Monday, July 20, 2009

Food for Thought

Some weeks back, my friend Dan of Casual Kitchen invited me to participate in another edition of his wonderful Blogging Roundtable ... and this time the topic threw me for a loop. Dan posed this provocative question to five of his fellow bloggers:

"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?"

Honestly, I was stumped ... on a number of levels. I had a really hard time trying to codify my thoughts on the topic. I'm no expert on poverty, obesity or economics; these are not subjects about which I have any factual knowledge. And, to be really, really honest ... I'm not very good about looking at price tags either. Just ask Mama Diva, I was born this way. And then it hit me: blogger, read thyself! I'm "The Diva on a Diet" ... duh! I do know a little something about weight issues, after all.

And what I know is that I'm fat on a diet of healthy, high-quality food. So my initial response was to disagree with the statement, based purely on my own experience and circumstances. Before answering, though, I decided to do a little math. I know ... terrifying, huh?!

Having recently paid a staggering $4.99 for one single, organic, red bell pepper at my market, I do agree that the cost of quality food is out of control. Certainly, the rising cost of such food has to be a factor in our growing obesity problem, but is cost the only factor? Does an apple cost more than a Twinkie? The answer may surprise you.

A quick search revealed the following: I priced out a box of Twinkies on, Stop and Shop's online store. They were on special that week, $3.00 for a box of 10, for a final cost of $0.30 per Twinkie. Empire apples were also on special that week, a 3 lb. bag for $2.50. There are roughly 3 apples per pound, so I'm figuring a total of 9 apples in that $2.50 bag, for a final cost of slightly less than $0.28 per apple. Who knew that apples and Twinkies were nearly the same price? I sure didn't. (Perhaps because I don't buy Twinkies! But, I digress.)

My point? Yes, I can do some basic math! ~ahem~ No, that's not really my point. My point is that although we absolutely must address the rising cost of food in this country, we also need to hold ourselves accountable for our choices ... and maybe even do a little math from time to time. Obesity is a complex issue; genetics, life-style choices, income and economics all factor into it. Its a provocative subject to say the least and I congratulate Dan and the rest of the Blogging Roundtable for taking it on.

You can read the rest of my response, as well as those of the other participants on Casual Kitchen today. As expected, the answers are candid, well-considered and very impressive. Once again, I'm honored to find myself in such esteemed company and I'm immensely grateful to Dan for giving us the opportunity to sound off on the topic. Please click over to Casual Kitchen and add your own thoughts to the discussion.

So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the statement? Inquiring bloggers want to know!

Bon appetite!


Tangled Noodle said...

Excellent post on a difficult, thought-provoking question! I agree mostly with you and Kris of Cheap Healthy Good: the availability of healthy foods, particularly in poor urban and rural areas is a big variable and even then, such availability doesn't guarantee healthy choices.

The question and answers highlight something important - it seems to me that we often focus on the need to ID just one culprit when in fact, there is no one thing. And obesity is not confined to America's poor: according to the Nat'l Poverty Center, 12.5% of Americans in 2007 lived below the poverty threshold (e.g. a family of four earning less than $21K) but more than 60% of us are overweight! A good portion of the population CAN afford to eat healthy food so cost is not the sole reason.

Jill said...

I tend to spend a lot less when I'm on a diet...which is a pretty lame answer.

Maven said...

First of all, great blog!

I took a cooking class last summer with a well known chef who believes that everyone can afford to eat well, that it's all about priorities and what we choose to spend our money and time on. I have to admit she was a little judgemental in that she felt everyone should be growing their own food and hucking out their tv's but... it did give me pause.

For example, my husband just about had the big one a few weeks ago when I spent $14.00 on a package of local buffalo mozarella cheese for a pizza I was making with tomatoes and basil from our garden.

The entire pizza, filled with healthy ingredients cost under $20.00 - less than if we had ordered one and way less fattening.

But, (and you KNOW I've got a big one ;) it seems to be the amount of that wonderfully fresh and tasty pizza we consumed that has something to do with it.

pixelgal said...

Here's what I answered to the very thought-provoking question:
I've battled the bulges for the better part of my senior life and haven't figured it out yet. I know it has nothing to do with the cost of food. Or whether you're rich or poor. My husband was poor and he's not fat. I wasn't and I am. My family had fat genes on both sides but my sister is thin as was my Dad until he was older. And bread and pasta are really good! So is chocolate. I think today the sedentary lifestyle kids lead, 2 working parents eating at Mickey D's a lot and so much pressure to have activities going on every minute there's no time to think about cooking or what you're feeding the kids. But my Mom always made the best, healthiest meals. I just ate too much and couldn't control my sweet tooth. Or inherited the fat genes instead of the few thin ones. I know weight loss must be a priority in order to lose weight---keeping it off is another story. Fat people are not necessarily unhealthy either. It's a puzzle.

The Duo Dishes said...

Occasionally unhealthy food is cheaper. You do have to be accountable for your actions. If you take the time to plan ahead and do some bargain hunting, you can find good deals and make better food at home. In the long run, it's much cheaper to buy it yourself. Just think about dinners than can transform into lunches during the week or even a weekend breakfast frittata as a snack. Of course cooking at home doesn't mean we won't make fried chicken, fudge brownies or jalapeno poppers every now and then, but even that occasional meal won't tip the scale.

Astra Libris said...

Such an excellent post, and very eloquent! Such an interesting, complex, and important issue! I completely agree with you - while the prices of some food items are a wee bit high (I too thought of organic bell peppers :-), apples ARE an alternative to twinkies (I love your direct comparison!), and beans, rice, lentils, frozen peas and corn, sweet potatoes, and low-fat yogurt are all very, very inexpensive items, among many others (all of which have fueled my own financially tighter months quite frequently!), that are also increadibly healthy... Personally, I think it's an education issue, rather than a cost issue... but that's just my humble opinion...:-)

Thank you so much for such a fantastic, thought-provoking post!

stephchows said...

I agree it's all about making your own decisions... but the fact you can get a couple belly bomb burgers for a few dollars without leaving your car...that isn't helping the situation any. We need cheep drive through healthy chow places... then we'd be all set :) Actually... even if we had those, I'm sure the people we are talking about would still stop into the golden arches instead of the healthy chow lane.

The Diva on a Diet said...

Wow, I'm blown away by these wonderful comments and I heartily agree with ... all of you!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your opinions here, on what is, I know, a difficult and sometimes touchy subject. Each and everyone of you has contributed something meaningful and I'm so grateful for that.

Thanks also to Dan for providing such a thought provoking topic!

Anonymous said...

Diva, you could pop out this week and see Food Inc. There is a very provocative segment in that film that follows a money strapped family as they try to grocery shop for food that would be cheaper than the $1.99 meal deal at the local fast food chain.

While I think you can grocery shop wisely and take advantage of flyers I also know that the store can be a confusing place. For instance why, yesterday at my local grocery store were the more delicious. local raspberries twice the price of the Driscoll berries shipped all the way from California?

The Diva on a Diet said...

Dana, you're right I do need to see Food Inc., though I have to be honest ... I'm a bit scared to do so. I'm terrified of seeing anything meat related because its going to make me feel horrible and I might have to turn into a vegetarian or something! LOL

Daniel said...

I just wanted to stop by and thank you Diva, for joining in on the discussion, and I wanted to thank all your readers here, as well as the readers at Casual Kitchen and at all the other blogs that participated.

It's really encouraging to see so much constructive dialog and healthy back and forth. It's exactly what I was hoping for when I put out that thorny question in the first place.

Casual Kitchen

Deb said...

I feel like it is costing me more to eat healthy. We eat mostly fresh which is more expensive than processed foods. We also tend to shop the perimeter of the store. I do recognize shopping seasonally and using some budget ingredients like dried beans can stretch your food dollar while eating healthy. I think the enemy is bad choices, processed foods, portion control and lack of exercise.