Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

From The New York Times:

Published: September 24, 2011

THE “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, “when a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli …” or “it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.”

This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)

In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)

Another argument runs that junk food is cheaper when measured by the calorie, and that this makes fast food essential for the poor because they need cheap calories. But given that half of the people in this country (and a higher percentage of poor people) consume too many calories rather than too few, measuring food’s value by the calorie makes as much sense as measuring a drink’s value by its alcohol content. (Why not drink 95 percent neutral grain spirit, the cheapest way to get drunk?)

Besides, that argument, even if we all needed to gain weight, is not always true. A meal of real food cooked at home can easily contain more calories, most of them of the “healthy” variety. (Olive oil accounts for many of the calories in the roast chicken meal, for example.)In comparing prices of real food and junk food, I used supermarket ingredients, not the pricier organic or local food that many people would consider ideal. But food choices are not black and white; the alternative to fast food is not necessarily organic food, any more than the alternative to soda is Bordeaux.

The alternative to soda is water, and the alternative to junk food is not grass-fed beef and greens from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than junk food: rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh vegetables, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, bread, peanut butter, a thousand other things cooked at home — in almost every case a far superior alternative.

“Anything that you do that’s not fast food is terrific; cooking once a week is far better than not cooking at all,” says Marion Nestle, professor of food studies at New York University and author of “What to Eat.” “It’s the same argument as exercise: more is better than less and some is a lot better than none.”

Continue reading at:

3 Responses to “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?”

  1. Andrea B. Says:

    If my memory serves me correctly junk food became more expensive than natural food from 10 to 15 years ago depending on what it was.

    My local fish and chip shop back home used to be twice as expensive as Mac Donalds 20 years ago, yet is now about 40% of the price. The quality of the food from that fish and chip shop has actually risen in that period as they started to source of local farmers and fisher communities.

    There has been a lot of rebranding of junk food so as to make it seem like it is slightly upmarket.

    When I am back in Ireland in a few weeks to visit the family, I am setting up a greenhouse system for my parents so that all herbs, spices and some vegatables can be grown well out of season. A solar panel along with a small vertical wind turbine will supply enough heat to lift it about 5C above normal interier greenhouse temperature (up to about 15C above outside ambient) and supply a little extra light to extend growing to about 12-16 hours a day, depending on time of year.

    Should take the growing season from mid march to mid november in the greenhouse, if I have worked it out properly. Got a friend to buy the turbine, batteries and panel very cheaply at a bankruptcy auction recently in Ireland. Hope to have it fully ready so as to reduce bills next year.

    A lot of people I know back home have turned away from processed foods recently. It is not because of price, but literally because a lot of them have noticed that the food has the consistancy of cardboard or vomit depending on what it is.

    Food quality has really dropped the last few years.

    An example is here in Sweden. I bought half a lamb recently of a farmer. The meat tastes totally different from that in the shops. The texture is different. I suspect the meat from the supermarkets has been refrozen several times, contrary to what they claim.

    Also bacon and pork from Denmark which is antibiotic free tastes very different from bacon from other countries. I have pork almost every saturday and usually bacon about twice a week on sandwiches for work. Since switching to Danish bacon my skin has cleared up a lot in a very noticeable manner and I no longer have bloating issues. That tells me a lot about food quality issues.

    • Suzan Says:

      One thing I learned as a hippie back in the 1960s was that I could always make food cheaper and more nourishing than fast food.. Things like stews with cheap meat potatoes, carrots and onion. Not too much meat and lots of vegetables. Chili with beans. Soups.

      People would throw in a few cents and ten of us could eat from a big pot. Make oatmeal cookies from scratch for dessert.

      We had food co-ops that let us buy several hundred pound sacks of rice, flour, beans and split it up. Put it in the big jars we got from the stores that sold bulk food to restaurants.

  2. Andrea B. Says:

    Part of the issue with my friends and family is cost. The main issue that keeps coming up is the health of the children, amongst my friends and relatives regarding food over the last few years. Even some of my friends who are normally anti more or less everything you can think of, are starting to talk about getting naturally grown foods. That is why several of them have been on the phone to me recently, as I know how to build alternative energy systems, integrate them into a unit and install them to work reliably as well as the fact I have experience of not only growing herbs, spices, vegetables, and fruits, but of getting plants to grow well out of season or enviroment, that most gardeners claim can’t be achieved, due to doing a bit of thinking and planning. They are no longer accepting labels that state organic either, as they know full well they are not. I personally no longer accept any organic label as organic. The last organic apple I took a bite from in Sweden, reminded me of benzaldehyde from my lab technician days.

    For the first time in about 25 years friends of mine from back home have been picking wild apples, plums, pears and blackberries to feed to there kids in our back gardens and fields. There kids go completely nuts on some of the so called green vegatables and fruits from the shops as well as the ordinary stuff, yet veggies and fruits from my friends and families back gardens and fields has no effect on them. So much for green labelling.

    I would not buy anything from a Co-op now, as I would no longer trust them. Up till ten years ago I did trust co-ops in Ireland, but since a lot of them were amalgamated and taken over by people who have never even stood in a field, they are no longer friendly or helpful and do not supply seed that comes from natural only products.

    I have hundreds of large storage jars that are used for preserving back home. I am well versed in storing fruits and vegetables for long periods.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: