Does It Cost More To Eat Healthy?
July 9, 2014 30 Comments
Look at that raw chicken! Doesn’t it make your mouth water?
I saw a graphic that compared buying a meal for a family of four at McDonald’s to buying a raw chicken along with potatoes and lettuce. Guess what? The chicken, potatoes, and lettuce cost less.
Yep. Done. Cheaper to eat healthy. Game over.
Actually, this graphic made me angry because (as you all know) those purchases are not comparable. Let us review.
Steps to buying a meal at McDonald’s:
1. Drive up to window.
3. Drive home.
Steps to roasting a chicken, potatoes, and making salad:
1. Go to store, buy all ingredients, drive home.
2. Unpack ingredients, heat oven, find pans.
3. Pop chicken and potatoes in oven, wash lettuce, get out plates.
4. Cook for an hour, eat, wash up pans, dishes, etc.
TIME!!! As much as I love certain people (Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Marion Nestle, etc.) encouraging us to cook – to act like roasting a chicken and ordering at McDonald’s are equivalent is just plain silly. Many Americans are working multiple jobs, helping out loved ones, carting children to soccer, and at the end of the day – they literally don’t have the time to cook.
Guess what? Not only does it take more time to cook and eat healthy – it costs more on average. A recent scientific study across 27 countries found that it cost $550 more per person per year to eat healthier (see: Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options?).
Yesterday, I didn’t pack my lunch and I was faced with a choice at a “healthier” local eatery. I could chose and $8 salad or a bagel with cheese and egg for $3. Which do you think I bought?
Why is the salad more expensive? The researchers hypothesized:
....many decades of policies focused on producing inexpensive, high volume commodities have led to a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing and marketing capabilities that favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.
What if all those decades had been focused on getting consumers inexpensive salad? I think we would be many pounds lighter as a nation.
Eating healthier requires more money and more time. There is no getting around it, but it is doable if you work at it.
Enter the Jamaican taxi driver.
I met a sweet Jamaican taxi driver on a trip to Florida. I asked him where I should eat near my hotel and he said, “Ohh, I don’t EVER eat out. I send most of my money home to my family in Jamaica.”
“What do you eat?”
“I always have a big batch of rice, beans, a little meat, and some carrots, potatoes, and peppers cooking in my apartment. I feed the neighbor’s kids, too.”
He found time to cook on his hours off and made a ton of food that kept him fed until he had time off again. He came from a different food culture where everyone cooked so he had the skills and he clearly enjoyed the process. It was simply part of him.
Since our culture teaches us to drive through McDonald's, we are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to healthy cooking.
I have found that nothing really worth doing is easy. Hard work, preparation, and commitment get me to the place where real change happens. After years of cooking, I am not even tempted by the drive-thru (but it took years).
Do you think it is cheaper to eat healthy? What have been your challenges?
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