False Choices

Too often these days it is argued that folks are forced to buy unhealthy processed food because they can’t afford fresh produce.  In the film Food, Inc., for example, a family is shown buying fast food because they couldn’t afford fresh produce.  But that is a false choice.  Organic veggies from the farmers’ market may appear to be more expensive than a meal at McDonalds, but it’s not as if those are the only two options available.

For example, it’s OK to buy frozen vegetables.  In fact, buying frozen vegetables is a much better option than buying processed food.  We freeze lots of produce from our farm and enjoy it all winter.  Sure, locally grown fresh veggies are better than supermarket frozen veggies, but those aren’t always available and sometimes the budget might not permit buying them.  And supermarket frozen veggies are often superior in quality to the supposedly “fresh” veggies sold there.  Check out this article in Mother Jones for more on the advantages of frozen foods. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/09/benefit-of-frozen-foods

It’s just crazy to conclude that if fresh organic veggies aren’t available, then fast food or processed junk is the only other option.  Beans and rice are another very healthy, very tasty and very inexpensive food option.  It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money to eat well.

One very sensible way to reduce the amount you spend on food is to grow as much of your own food as you can.  Folks can grow an enormous amount of delicious nutritious food in their backyards, for example, and in their spare time.  You don’t need a farm and gardening need not consume huge amounts of time.

Of course it makes good sense to try to buy from local sustainable farmers whatever food you can’t grow for yourself.

But when circumstances make that impossible, the alternative is not fast food.  Frozen veggies are just fine.

11 comments on “False Choices

  1. Jeff says:

    A friend sent me this link to an article by John Collins about Mary Berry and The Berry Center. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.


    • Bill says:

      Thanks Jeff. I’d seen references to that interview but hadn’t yet taken the time to read it. The thing that struck me the most (just because it’s personal to me, not because it’s the most important point she made) was the reference to CSA farming being a young person’s game (the guy who said it having quit at 55). I’m 53. I think with another 10-20 years of experience I might be able to get pretty good at this. But I do wonder how long my body can handle the amount of labor necessary.


  2. I am so with you here. I remember the clip in Food Inc you’re talking about – I think it was a head of broccoli that cost about the same as a burger combo. I think a huge part of what makes people think that they can only afford fast food is the sheer convenience of it. We all have fallen into the trap of being too busy, of being always on the way somewhere, leaving no time or energy to be in the kitchen, stir frying those frozen veggies while we wait for the rice to finish cooking. It’s just so much faster to buy a complete meal, with no dishes or mess to clean up, and the fast food outlets make sure that their choices look very affordable. The bag of frozen peas would be about $3. Bag of no-name white rice about the same. Let’s say a pack of boneless skinless chicken breast (4 in the pack) about $6. That’ $12 bucks that will serve 4 people one meal with meat, and another 4-6 meals without, depending what else they put with it (an onion? $0.75, green pepper? $1.25). It’s not expensive to eat well, it’s really not, but it does take time, and that’s what people think they don’t have.


    • Bill says:

      Yep. Although we otherwise liked the movie, that part bothered us. Having lived on very tight budgets, we knew darn well that eating fast food isn’t cheaper than eating decent food from a grocery store. It really is about convenience, in my opinion. As a society we’ve just elected to outsource our meal preparation to corporations. We are busy, for sure. But we’re not any busier than our ancestors. They just prioritized food preparation, and we don’t.

      As an aside, your mention of boneless skinless chicken breasts reminds me of something I heard at a conference last weekend. A farmer from Kentucky said there is a processing plant near him that processes nearly 1.4 million chickens per week (not a typo). Other than the boneless skinless chicken breasts (which are kept for the U.S. market), 100% of those processed chickens are exported to China. From Kentucky.

      Less than a generation ago we’d buy a chicken in the meat department, then take a knife and cut it up however we wanted. Now we have a culture that wants only “boneless skinless chicken breasts.”


      • Fox says:

        Fast food can seem way cheap to some, but those are the people who also buy TV dinners that are less food for the money than fast food. However, they don’t seem to think about it over the long term. It’s easier for me to see the total cost. My family of six spends $20-30 easy on a fast food meal. Eating at home does cost that much for steak dinners and the like, but for an average meal it’s $6-15 for us depending on what we eat. It could be cheaper if we were able to go to the butcher and the farmer’s market and the like. Unfortunately, we’re on food stamps, so that doesn’t make the food stretch.

        I always liked the meat market because I could get them to cut the meat how I wanted it. If I get a whole chicken, we end up with lots of boring roasts. I’m not talented with handling meat like that.


  3. shoreacres says:

    I just read your other recent post about waste, and it occurs to me that these two posts belong together. Cooking for one as I do, it can be hard to calculate exactly how much is needed, or seem like too much trouble to start from scratch. A nice bag of frozen veggies that can have a portion taken out and then be put back in the freezer can help cut down on both waste and overeating. 😉

    And sailorssmallfarm is exactly right. Time’s as much an issue as dollars. On the other hand, when I see the cars lined up at the Burger King down the street, I have to wonder. They could cook an entire meal in the time they spend sitting in their cars.


    • Bill says:

      Amen and amen.

      I’ve learned myself how hard it is to cook a meal after working all day. But it isn’t usually a question of time. Someone brought up this question at the conference we attended last weekend and the speaker (I can’t remember who it was) said that it’s true that we work long hours, but that having spent a lot of time living in Africa he knew that people there worked just as long or even longer hours and still took the time to prepare meals (having no other choice of course).

      The times in my life I’ve eaten the worst are the times I’ve come in from a long days work and just been too darned tired to prepare a decent meal.


    • Bill says:

      Thanks. This is helpful for reasons you probably didn’t realize when you sent it. We’re working to try to improve eating in the inner-city, and have some more related projects on the drawing board. Lots of work to be done there.


  4. Fox says:

    Fast food should only be the alternative when the choice is time. When your errands took you two hours longer than expected, or when you just finished sitting in three hours of gridlock while firefighters attempted to put out a car fire a half mile down the road and you’re now stuck with a wailing toddler in the back, that’s when fast food is the alternative to looking for a market with healthy alternative. Beyond that, the alternatives range from not great to pretty close. After all, anything is better than fast food!


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