That’s precisely the question this Sunday New York Times Op-Ed piece, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?, is asking this past weekend. The conclusion that Mark Bittman comes up with might surprise you. He concludes the reasons that our nation is basically addicted to bad food is much more complicated than that and cost is perhaps not even as significant a factor as many had previously thought up until now. Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:
In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)
So, knowing this, why do far too many people continually opt for questionable to downright atrocious dietary & nutrition habits? He believes there several reasons for that, and the culprit is largely due to things other than pure cost. Bittman writes that it’s largely a function time, culture, convenience, busy schedules, knowing how to cook (or wanting to, both big ones), and a sense of indulging as a way to reward one’s self:
The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch. “People really are stressed out with all that they have to do, and they don’t want to cook,” says Julie Guthman, associate professor of community studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of the forthcoming “Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitalism.” “Their reaction is, ‘Let me enjoy what I want to eat, and stop telling me what to do.’ And it’s one of the few things that less well-off people have: they don’t have to cook.”
Go read the whole article and then let us know what you think in the comments section below. It really is an eye opener on many levels and after reading it I’m in agreement with it as well. The food choices that many of us make, in addition to other choices we make on a daily basis, aren’t based purely on cost. Despite what many economists will tell you, human beings are not “rational” actors in that, or any, regard at all. The food choices we make are based on multiple factors, including time, busy schedules, cultural norms, but perhaps most importantly on the fact that some people LIKE to eat food that’s bad for them because it makes them feel good (or quasi-medicated) emotionally as a “reward” in that moment. The consumption of empty calories then compel many of us in a similar way that any drug compels an addict to come back for more, namely to eat more of it to remain satiated. It is a vicious cycle indeed. What must be done to combat it? How much responsibility does the food industry have to the citizens of our country? Our government? Personal responsibility? What say ye?