Is cost a real excuse to eat unhealthy food?

I recently watched Food, Inc., a documentary by Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser exposing the highly mechanized food industry. The film dives into various issues with our food supply, including the influence of government regulatory agencies (FDA and USDA), how it is controlled by a mere handful of corporations that are more concerned with their bottom line than the consumer's health or the livelihood of the farmer, and how we have become an obese nation with childhood obesity becoming a bigger and bigger issue.

Although I loved the film, I took huge umbrage with a family of four who argued that eating healthy is too expensive and time consuming. In the segment titled "The Dollar Menu," the family orders dinner at a local fast-food drive-thru, purchasing $11.48 of burgers (5), chicken sandwiches (2) and soda (2 small sprites and 1 large Dr. Pepper).

For the purposes of setting the stage, I'm not going to sugar coat this…neither the father or the mother looked to be under-nourished and although the older daughter seemed to have a healthy body weight, the youngest definitely seemed overweight. The father has Type 2 Diabetes and spends $200 a month in medication and he may lose his job if his eyesight worsens. Further, at the rate of the family's eating habits, the youngest may very well be on her way to becoming obese or worse, a Type 2 Diabetic as well.

Needless to say, the family is OVER-nourished…and more specifically, over-nourished on junk. But, let's focus on the real issue: These people truly believe that they can't eat healthy because it is too expensive and too time consuming.

Cost

Let's first tackle the cost issue. In order to make the math work, I've done a PER MEAL / PER PERSON analysis between unhealthy grocery shopping and grocery shopping:

Food Type Cost Breakdown
Unhealthy Food Forgetting the health care costs of the father's health issues, and the potential health issues of the mother and possibly even the youngest daughter, let's focus on what we know:
  • $12 for dinner for a family of four (I'm rounding for simplicity). Let's assume dinner is their biggest meal, and as a result, they spend half of that on lunch and half of that on breakfast (averaging $6 for 4 breakfasts and $6 for 4 lunches).
  • Total spend on food = $24 a day for 12 meals (3 meals a day x four people)
  • In Summary: $2 a meal per person
Healthy Food My husband and I spend an average of $80 on groceries a week, made up mostly of chicken, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, some cereal/brown rice/grains, milk and eggs…and we buy almost ALL organic. But, let's say we couldn't afford organic or fresh produce, and instead purchased non-organic and frozen varieties of the same foods. The cost would be more in the vicinity of $50 (organic can cost up to two times the cost of non-organic, depending on the item):
  • 8 dinners (4 dinners each) + 10 lunches (5 lunches each) + 7 breakfasts for one = 25 meals*
  • 25 meals for $50
  • In Summary: $2 a meal per person

*These are not all the meals we eat, however, these are all of the meals that we eat in and cook for. Further, our grocery bill often covers an additional 5 snacks a week for at least one of us, but for simplicity, we did not factor these in.

Okay, so now we know that cost really isn't an issue: $2 a meal for unhealthy food and $2 a meal for healthy food. The cost isn't the issue here, the quality is.

Time

Let's now take a look at the issue of time. Granted, during the week it seems that it is pretty difficult for this family to cook. Fine. I get it. But, if someone seriously wants to eat healthy, they can figure it out. Here are some ways to "fit it in" to a busy schedule:

  • Cook big batches of food every Sunday so that it is ready made for you when you get home every night or for you to pack for lunch and/or dinner
  • Eat healthy snacks during the day. It takes NO time to make a piece of fruit, a yogurt, a handful of nuts, some carrots and hummus, etc.
  • For breakfast, eat oatmeal, cereal, yogurt or anything else that doesn't require a lot of time cooking

Look, I understand that people don't always know what is healthy or understand how to shop for healthy food, but I get really frustrated by people who make excuses for why they can't eat healthy when those excuses just don't hold true. If you want to eat healthy, then make it a priority and figure out how to do so. Go to the supermarket and find out what food really costs. Get the calculator out and start making comparisons. You'll be very surprised to learn that healthy food can be just as inexpensive as unhealthy food…if not more so when you factor in the potential cost of health care as a result of unhealthy choices.

Have you found a way to eat healthy economically? Have you thought about the cost of eating unhealthy food and compared it to the savings of eating healthy?

Originally Published on Sheer Balance - Copyright 2009 - Brett Blumenthal


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