Monday, December 27, 2010

The role of price

The other day, I came across the following comment from somebody who feels price is an obstacle to eating healthier foods:

The basic problem with people eating healthy is that healthy food is on average more expensive then junk food. You can get a burger mean for around 3 bucks at most burger joints..a healthy wrap? between 5 and 7, with no drink.The same applies in grocery stores. Studies done have proven that middle to lower income families find it financially difficult to eat healthy, although many are aware of the healthy food choices. Perhaps a better option would be to find a way to make healthy foods competitively priced with the junk food.

She may have a point, but it struck me that the underlying assumption is that we are eating out.  In my opinion, as a society, we have put on so much weight, especially since the 70's and 80's, because so many people either eat out several times a week, or they buy foods at the grocery store that have already been prepared (think pizza, packaged meals, store bought dips, and even deli counter coleslaws, potato and pasta salads).

We say we are too busy to cook, but isn't the real reason that cooking is no longer taught to us by our parents or in school and that many of us have become totally reliant on restaurants as a society?

Luckily home-cooking is enjoying a major resurgence and there are unlimited websites and TV shows to reteach the skills that have been lost.  The economic decline of the past few years has also made it more socially acceptable to eat in, and this is another benefit.

One great example of a thrift-driven cooking site is Cook for Good. It shows that:
You can eat healthy, delicious food for an average of $1.13 a meal per person, based on grocery prices from October 2010. Every lunch includes a snack to be eaten when you like. Every day includes at least one dessert, two servings of fruit, and plenty of fresh vegetables. You can take this same menu and cooking plan green for just $1.72 a meal using mostly organic, sustainably grown, and kindly raised ingredients.
Now Cook for Good is far from grain- or sugar-free, so although it's a great site, it's not going to help you get off the grain ride. 

Many of the ingredients that go into a grain-free diet are admittedly somewhat more expensive:  for example a meat dish (especially if you use organic pastured meat) is usually pricier than a vegetarian pasta dish.  However, if cost is an issue, there are still many ways to make it work.  For one thing, a grain-free diet does not have to be meat-heavy - it's still about sensible portions.  Choosing seasonal produce - or better yet, growing your own - is also much more cost-effective than that which is not readily available where you live.  There are plenty of vegetarian options, and if you eat eggs, you will definitely be able to plan cheap meals that don't involve meat.

So in spite of the Cook for Good limitations, I think it's a very informative site for thinking about the cost-effectiveness of preparing all your food yourself.  There is little doubt in my mind that people who eat out regularly not only have less control over the ingredients that go into their daily diet, but they also spend more money overall than those whose meals are home-cooked.

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