The (Real) Costs of What We’re Eating


How much money do you spend on food? This is a touchy subject for me, as I have made weak and unsuccessful efforts over the years to budget less moola for my family’s groceries. But really, have you ever seen a coupon for organic sweet potatoes or flax seed oil? I rest my case.

As a society, we are actually spending less than ever before on food, much of it processed convenience foods high in sugar and fat, and we pay a crazy-high price for this way of life, to the tune of $190 billion last year (according to Forbes) in obese-related heath care bills. I believe if we are buying healthy, mainly whole foods and actually eating them, it’s worth it — we are worth it — even if this means we have to live more simply and sacrifice in other areas.

But many Americans don’t have much of a choice — and our way of eating is quickly spreading around the world. Let me tell you, it was surreal to walk out of Westminster Cathedral after hearing an impromptu organ recital that bought tears to my eyes and smack into a  . . .McDonald’s. What the what? No, thank you.

I recently read Terry McMillan’s The American Way of Eating (2012) and reread Eric Schlosser’s sobering Fast Food Nation (2001) in preparation for the class I’m teaching this fall. Both authors make the point that, regardless of socioeconomic status, people generally want to eat healthy food, and they have an understanding of what that means. But when you live in a “food desert,” have $3 to feed your kids dinner, or just got off work at 5 am, you’re most likely going to “choose” calorie-dense, processed foods over a head of broccoli. Corn, wheat, and soy crops — the main ingredients in prepackaged foods — are heavily subsidized by the government. Fruits and veggies? Not so much.

I was not surprised to read in the Huffington Post this morning that Oslo, Norway is often ranked as the most expensive city in the world — this year coming in behind only Tokyo, Osaka, and Sydney. The stressful part of our visit to Norway last week was the prohibitive cost of food — and we didn’t even order meat dishes, the most expensive items on the menu. We could never have afforded to travel there without Ryan’s conference funding offsetting many of the costs.

Fifty years ago Americans spent a third of their take-home pay on food; now we spend just 13% (less than most other nations), and the USDA recommends we spend at least 25% in order to eat healthy.  We need to stop seeing good food as a luxury; it is a necessity — and we need to work to make it available to everyone.



One response »

  1. Pingback: Fast Food Nation film review | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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