Tuesday, December 11, 2007

No, You Don't Understand. It's Cheaper. Seriously.

So a few days ago the NYT ran an article called "A High Price For Healthy Food."

The premise was that fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains cost more than their frozen, partially-hydrogenated-soybean-oil-filled equivalents.

The research was a little skewed because they compared cost per calorie, instead of, say, cost per nutrient or vitamin.

Based on [scientist Adam Drewnowski's] findings, a 2,000-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day if it consisted of junk food, compared with $36.32 a day for a diet of low-energy dense foods. However, most people eat a mix of foods. The average American spends about $7 a day on food, although low-income people spend about $4, says Dr. Drewnowski.
(And Blue spends even less than that.)

The article, with its grabby headline and disappointing follow-through ("you mean I can spend $3 on a Cinnabon and get all my calories for the day, but I would have to buy $25 worth of broccoli?"), garnered a host of argumentative comments.

They tended to fall into two categories:

A. "It's not that hard to eat healthy, simple food on a limited budget. Buy vegetables in season and eat a lot of beans and rice."


B. "Eew! I'm not going to eat beans and rice like some starving college student!"

One commenter even said she could not in good conscience subject her children to bland "bean paste." (Why does she think there's a paste involved?)

Finally, at comment #102, we get:
Has anyone heard of Indian food?
It’s by far the cheapest thing you can eat, and every meal is packed with veggies. for $5 you can make a meal for 4 people, with just a head of cauliflower and some frozen beans and a cup of rice.
Agreed. And I'll see your $5 and lower you to $2.

Before I taught myself how to cook, I used to buy cheap pre-made crap. Ramen noodles, frozen pizzas, high-sodium Carl Buddig "thin meat."

Even though I shopped for bargains, it was still sixteen times as expensive as my current food budget.

Now I eat a diet that is based on lentils, rice, and cheese, with at least one seasonal vegetable added to each dish. (Emphasis on seasonal, team.)

I don't feel like a starving graduate student. I mean, I am a poor graduate student, but I'm nowhere near starving. In terms of culinary delights, I feel quite rich. I have cardamom and chilis and fenugreek. Every meal is a flavor adventure. (One night, I excitedly explained to my roommate about all the different kinds of lentils I had in my cupboard and the way they all made different tastes. She was thoroughly impressed.)

And I bet that if Dr. Adam Drewnowski analyzed the calories-per-penny in my lunches and dinners, it would rank right up there with the Cinnabon and the Pop-Tart.

But (sigh) that would have spoiled the news story.

1 comment:

ctrlalteredmind said...

I guess the NYT article had to add a tadka of sensationalism, but it seems like they were more focussed on ready-to-eat, pre-made stuff that you can buy, in each case. It's no wonder that it ultimately boils down to the farming bill and the huge subsidies that go out to dairy and meat producers, with veggies/fruit getting less than 1%.

What amazes me is the crazy price of green peppers here. I'd buy 2 kilograms for Rs. 12 back home, and here they are $1 each! I loves my capsicums (tear)