Agricultural policy–subsidies, governance structure, etc.–favors mono-crop agriculture and short-term yields, which increases chemical use and makes nutritionally bankrupt corn- and soy-based
    food products cheaper than the alternatives. And the food industry is a kind of food middleman–trying to buy the cheapest raw materials and turn them into the most attractive products, profiting on the difference between cost and selling price. I’m grossly simplifying this point of view, but those are the basics. Recent books (“In Defense of Food” and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”) and films (“Food, Inc.” and “King Corn”) explore these positions well.

    “Food for people, not for profits” is probably saying that we should reform food/farm policy in a way that many of the largest food industry and agribusiness firms would object to–for the sake, it’s proponents would claim–of better health and better environmental safety.

  3. LINDA SW Says:

    ” food for people, not for profit’ historically comes from a movement in the san francisco bay area by the same name in the very early 1970’s, just as the first organic/natural food stores of the day were opening up, collective households of people were buying bulk products and their organic produce through these health food stores–then later, directly from organic farmers and growers. they were putting any “profit” they made selling to other households and collectives back into buying more food, creating more business for the small farms/farmers. the ‘farm to table’ and ‘slow food’ movements came out of these early ideals, as did the small plate/fresh produce restaurants who began serving organics’ at boutique hotspots that not dot everyone’s neighborhood landscape.. see alice waters at chez panise in berkeley, CA. she was one of the original pioneers partnering in this movement.

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