The industrialized food system that sustains us all is clearly an abomination to anyone who has bothered to educate themselves and scrutinize it. Most that I know have not and will not do so, because knowing what's behind that curtain will force changes they aren't willing to make. Its only real proponents are those who are using it to line their pockets at our expense. It's only "cheap" when you ignore the fact that it damages not only our health but threatens our very existence. The farmers I've met who are a part of it are rarely enthusiasts, but rather cogs in the machine that they cannot separate themselves from. Most know little of the chemicals they use (often not even their names, in fact, as much spraying is outsourced), and I suspect that's in large part due to a desire *not* to know. They know full well that such knowledge might force them to end their use in order to maintain a clear conscience, and thus lead to financial ruin.
So what about the small "local" farms that are the darlings of any local/sustainable foodie? Show me one, and I'll point out some fundamental shortfalls, many of which I'm intimately familiar with. Almost without exception, they're purchased and/or sustained with an inheritance, the proceeds from a previous well-paid career, or a spouse who kept their "regular" job and family health insurance. Many work to promote the sustainability image while making significant short-cuts, whether that's the liberal use of diesel fueled equipment, the use of chemically grown feed for their pastured livestock, or poorly compensated intern labor. The well known Joel Salatin scores a hit on nearly all of these (inherited farm, chemically grown feed, lots of diesel fuel, and loads of interns).
Doubling your food budget by going organic and/or local doesn't really cut it, as these farms are not truly viable even at their seemingly inflated prices. The fact of the matter is that producing food responsibly makes it just as expensive as it was historically, when people typically spent 40-50% of their income on food rather than the current 10-15%. Historically, farmers (of which most were and will again be) had significant advantages as well. A lower population made for a greater relative resource base, with consequently lower land costs. A pre-industrialized atmosphere made for greater climate stability and better odds of a successful crop. The inter-generational accumulation of farming knowledge was unbroken as well, though perhaps the internet will fill some of that gap for us while it's still around.
It probably goes without saying, but a return to spending 50% of our income on de-industrialized food means big changes are in store. That nice big house will be traded in for something more like the size of a typical garage, or will become a multiple family residence, or -- even more likely -- abandoned in favor of a location with enough land to grow food. Forget about the car (or paved roads to drive it on), washing machines, retirement, or most anything that has arrived on the scene in the last 150 years. Forget about the MRI for that head injury, or drugs for dealing with depression. There'll be no stairmaster or gym membership, and no need for either. There'll be no closet full of plastic clothes from China, cell phones, nor TVs for whiling away your days and fomenting a desire for consumer goods (you'll be too busy anyway). It'll be no panacea, but many of the changes will undoubtedly be big improvements over the status quo, probably making it a wash overall.
Can we return there? Should we? Do you think we really have a choice?