Sunday, October 2, 2011

Is junk food really cheaper than healthy food?

This is an excerpt from an article from the New York Times written by Mark Bittman, submitted by a reader:

The “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, “when a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli ...” or “it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.”

This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28.

In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. For instance, you can serve a plant based meal of brown rice and beans with salsa, a steamed vegetable plus a nice salad- easily enough for four people and costs about $9.

Another argument runs that junk food is cheaper when measured by the calorie, and that this makes fast food essential for the poor because they need cheap calories. But given that half of the people in this country (and a higher percentage of poor people) consume too many calories rather than too few, measuring food’s value by the calorie just does not make sense.

The alternative to soda or pop is water, and the alternative to junk food is not grass-fed beef from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than junk food that is healthy- plants. Instead of a meat selection, start centering your meals around an energy loaded starchy vegetable such as:

sweet potatoes
or any kind of potatoes
or rice
or beans
or corn
or grains

or any combination of the above, supplementing your meals with fruit, fresh vegetables, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables- any plant food eaten raw or cooked in a healthy way (using no oil) — in every case a far superior alternative.
From the blog editor: When you factor in the cost of illness associated with a diet of junk food combined with an animal food based diet, a starch based, plant based diet is much more inexpensive.