As a fitness professional who focuses daily on healthy-nutritional choices (for myself and my clients) I am saddened to see healthy food choices are still costing so much more than junk food. I understand that junk food is called “junk” because that it is made up of man-processed and highly-altered basic ingredients like refined sugar, sodium, high fructose corn syrup, etc. and that those ingredients are in abundance and therefore inexpensive to produce. I also understand that “fads” are great vehicles for capitalism to charge higher amounts for these newly in-demand items. But what worries me most is that very few people are factoring in the health costs that arise from eating the cheap stuff for years and years.
Recently I took my daughter and some friends to a water-park for a day of refreshing fun. The park very clearly stated on their website and at their gate that NO outside food was allowed in the park, so off we went with fingers crossed that there would be something decent to eat. When lunch time rolled around, the choices were black and white: fried, salty, sugary cheaply produced crap at a very affordable price, or one (and I do mean singular) option that was healthy but cost twice as much.
So my daughter had a slice of greasy cheese pizza and a large (only one size) lemonade (better than soda?) for $5.95. I had a small dollop of hummus in a plastic box containing 10 carrot and celery sticks, five triangles of bland pita bread, and a bottle of water for $12.00! So clearly sugary-water, and bread with a slathering of tomato paste and some generic cheese is cheaper to produce than a small scoop of garbanzo bean paste (humus) and some generic veggie slices?!
I perused the rest of the menu and found the most financially enticing options were for “families” – a whole pizza, 4 large sodas, and 4 churros (fried Mexican doughnut sticks) was only $19.00 = $4.75 per person for a family to ingest overly-processed and nutritionally void carbs, fats, sugars and salts. But hey, food is food, right?
This up-charging of “healthy” food choices happens everywhere from McDonald’s (sodas are cheaper than bottled water) to cafes and bistros (adding cheese to a sandwich is often free but adding avocado or brown rice costs $1.00 more). I remember the last time I went to Disneyland the snack items that were sugary and salty (popcorn, ice cream, etc.) were one price level, and the “healthy options” like fresh fruit, granola bars, and trail mix were a higher price. Just yesterday at a gas station we stopped at returning from a vacation, I bought two bananas – the cost $2.75 – but a bag of fruit flavored candies on display beside the fresh fruit was only 99¢.
What really frustrates me is that I do not believe that healthy food is more expensive to create or purchase by retailers. Granted, organic foods can cost more due to small production sizes, etc., but I know that this game of cost is all tied to the need of Americans to eat as much food as they can for as little money as possible. The majority of consumers don’t care about the quality of the food as long as it tastes good and is in abundance.
As I stated at the top of this rant, the “down the road” health ramifications, and costs incurred therein are very real, though most prefer to stay blissfully ignorant of the future. But you cannot escape the truth that consistently eating saturated fats, volumes of refined sugar and sodium will cause havoc on your insides and eventually result in the need for medical help and prescription drugs – all of which cost way more than that pizza you just ate!
Unfortunately, I do not see an improvement in this imbalance to the cost and availability of healthy food compared to junk until the masses demand a more balanced choice and price for their “on the go” meals.