Barely two generations ago we had a problem with hunger in our culture. Now, in an era where energy-dense food is cheaper and more plentiful than ever, we face an obesity epidemic, and the lower you are on the socioeconomic ladder, the greater your risk of being overweight.
There is an argument, held by some, that obesity is more common among low-income people because healthy food costs more. The logic behind that statement has always bugged me on some level. Perhaps it's because I write a food blog that features so many healthy and laughably cheap recipes.
So I decided to submit this thorny question to Casual Kitchen's Blogging Roundtable and see what our braintrust of bloggers thought about the issue. Here's what I asked them:
America's poor have an obesity problem because healthy food costs more than unhealthy food. Do you agree or disagree with this statement, and why?
Once again, this exercise yielded candid and exceptionally thought-provoking answers from some of the best bloggers out there. Here they are, in their own words:
Joy, author of What I Weigh Today:
I don't agree. It's true that if you go to a typical megamart the potato chips will cost less than the fancy organic snacks at a boutique organic grocery, but I can make a family feast based on mostly vegetarian whole ingredients for less than what a family will spend at the drive-through. Whole ingredients are a cheaper alternative than processed, packaged foods. Now the high-end whole ingredients may cost as much or more than the low-end processed foods, but conventional vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains are cheaper than even cheap packaged meals and manufactured ingredients. And conventional whole ingredients, especially when meat is limited or eliminated, are healthy.
The real problem is that the basic skills that can turn a hamhock, a pile of beans and some rice into a delicious meal have been all but lost. Plus, economic pressures force parents to spend long hours at multiple jobs, leaving little time or energy for home cooking. We've created a situation where it's so much easier to grab the cheap, palatable meal from a fast food outlet that many have lost the will to learn to cook. When we decide, as a society/culture, to pursue social justice for all walks of life, the health of all Americans, including the poorest among us, will improve.
Tyler, author of 344 Pounds:
I disagree with this statement. I was the textbook definition of poor growing up and I don't blame anybody but myself for my obesity. Sure, I believe the rich or those of moderate means have easier access to food that is of a higher nutritional value due to its cost, but at the end of the day -- unless you suffer from a medical condition, being obese is a choice. While I might have only had access to unhealthy foods growing up, I also had the ability to control my portions and make sure I engaged in daily physical activity -- the exact same way I'm losing weight today.
I did neither when I was a child and I became overweight, then obese. It had nothing to do with my parents' bank account.
Tara, author of Beach Eats:
As a woman who's engaged in a life-long struggle with her weight, I'm here to tell you that its entirely possible to be fat on a diet of quality, healthy food. It's not the cost of food that's gotten me here, its the quantity! I avoid packaged foods, shop organic, eat fresh, local, foods as much as possible and have not seen the inside of a fast food restaurant in years ... yet ... I'm overweight. I'm overweight on high quality, expensive, healthy food.
Personally, I can't separate any discussion of obesity from the issue of personal responsibility. We all make choices and suffer their consequences. Will I go for a walk, or crash in front of the tube with a bag of chips? Do I really need a "Big Gulp" when water would suffice? Snack on an apple or throw down with a box of Twinkies? You get my point. Skip the walk and opt for the chips, Big Gulp and Twinkies and you're going to end up fat every time, regardless of income.
Yes, we absolutely need to address the rising cost of food in this country, but we also have to hold ourselves accountable for our choices.
Kris, author of Cheap Healthy Good:
I vehemently disagree with this statement. America's poor have obesity problems because many urban and rural areas lack decent grocery stores, there isn't enough overall nutrition and food education, and cooking at home becomes a negligible priority when a family is just trying to get by. Schools are attempting to combat this, but it's difficult when junk food is pushed at kids from birth, reinforced constantly by the media, and served every day at home. It's important to recognize that non-poor Americans have the very same issues, though, which is why two thirds of the country is overweight. It's not the economy. It's our culture.
Jules, author of stonesoup:
In Australia, we face a similar situation with obesity. I wish it were as simple as the cost of healthy food but to me there are many more factors involved. Sure there are plenty of cheap burgers and takeaway pizza out there but pulses (legumes) and fresh fruit and veggies aren't necessarily any more expensive--they just take time and knowhow to turn them into something delicious. The other key factor to me is the availability and convenience of fresh food.
So if you did have to point a finger to the cause of our expanding waistlines I'm thinking lack of education is really the key. Knowing what the best food choices are is really important as is having the skills to be able to prepare nutritious meals at home.
Readers, here's your chance to sound off. What are your thoughts on this issue?
All CK recipes tagged with laughably cheap
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The Pros and Cons of a High-Carb/Low-Fat Diet
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