Why is it so expensive to eat healthy and what can be done about it?

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jan 12, 2010 3:19 AM GMT
    This is an interesting topic that is up close and personal every day. Why the hell is it so easy and cheap to stuff our bodies full of garbage, and so damn expensive to purchase quality meats, healthy pasta and fresh fruits and vegetables? I'm not sure what the answer is, but I would imagine that it is because the "collective" we consume this stuff by the tons. And of course, the more consumed = the higher volumes produced = lower cost for production = lower prices = more consumption. Kind of a crazy cycle.

    Don't get me wrong, I fall prey to the marketing tactics as well and certainly now and then partake of the simple to prepare delights. About a year ago, however, when my height/weight were less proportionate, I decided that I needed to make a dietary change in addition to implementing a fitness routine. But it was so expensive. In a month, I easily tripled my food budget. So what to do? Well, first of all, I had to REALLY broaden my horizons and think outside of my nicely little packaged box of a life that I had been leading. All that being said, here are some thoughts I have (and things that I am actually doing in my life) for keeping the cost of healthy eating / living down.

    1. Purchase produce from local growers at growers markets (sometimes people want a premium for their stuff, but for the most part, this tends to be a community of like minded people all with the same goal).
    2. Check in to U-Pick farms. If you live in a large metropolitan area, you may need to make a Saturday drive to accomplish this. This summer I picked 107 lbs of peaches at a local orchard and 18 lbs of blueberries at a local berry farm at a fraction of supermarket price.
    3. Grow your own. No, you don't have to live on a farm either. With current economic times, urban farming / gardening is becoming more and more common. There are a growing number of resources in metropolitan areas to help you in this. You don't necessarily have to be a proficient gardener to get started, either. Before I started, most everything I planted met a speedy demise. I now have gardens that produce year round (with the aide of some home made green houses).
    4. Raise your own animals for fresh milk and eggs. I have five laying hens that produce 1.5 dozen eggs a week from early spring until mid fall. And Milk? A cow? No! Ever had fresh goats milk? It's quite delicious and very good for you. Added bonus if you happen to be lactose intolerant. You'll have to check with your city ordnances, on this, to make sure you don't piss off any neighbors.

    Again, this is not restricted to us country folk (although, I would say we have a slight advantage). There are many resources for Urban farmers. Your local library can be a valuable resource. Also, local college or university agricultural extensions.

    I'm always looking for other ways to live healthy and economically, so I look forward to reading other ideas.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jan 12, 2010 5:40 AM GMT
    Oh yes this one always got my goat! (pun intended)

    While Organics are becoming more common the price is still sky-high from it's hormone enhanced version (i.e Milk). Then when you look at the total price of a week of groceries from healthy choices you notice that you get multiple fast food menu options for what your paying (I'm talking like all three squares).

    It a battle that may always be uphill, but thanks for the tips, when I get to my final destination in GA I'm defiantly going to look into farmers markets and etc.
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    Jan 12, 2010 5:41 AM GMT
    It's not expensive to eat healthy.. it's just dirt cheap to eat poorly.

    If you add up the total cost of eating poorly, though - increased healthcare costs, poorer health, weaker immune system, etc etc - and not just look at the sticker price of a pack of twinkies vs. a couple of apples, you'll find that in the short and the long-term, eating healthier is far less expensive as if you eat well and in the appropriate amounts that a human being actually needs to live vs the state of gluttony that most people in this country live, it's easy to do so relatively inexpensively.

    But the main reason that bad food is so cheap is that it is almost always made with corn or a corn byproduct, a crop that is heavily subsidized by the federal government and therefore ridiculously abundant and able to be sold at a huge loss and still turn a profit for a farmer.

    Watch Food, Inc.
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    Jan 12, 2010 7:11 AM GMT
    wow, that was a heck of a lot of peaches. you must be a walking fertilizing factory by now.

    eating the good stuff is moderately expensive i find. But i'm in the country, we do grow some , have access to dozens of local producers : honey, garden stuff, eggs, meat ( though i don't eat any) .
    None of it is "Certified" organic, but the farmers just grow their things the old fashion way. no pesticides. Certification costs a fortune and farmers lose a good chunk of their profits over it.

    i buy the yogurt that has the highest protein content and it never comes on sale, so yeah , more expensive . I buy the cottage cheese with the lowest sodium content, ( 6% instead of the usual 21%) and it's twice the price of the other brands.
    and so it goes on,

    i don't make a point of buying organic, i buy it when it's reasonably priced and depending where it comes from. Certifications in various parts of the world have different standards.
  • rdberg1957

    Posts: 662

    Jan 12, 2010 7:21 AM GMT
    depends on what u want to get--at trader joe's I get walnuts for $5/pound
    I like them + they have protein and good fats
    for a few bucks i can get four servings of spinach pie frozen
    or for $1.69 I can get chicken or cheese enchiladas frozen
    Beans are cheap, relatively
    what adds to the bill is fresh vegetables and fruit
    i get some frozen, but eat most fresh, nothing better than fresh grapefruit, organic oranges (explode with flavor).
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    Jan 12, 2010 7:54 AM GMT
    I think a lot of it depends on where you shop.

    Like rdberg said, there's some good and not that expensive stuff at Trader Joe's (apologies tot he snobs who insist on Whole Foods) and not that I really know what a Big Mac costs these days but I'm guessing it (espcially if you add fries not to mention the shake - and the gas and time to drive through) goes for about the same if not more than that spinach pie that has 4 servings.

    I'm not all convinced that fruits and vegetables are that expensive, either (though I admit that I don't insist on organic). A bunch of carrots, peppers, tomatoes, citrus, pears, berries, bananas... not really that expensive. These things range in the $0.50 to $3 per lb.

    I had me half a yellow pepper stuffed with cottage cheese today. It was so good I didn't leave the other half for tomorrow. True, eating a couple twinkies might have been cheaper, but cheaper still would be just downing a few spoons of sugar. I guess it's all relative. Heck, some people probably spend less on food than they do on cigarettes and alcohol (especially at the bar).
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    Jan 12, 2010 7:56 AM GMT
    crmedford saidI'm not sure what the answer is, but I would imagine that it is because the "collective" we consume this stuff by the tons. And of course, the more consumed = the higher volumes produced = lower cost for production = lower prices = more consumption. Kind of a crazy cycle.


    There is no cycle. Increased demand (consumption) leads to higher prices in the short run. If what we all demanded ended up being cheap, Ferrari's would be cheaper than bicycles.

    Prices relating to food is almost entirely cost. (because demand for a certain amount food never really changes relative to the population size) Organic/all natural food that doesn't use steroids, regular pesticides, or preservatives adds to the cost of food. (A shorter shelf-life & more damaged crops means companies want more money for each unit they sell) Plus, in order to be organic for most crops, you have to farm on land that hasn't been touched for 7 years.

    Basically, chemicals drive down producer costs, which drive down consumption. And subsidization doesn't help costs either.
  • camfer

    Posts: 892

    Jan 12, 2010 10:03 AM GMT
    Buying in bulk saves a lot of money. Not the bulk aisle at the supermarket, but through buying clubs and food distributors. Let's say you go through a lot of pasta or tuna or olive oil or rice. Get that in case sizes/50 lb sacks and you'll save 30-50%.

    You can transition land to organic after 3 years, not 7. (My farm is certified organic.)

    Part of the reason people look for cheap food is that is how most food is marketed. Nearly every grocery store chain markets based on price. You see enough of those ads and you become a zombie price shopper. Then you get marketed to eat all kinds of junk, too.

    My local apple council has no ad budget. The apples sit in the store and compete for your food dollar against huge ad campaigns that are drilled into your head about various national brands with fancy packaging.

    So to me it's more interesting to look at why people want the cheapest food possible rather than why some food costs more. Few people want to buy the cheapest clothes or the cheapest house or the cheapest car or the cheapest wine. These items are rarely marketed on price. People have bought into the mindset created by supermarket advertising. It has created an expectation for cheap food.
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    Jan 12, 2010 6:05 PM GMT
    camfer saidSo to me it's more interesting to look at why people want the cheapest food possible rather than why some food costs more. Few people want to buy the cheapest clothes or the cheapest house or the cheapest car or the cheapest wine. These items are rarely marketed on price. People have bought into the mindset created by supermarket advertising. It has created an expectation for cheap food.


    One of the few interesting posts on RJ in the last 3 months. In fact the thread itself is in the top 1% too.

    Some of the reasons why eating well seems more expensive than it need be:

    Eating out of season. If you are following the recipe and it calls for X, most people just go and buy it at its out of season price, rather than using the stuff which is most available.

    Lack of cooking skills. Lined to the previous point. If you can only cook certain things, then you cook them in December as much as in July.

  • CuriousJockAZ

    Posts: 19133

    Jan 12, 2010 6:14 PM GMT
    Actually, I'm not sure I agree that it is more expensive to eat healthy. I have found it quite the opposite.
  • HndsmKansan

    Posts: 16311

    Jan 12, 2010 6:24 PM GMT
    Convenience foods through a place like McDonalds are lower quality and/ or
    isn't prepared well (although you can still find things that aren't bad even there). I think much has to do with cravings and not thinking prudently about what your eating.. and how much.

    Good quality foods may take more effort to put together.. thus part of the reason people don't mess with it.... "don't have time"... but the ingredients
    may or may not actually cost more.
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    Jan 12, 2010 6:33 PM GMT
    I don't think it's too expensive to eat healthy. One very important part of food shopping is value. Value is not dependent on price alone. You have to take quality and service into account as well. I work for a natural foods retailer. It's a great job, but I'm by no means rolling in money. I continue to do it, because I believe in our mission.

    I am on a pretty tight budget myself. However, I have become a very smart shopper. If you want to spend $400.00 a week on groceries, you most certainly can. I see it all the time. If you want to spend $50.00 or less a week on healthy alternatives, you can do that as well. We are guilty of the impulse marketing, just like every other place. The difference is knowing what you need and what you do not need. Everyone splurges from time to time. As well I think they should, or they're liable to go postal.

    We even give tours to customers who have an interest in learning how to shop smarter and work within their budgets (buying in bulk, frozen foods, portion control, meal-planning, etc.). It's one thing to put it all out there for the singular purpose of tricking people out of their hard earned money. It's completely different to provide people with not only the high end luxuries, but also the tools necessary to satisfy their palate and their wallet. Going out of your way to educate your consumers on your products should always be appreciated and respected.

    Once you bring the conscientious factor into it as well, you have to realize (as mentioned above) that they are increased costs associated with the production of certain (mostly organic) foods. That's another debate for another time.

    This is about as long-winded as I've gotten on here, and I do apologize. Eating healthy is most definitely a lifestyle of choice. Yet, it does not have to be monetarily outrageous, on any budget.
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    Jan 12, 2010 6:52 PM GMT
    Whatever is subsidized ends up being the cheapest. It goes way beyond organic vs non organic.
    from Michaelpollan.com

    the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.


    What's disturbing is that food production in this country is largely mythical.
    Cheap food isn't necessarily cheap to make, it's just subsidized by your tax dollars, and the ramifications of these subsidies is clearly visible in every american city. And what's insane, is that our government is paying subsidies to make shitty food cheap and then we are having to pay skyrocketing health care costs because we are getting sick eating the exact things the government is encouraging us to eat.
    Every 5 years or so the farm bill is modified but the only people interested seem to be the powerful lobbyists and politicians from states with large agribusiness. It's mind numbing that something so epically important as the farm bill, largely goes unnoticed by the media and the people who have to eat this shit.
    I shop almost entirely from the farmers markets for about 6 months out of the year and it's so much cheaper to eat healthy when you avoid the middleman. The rest of the time I choose food sources I have researched and trust. I don't feel so bad paying higher prices when I am supporting farmers and companies that are trying to do the right thing.
    Learning to cook is pretty important if you want to stretch your dollar too.
    Certain foods cause disease, other foods prevent disease. It shouldn't be so difficult for people to decide what they want to put into their body.
    What you put on your plate is one of the more important political and ethical decisions you can make and I don't take it lightly.
  • camfer

    Posts: 892

    Jan 12, 2010 8:10 PM GMT
    One good thing going on in US agriculture is Kathleen Merrigan, the #2 person at USDA. She has a lot of influence and she values smaller scale, sustainable agriculture. I feel she was a great choice by the Obama administration. Here's to hoping she can get a lot of changes through! Here's a short article on her if you're interested.

    http://www.gourmet.com/foodpolitics/2009/03/politics-of-the-plate-kathleen-merrigan
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jan 12, 2010 8:18 PM GMT
    Canned Tuna is ridiculously cheap and healthy icon_smile.gif

    Loves it.

    and probably will get Mercury poisoning, since I eat it so much.
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    Jan 12, 2010 8:22 PM GMT
    PusiKuracBre saidCanned Tuna is healthy

    and probably will get Mercury poisoning, since I eat it so much.



    icon_exclaim.gificon_exclaim.giflolicon_exclaim.gificon_exclaim.gif
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jan 12, 2010 10:37 PM GMT
    mnjock2003 said
    PusiKuracBre saidCanned Tuna is healthy

    and probably will get Mercury poisoning, since I eat it so much.



    icon_exclaim.gificon_exclaim.giflolicon_exclaim.gificon_exclaim.gif


    HAHAHAHAHA... the "HEALTHINESS" just has one little problem, but SO WORTH IT haha.
  • Celticmusl

    Posts: 4330

    Jan 12, 2010 11:01 PM GMT
    CuriousJockAZ saidActually, I'm not sure I agree that it is more expensive to eat healthy. I have found it quite the opposite.



    If you needed to, you can find about 2000 to 3000 calories a day for $4.00 a day. This includes crackers, pnut butter, off brand jam, butter, eggs, onions, celery, pasta, spaghetti sauce, off brand bread, cream cheese, off brand potato chips, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables for stirfry, purified water(in the gallon sized jugs), milk, garlic powder, soy sauce, low fat velveeta, tomato soup, vegetable soup, cream of broccoli soup, oatmeal, and frozen chopped up green pepper(the fresh ones were too expensive). All this adds up to about 60 bucks for two weeks, and you don't have to buy a jar of pnut butter every two weeks. Of course I am saying this from experience.

    Oh yeah, and rice is really expensive compared to corn or wheat products.

    A trip to the health food store will usually cost me about 60 bucks for three or four days at most, and to buy anything fresh and expect it to last longer than three days before rotting is highly improbable.

    I'm not complaining, but I have recently had to go on an extremely tight budget for a couple of months, and calories are very cheap if you are just eating them to exist. It was a learning experience.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jan 13, 2010 5:59 AM GMT
    If you order in or eat out all the time, unless you eat off of dollar menus it's cheaper to prepare healthy foods. Sometimes it's almost as cheap to order in or eat out healthy! For $6 per meal at most it can be done by making wise selections and substitutions (i.e. rotisserie chicken with vegetables, a chicken or turkey wrap minus cheese and dressing, or chinese steamed with brown rice and no sauce). Sounds boring, I know, but it's easy to adjust your palate to plain food once you start.

    Sometimes cooking healthy is less, even if you can't frequent farmer's markets or grow your own vegetables. You can make up the difference you have to spend on more expensive meats and produce by cutting back on unnecessary foodstuffs (more on that later, but it's amazing how fast that stuff piles up). I spend less than $1.50 on breakfast every morning - it's a half dozen hard boiled egg whites (I preboil 3 dozen in advance). Sometimes I binge and spend another fifty cents by adding a small bowl of steel cut oatmeal. Not that I expect anybody else to enjoy those kinds of breakfasts, but that's just an example that doesn't cost much more than a bowl of cereal and milk or a packet of Quaker Oats - and it's healthier and hot to boot!

    If you cook then yes, excepting certain bulk item purchases in health food stores (quinoa! lentils! steel cut oatmeal!) eating healthier is more expensive (i.e. cost of labor for organic produce and meats is increased due to lack of pesticides or hormones or animal pens and passed on to consumers). But as others have pointed out, it's cheaper than the long term cost of NOT eating healthy! And really, if you have to eat healthy on the fly how much is a plate of brown rice, black beans and water rinsed canned chicken or tuna? You'd be amazed how much cheap processed foods cost if you add them up. Think of how much money you'd save and apply towards healthier choices if you eliminated beverages, most dairy, crackers, breads, condiments, snackfoods and all other processed foods - not that you'd necessarily want to, but think about it! If possible, grocery shop for just what you need every couple of days rather than making big weekly trips - that way your groceries are fresher, won't spoil and you won't buy stuff you won't eat. Best case scenario - grocery shop daily, buying just what you plan to eat that or the next day - it makes preplanning so much easier it's hardly preplanning.

    You're correct that with increased demand the cost per unit of healthy food will decrease, and others are correct saying that could be mitigated by government subsidies or price gouging. Either way, there's not enough of a demand for healthy food in our 30%+ obese, supersized nation which does not order the salad (sans dressing and cheese or otherwise) at MacDonalds.
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    Jan 13, 2010 6:15 AM GMT
    camfer said

    You can transition land to organic after 3 years, not 7. (My farm is certified organic.)

    So to me it's more interesting to look at why people want the cheapest food possible rather than why some food costs more. Few people want to buy the cheapest clothes or the cheapest house or the cheapest car or the cheapest wine. These items are rarely marketed on price. People have bought into the mindset created by supermarket advertising. It has created an expectation for cheap food.


    1st part- I think i was thinking about grapes. Certified organic grapes for wine-making has the 7 year rule. (I think)

    The other part poses an interesting question about cause and effect. Is the it the advertising that makes people want cheap food or is the the demand for cheap food that causes companies to poor millions of dollars to tell people their food is the cheapest?

    It is most likely the latter due to the fact of the other industries you mentioned. The other industries don't advertise how cheap their products are (except for a select few) because it wouldn't fly. If they would increase their profit by placing all their efforts into cutting costs, then they obviously would have already.
  • camfer

    Posts: 892

    Jan 14, 2010 4:13 AM GMT
    elgringo77 said
    camfer said

    You can transition land to organic after 3 years, not 7. (My farm is certified organic.)

    So to me it's more interesting to look at why people want the cheapest food possible rather than why some food costs more. Few people want to buy the cheapest clothes or the cheapest house or the cheapest car or the cheapest wine. These items are rarely marketed on price. People have bought into the mindset created by supermarket advertising. It has created an expectation for cheap food.


    1st part- I think i was thinking about grapes. Certified organic grapes for wine-making has the 7 year rule. (I think)

    The other part poses an interesting question about cause and effect. Is the it the advertising that makes people want cheap food or is the the demand for cheap food that causes companies to poor millions of dollars to tell people their food is the cheapest?

    It is most likely the latter due to the fact of the other industries you mentioned. The other industries don't advertise how cheap their products are (except for a select few) because it wouldn't fly. If they would increase their profit by placing all their efforts into cutting costs, then they obviously would have already.


    It's 3 for everything, including grapes:
    http://www.organicwineryassociation.com/WinegrapesGrownOrganically.htm

    It's clear to me that advertising creates demand and influences thinking. That is why companies advertise. But I don't want to get too off-topic here.