03 March 2008

Can you or I or anyone know?

I know I'm just showing my ignorance here, but it seems counterintuitive to me that whole grains cost more. Shouldn't they be cheaper since there's less processing involved? I understand that bread, tortillas, and other finished products made with whole grains cost more due to lower demand. But isn't it easier to leave rice brown? Doesn't plain old whole wheat flour take at least one step fewer between the silo and my pantry than the white stuff does? It shouldn't cost any more to make the grains themselves available--just take them off the assembly line earlier. I protest.

(Completely reasonable explanations offered by blond, blue-eyed Nebraska farm girls will be accepted only with deepest begrudgitude.)

9 comments:

William Weedon said...

Have you found Wheat Montana? You can order sacks of whole grain, and I do think it ends up cheaper. We still have some of their corn, but we've long since used up all the wheat. Still, it was a great way to go - if you have a grinder (whisper mill - surely a misnomer - is great).

Kelly said...

I would not be able to answer for certain without some research, but here's my best guess.

For centuries, whole grains were the mark of the poor, since refined white flour was more expensive to come by due to a lack of efficient means of processing. As the industrial revolution grew and spread, it became much easier and cheaper to process and refine the grain. As more men and women left their agricultural lifestyles for urban ones, the harvesting of one's own grain and the baking of one's own bread was also eschewed in favor of a cheaper and more convenient industrial version.

Since the popularization and marketing of the health benefits of whole grains, the industrial food companies can now reap big profits from a perceived "boutique" product. However, I would think that their costs for whole grain products might be higher due to having to "retool" (for lack of a better term) their production lines for a different product. Economy of scale might also have something to do with it. If the majority of their production is geared towards production of white bread because they plan to sell more of it, it would stand to reason they would charge a higher price for a product that they don't produce quite as large of quantities.

Quality of ingredients might also factor in. You might be able to use inferior wheat for producing a highly processed product, but you might not be able to get away with it in something that is less refined.

Just a guess, but I agree with you!

Rebekah said...

I know Father William isn't a blond blue-eyed Nebraska farm girl despite his cheery, can-do attitude, but I'm wondering about Kelly . . . .

Reb. Mary said...

To ask a stupid question, which sounds even stupider after Kelly's smart explanation, which makes much sense, can they use the processed by-products for other things? Like maybe they can sell the wheat germ separately when they make white flour?

And is this why whole milk costs more--because they can use the skimmed cream for other things? Obviously, no farm girl here :) (And I'm the only non-blue-eyed person in the household to date.)

Gauntlets said...

I would love to have something informed to say on this, as it's something I've been angry about for a while now. I've asked people who produce the wheat that (one would assume) ends up as flour on shelves somewhere. They look at me blankly. What do they care what I pay a pound for flour at the local Walmart? Wheat is over $11 a bushel right now and the high part of the hog is up for the taking.

I respect those blank looks, actually, for various reasons I won't detail here. But food, its source its processing, its packaging, its labeling--all the stuff that happens to it before I shuck out cash--has been much on my mind of late. You know that "whole wheat flour" we buy and feed our kids? Yeah. Not all it seems, depending on the brand.

Here's what I think: It costs less to purchase a Dodge Caravan than to purchase a Honda Odyssey. When it comes to cars, we purchase on brand reliability and value, both real and perceived. It shakes down about the same with food.

I couldn't rage on about this for weeks, all the while holding a sign that reads, "THE END IS NEAR! GROCERY STORES ARE A FANTASY!" But I think it may be better if I take my flu-ridden head back to bed.

Thanks, Rev. Weedon, for that tip on Wheat Montana. It came just in time to save the side yard.

Gauntlets said...

P.S. Neither Rudy nor Homer factored into that smashingly brilliant analogy, by the by. I like talking. That's all. Just me, talking. Saying stuff.

Pr. H. R. said...

Commodities vs. manufactured goods, economies of scale, etc., etc.

I try to explain these things. . .

+HRC

Rebekah said...

I knew I could count on the Gauntlets to bring up bushels! :D

HRC, you stay out of this. We know you know everything.

Kelly said...

Hehe...I've got the blue eyes, but I'm not blond and certainly no farm girl : )