One of the things that those of us who advocate for better eating hear regularly is that poor people can’t afford healthy food, and that only the affluent can afford to eat organic food.
It is true that organic and naturally produced items are usually more expensive than their industrial counterparts, but the notion that only the rich can afford to eat well is a dangerous myth.
Cherie has addressed this frequently on her blog and she knows all the facts about it better than I do. Check out her blog for details on this. But this morning I’ll touch on a few highlights.
Comparing the cost of a fast food meal and the cost of fresh produce is a false comparison. This is often done to suggest that the poor eat fast food because they can’t afford fresh produce. This fallacious argument was made in the movie Food, Inc. and it is widely believed.
It is wrong, however, to conclude that if fresh veggies won’t fit into today’s budget, then the only other choice is a meal from McDonalds. Frozen veggies are cheap. Beans and rice are cheap. There are countless options for very inexpensive, healthy meals. Fattening processed food is simply not the only alternative to fresh vegetables.
Of course most of the costs of processed food are externalized. The chemical-based farmers who produce the corn and soy are heavily subsidized by federal tax dollars. And of course we all end up bearing much of the cost of the health care expense that eating this food brings. If those costs were added to the price of the processed food, then it would be much more expensive than organic. As Joel Salatin says, “You think organic food is expensive? Have you priced cancer lately?”
Before I go too far down the rabbit hole, I’ll close with a few thoughts about the cost of breakfast. Many Americans spend lots of money to buy sugary breakfast cereals. There is almost no nutritional value in them and they’re produced from the cheapest, government-subsidized grains. The packaging costs far more than the stuff in the box.
Cherie pointed out to me recently that grits cost 4 cents per serving. Four cents! A person could eat a bowl of grits every morning for a month and barely spend a dollar.
We charge $4/dozen for our eggs and $6/lb for our sausage. That is expensive compared to what’s offered in the grocery stores. But even at those prices, you could have a couple of eggs with the grits and still spend less than a dollar for breakfast. If you’re really hungry you could add a sausage patty for another 75 cents or so.
I’ve been on a very tight food budget before and I know what it’s like. So I don’t fault those who have to compromise sometimes on the quality of what they’d otherwise buy. But we ought not to reinforce the false notion that it is somehow necessary to eat unhealthy food. It just isn’t true.