As of late I’ve been deep diving into our finances here at Moku Roots especially our Cost of Goods sold to try and figure out where we can best source our ingredients. I was expecting to find a lot of “the local kale delivered by company X costs $5 less than the same kale from company Y” or “if I order a pallet of organic oats, and oil, and sugar etc, its cheaper than buying them in bulk here on island” and hopefully that I can string together a bunch of those small savings on the same product to lower our costs as much as possible.
And that’s when I saw what we paid for conventional Mexican onions which we bought one time when Kula had bad weather that prevented their harvest. I’ve tried to ignore the price tag on conventional imported onions as I pass down the produce aisle which I knew was cheaper than our local onions wholesale, but now I am looking at invoices and I can’t avoid it any longer, its glaring at me, staring me down, and really testing my morals.
The wholesale price of 50 lbs of onions from Mexico is $27 versus seemingly identical onions grown in Kula that carry a much steeper price tag of $112.50. The $.32 onion looks the same as the $1.35 onion, tastes the same, makes everybody in the kitchen cry the same when you slice 50 straight pounds of them, but one costs 417% more than the other. We will always buy the more expensive ones even though it offsets so many of my $5 here - $5 there ordering adjustments. Now I think about how many people will be able to stomach making that decision to spend $85 more dollars on a superficially identical product.
The $27 price tag is tormenting whilst trying to lower our cost of goods sold and its just the tip of the higher profit margin iceberg if I were to compromise on the quality of our ingredients. I had been struggling to construe the “costs” associated with cheaper food alternatives when I stumbled on this quote the other day by Michael Pollan, a Harvard professor that sums it up perfectly,
“Cheap food is an illusion. There is no such thing as cheap food. The real cost of the food is paid somewhere else, and if it isn’t paid at the cash register, its charged to the environment or to the public purse in the form of subsidies, and it’s charged to your health.”
Mexican onions, like many other things, are cheap at the register, but someone else is paying the price. That’s the farmer being paid an unlivable wage, and the environment because of the fossil fuels used in transport for thousands of miles, and the land being assaulted by harmful chemicals that will ultimately charge the consumers and those exposed to the land the costly and paramount fee of their health.
As a restaurant, its not so easy to communicate those ethical decisions to the customer and how they affect the price. Some of the “nicest” restaurants in Maui that advertise “local Waipoli lettuce” dump a small box onto a mountain of cheaper imported greens, diluting their quality of course, and just as importantly people’s perceptions of a price reflective of highly ethical ingredients. Then there are the restaurants that definitely don’t pretend to be using high quality ingredients and charge customers the same prices as those that advertise Waipoli greens and neglect to tell the rest of the story so the consumer thinks that the source of ingredients makes no difference in price.
I encourage everyone the next time they’re choosing between a higher priced ethical product or a cheaper alternative to consider who is paying the difference, and if they can afford it or if you can afford it…
…and don’t buy shit in plastic :)