Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why bad food is cheap food

Kitty writes about saving moolah (a post which references two simply-must-read blogs). She notes that those with little money are caught in a catch-22 when purchasing foodstuffs. Those trying to be frugal can save money today, but can find much more expensive problems tomorrow:

...if you can’t afford food, you certainly can’t afford vitamins or a gym membership. It’s easy to see how people become obese.

This one line made me think about something I'd read about recently: Corn. Let's see if I can't find a link with charts and graphs and tight copy... here we go: I'm Hatin' It: How the feds make bad-for-you food cheaper than healthful fare.

The premise disturbingly simple. Corn Syrup, the cheap sweet found in sodas, baked goods, cereal and more is made from corn. With me so far? In the time that it's been used (about the past 25 years) obesity has nearly doubled. Childhood obesity has nearly tripled. Occurrences of type II diabetes rose 41% from 1997 to 2004.

So if it's so bad for us, why use it? The Farm Bill helps increase corn production by subsidizing those farmers. This leads to an overproduction of corn, which causes lower prices. More cheap corn = more cheap corn products = more corn syrup. But just because it's cheap, doesn't mean we have to use it. Does it?

Actually, yes and no. Let's say you go into a supermarket to buy a sweet product. You might be a responsible individual and scan the ingredients list and say "High Frutose Corn syrup? I'm not putting that in my temple". You'd pass it and buy the alternative. It has a nicer package anyway and says good things like "pressed cane juice" and "organic". You feel better leaving the store, though it cost a little more.

Another responsible individual goes to the same market, and picks up the same first item, and looks at the ingredients. "Sure, I know what's in this, but I also know I can afford this. My kids will eat it and it costs less than half of the fancy one next to it." Money is an issue for most people, and saving big bucks at checkout time is often times priority one.

Now, let's say you're a teacher in the Bronx. You watch your students coming into school at 8 in the morning with a buttered roll and a blue drink that in the shape of a plastic jug. You scoff and shake your head; "how can you drink that stuff so early in the morning!? It's blue sugar water!" Wiping the sleep out of their eyes, they shrug their shoulders. At the bodega (deli) across the street, the buttered roll costs 25¢, as does the blue juice. For 50 cents, breakfast is taken care of. You'd spend at least $3 for eggs on whole wheat and an orange juice. Get them hooked while their young -- twice the sweet for half the cost. What could you expect?

The money saved today is going to cost us later, when we have doctor bills and health related illnesses keeping us from enjoying life. Unfortunately for many, the real challenge is making it until tomorrow, by any means necessary.


Melina said...

I absolutely agree with you, that's why most people will stop at the fast food drive thru and get a combo or order off the dollar menu, for $4.00 you can get a whole meal, what can you get at the grocery store for $4.00.

Columbia said...

While you can get food at $4/person at the store to make a meal (assuming you're making more than one), McGreasy's has the cooking already done for you, ready to eat. Either it's priceless convenience, or the high price of convenience. The upfront costs make it hard to pass up.

I. M. Bitter said...

Sad but true.

Every time I go on a strictly healthy eating regimen, I walk out of the grocery store with sticker shock. Fresh food in its original form is expensive! (That includes pre-packaged meat. As much as I like a steak, I doubt I'll ever go out and buy a cow.)

Chris said...

It’s hard to compete with $4 for a meal. It has always been a surprise to me when I go on a healthy eating regiment also. The grocery bill skyrockets for sure. I remember when I was in high school I was definitely the kid with the “buttered roll and a blue drink.” The price was the key component for my choices back then. I guess part of the problem was that my parents, while very successful, where not cooks so I didn’t pick up the love of good food from them. The NY Kids Club offers cooking classes to get kids excited about what they are eating, I know because I work for them. There is a Free Friday Play Day on January 11th or the 18th. Plus, they have many other classes for ages 6 months to 12 years old: music, martial arts ballet and rock climbing just to name a few. Hope to see you there!

Chris Turner