One of the most common complaints people have when switching to an organic/real food diet is the increase in their grocery bill. The truth of the matter is that healthy food is more expensive, often significantly more so. I truly believe that the universe has a way of balancing itself out, however, so in the case of food costs I’d like to pose the question, who is paying the price for cheaper food? Is eating healthy too expensive?
Oftentimes old adages lose meaning to us simply because we have heard them again and again. But as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”, and I believe you really do. As consumers we understand this principle when it is applied to most of the things we purchase- clothes, cars, electronics, hotels. So why, then, do Americans have such a resistance to paying more for the food we eat? After all, what could be more important than the nourishment we give our bodies each and every day? To anyone who objects to higher food prices based on the claim that they can’t afford them, I would argue that as Americans what we really cannot afford is to continue eating cheap, processed foods.
Because we live in relative isolation from the rest of the world (and our news is incredibly egocentric), Americans tend to have a narrow view on what is fair/normal/just in life. Before I moved to Greece, I remember feeling robbed every time I went to fill up my gas tank. I soon realized my naivety when I saw how expensive petrol is in other countries. Gas prices in America are actually among the lowest in the world. Bottom line is that we’re incredibly spoiled, and most of us have no idea that we are. And the same goes concerning our food expenditure. Americans spend less percentage of their income on food than any other country in the world. It wasn’t always this way, however. In 1900 Americans on average spent 43% of their incomes on food. In 2003 that number dropped to 13%. There are a lot of reasons for this, but basically we have found ways to make food cheaper. Although falling food prices may seem like a positive (where our bank accounts are concerned) our bodies are actually paying the price.
Cheap food in America is possible because as a nation we subsidize the large scale agriculture of certain crops (the ones primarily used in processed foods: mainly, wheat, corn and soy). These subsidies come from our taxes, so we are paying for them even though we might not feel the sting at the grocery store checkout. But while these processed foods might initially seem cheaper than their whole food counterparts, they do our bodies no good nutritionally (the opposite, as a matter of fact) and therefore are a waste of our money. A bag of Doritos might ring up as less expensive than a bag of organic apples, but they are also completely void of anything our bodies need to be healthy. When you are paying for the naked calories of processed food, you are really only paying the manufacturers of Doritos for the packaging and marketing their product provides. Additionally, since nothing happens in a vacuum, the lower prices of these subsidized crops shift their costs elsewhere- to the environment, animal welfare, to workers, and (arguably) most importantly, to our health…
Don't let me do all the talking! Let me know what you think in the comments.