Experts point out that “convenience” foods cause Americans to eat more, pay less, consume fewer nutrients, and damage the environment.
While expensive gas prices and great shipping distances has caused the price of groceries to go up 4.4 percent in the last year, junk food still remains inexpensive.
According to University of Washington epidemiologist Adam Drewnowski, it's perfectly rational, on a dollar-per-calorie basis, to buy cheap junk food. Because fresh fruits and vegetables cost more to store and ship, Drewnowski estimates it would cost 100 times as much money to get the same amount of energy from fresh raspberries as from a typical packet of cookies.
As a whole, Americans don’t spend much money on food because we choose not to and because we don’t have to. In the US, people spend less money to feed themselves more than any other people in the planet. Just 9.9¢ of each dollar we spend is for food, down from 23.4¢ in 1929. By comparison, 16% of household expenditures in Britain go to food; Brazilians spend 23%, Thais 29%.
For this reason, the USDA has launched programs to educate people that while cheaper foods have more calories, they generally have fewer nutrients. On a dollar-per-nutrient basis, healthy food is not more expensive. Studies have proven that fruits and vegetables are also more satiating, making consumers feel fuller despite containing fewer calories.
The hidden costs to forfeiting health for convenience are numerous, environmental damage being a major problem. In the race to create the cheapest price for produce, farmers apply enormous amounts of pesticides. The obesity problem is more obvious to the public, as Americans spend around $94 billion annually treating ailments related to overeating.
As food expert Carlo Petrini points out in Slow Food Nation, agriculture has become "completely detached from the lives of billions of people, as if procuring food had become a matter of course and required no effort at all." But one way or another, we will pay for all that we're eating.
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