The Cost of Health (and Food)

On February 17, 2010, in Miscellaneous, by scott

What can you get for five dollars. How about food? What type and how much?

If one were to go the fast food route: 5 hamburgers, an “extra value meal,” 5 tacos, a Hot and Ready pizza, or a bunch of other less than healthy options.

If one were to go to a supermarket: 10 boxes of macaroni and cheese, a package of hot dogs, 2 frozen pizzas, or how about 50 packages of ramen (ok, I MIGHT be exaggerating here)

How about healthy options?  Same routes as previously stated.

Fast Food: 1 salad (most cost slightly more than 5 dollars,) 1, maybe 2 grilled checken sandwiches, or a couple of yogur parfaits.

The Supermarket: 2/3 of a package of chicken breasts, a decent serving of vegetables, or maybe a bag of potatoes.

About $5.00 Worth of Veggies

What I am getting at here is that in order to eat healthily, one has to spend an exponentially larger amount of money to get the same amount of food. To feed a family of four, you could buy a package of macaroni and cheese, a package of hot dogs, and a two liter of a sugary soda for around 5 bucks.  You could also purchase a package of chicken breasts, some broccoli, and a package of couscous or a bag of potatoes for 3 to 4 times that amount.  Something seems fundamentally wrong to me with this equation.

I posted this same question on Facebook and some great discussion ensued. This is more of a rant and a continuation of that discussion.

Like in this NPR article, it has been said several times. In this country, there is a direct correlation between income and obesity. What is the overall cost in this situation.

If someone cannot afford to feed themselves or their families healthy foods, the results could be obesity, vitamin deficiencies, and other health problems now and later in life. When health problems develop, such as diabedes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, someone has to pay money to treat them. Who pays. Will it be the family that couldn’t afford to pay for the healthy options in the first place? Will it be the government? Will insurance companies? Will it be the tax payers?

In my opinion, by having certain foods subsidized by the government, we are setting ourselves up to have those people who couldn’t afford healthy options in the first place pay in the end. Not monetarily, but through poor health.  I don’t wish ill health on anyone!

Why is it we are able to purchase highly processed, sugary, and unhealthy foods at such a discount when buying a simple an apple, grown locally, could cost as much or more than a meal at a fast food restaurant. What would happen if the subsidies suddenly went away? Would all food suddenly skyrocket in price? These are questions to which I have no answer, only theories.

Why should we need to pay MORE for a loaf of bread in which the flour is processed LESS than a loaf of overly process, high fructose corn syrup added, preserve filled white bread? Why do vegetables, even frozen, cost more than a can of a processed pasta like product (even with meat in the can)? Even worse, some companies take their unhealthy product, make it a “diet” version, and charge MORE for a less un-healthy option.

Our family is blessed with the ability to shop around the perimeter of the grocery store while needing only a few options in the aisles that are mostly filled with highly processed foods. Canned veggies, pastas (which are processed), and breads are generally all we get that aren’t located in the perimeter areas. Our grocery bill is significantly higher than if we were to shop for less healthy options, but we believe that by eating right now, we won’t have all of the health issues down the road.

We are also blessed in that we have venison to supplement our meat consumption in the winter. Other options I’ve heard quite a bit are gardening and growing your own produce. (I have a friend and coworker who also has a blog about her adventures in gardening)

Buying fresh, buying local, buying raw, whole, or the least processed foods are what we strive for. The cost of health? High now and less later, or less now and high later?

I’m not an expert. I’m not certified. I’m just a paying consumer frustrated with the cost of what I view is trying to be healthy.

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4 Responses to The Cost of Health (and Food)

  1. chad says:

    I’m hoping we can get to that point soon. Unfortunately, we’re feeding 8 people in our house right now with a budget of around $500 / month.

    I do have a goal though to try to avoid my former employeer and going to the farmers market, local bakery, and local butcher for all our needs when we can and actually eat right….soon.

    on a side note, have you noticed at your grocery store that a lot of the produce comes from outside the country? normally south america….

  2. scott says:

    I have noticed. It is frustratingly hard to buy American grown produce. Like you said, South, an quite a bit of Central American grown produce. There is no substitute for a Michigan grown apple!

  3. Brian says:

    Re: Pay now or pay later – I don’t have the book in front of me (it’s back at the library), but Michael Pollan addressed this in “In Defense of Food”. He had a statistic of how cheap processed food has become. It’s not as much that healthy food is expensive, it’s that processed food is cheap. I wish I could give exact quotes on dates, but I believe it was around 1980ish that 15% of the GDP was spent on food and 5% was on healthcare. In 2005(ish), 4% is spent on food and 18% is spent on healthcare. Interesting correlation.

    I’ll write more later, but I have a crew van to catch!

  4. marcy says:

    Well said, Scott.

    One of the problems with produce (or food in general) is that we are so used to having anything we want, whenever we want it, regardless of the season. If you want local produce, you also have to be willing to buy what’s in season and adjust your menu. That’s sometimes easier (summer), but about this time of year, it gets tough.

    A good book on this subject is “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s full of lots of good tips and recipes for living with the seasonal produce and buying food locally.

    I was just reading today that historically, one of the reasons that Lent was a season of fasting and cutting back was that food was less plentiful during this time of year (in the Northern Hemisphere), and it was simply practical to eat less.

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