Eating Healthy for Cheap

It’s a sad state of affairs in our society: due to government subsidies in all the wrong places and our natural preference for fatty, salty, sugary foods over the foods that are most healthy for us to eat, it is more affordable to eat junk food than it is to eat healthy food. Some argue that this is not actually the case. They say that while a double cheeseburger from McDonalds provides an immense amount of calories for $1 that it’s ultimately not worth the cost we later must spend on health care to undo the damage from that cheeseburger. This perspective is gaining some momentum in government. A new bill that would add a tax to sugary sodas received some fairly strong consideration last year.

However, for now and probably several more years to come, it is more expensive to eat healthy foods than it is to eat processed, fatty foods that are void of nutrition. And until this is no longer the case, it’s worth asking: how can one eat healthy without breaking their wallet in the process?

Grow a Garden

Many people have a yard but almost none of them use this space to grow food cheaply. The benefits of growing a garden can be expounded at considerable length. But to keep it brief, gardens allow you to grow real food for minimal cost while learning some important lessons in responsibility and care-taking. A garden will give back however much you put into it. And until you’ve tasted fresh tomatoes (or lettuce or cucumbers or potatoes or whatever) that were plucked out of your backyard hours prior, you haven’t eaten food!

Buy In-Season

People in many cultures have no concept of “in season”. Everything they eat is “in season” and the idea of eating something out of season doesn’t even strike them as an option. However, in our culture, we have managed to import and engineer a way to be able to have any bit of produce any time of the year. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost. Tomatoes are plucked from their vine while still green and sprayed with a chemical to expedite their ripening. Fossil fuels are burned by the barrel-loads to help fly in-demand produce all around the world while others starve watching the jet’s vapor trail fly overhead. It’s a senseless and unsustainable model. And most importantly: it’s not real food. Tomatoes grown in a factory, picked while green, and sprayed with a chemical to make them ripe are not “tomatoes” as nature intended. We have distanced ourselves from what it means to eat real food and are paying the price for it in more ways than one. By purchasing local, in-season produce, you can rest assured that the food you are eating did not require an alarming amount of fuel to make its way to your dinner plate. This is added savings in your pocket.

Demand More from Your Government

That a double cheeseburger complete with a half-pound of cattle, cheese, and bread costs $1 while a small container of blueberries costs $4 should tell everyone something about our current food system. We’re subsidizing all of the wrong people. During the Nixon administration, their was an across-the-board increase in food prices. This was a natural economic occurrence, but since, naturally, politicians were worried about it harming their chances at being re-elected, they had to do something about it. And so food subsidies arose. The Nixon administration decided to “price in” farmers to growing corn by giving them government subsidies to do so. At the time, it was realized that an acre of corn can yield several more net calories than an acre of many other plants. And so, farmers all across the country began growing corn and nothing else. After all, they’d be missing out on money to grow something like blueberries, so why bother with that? Since the food industry became flooded with more corn than it knew what to do with, food scientists had to come up with a way to use it. And so they created several food-like products out of corn. The most well-known such product is high fructose corn syrup. Another use they found for corn? Feeding it to cattle. This allowed cattle farmers to grow more cows faster. The result? More beef flooding the market which means $1 cheeseburgers for everyone. But we are paying dearly for this. Our health care system spends about twice the amount of money per capita as many European countries. The human body simply cannot sustain itself on clever re-arrangements of corn. And when we go to the store today, what’s the easier choice to make? A box of pop-tarts that contain 1,600 calories for $2 or a carton of blueberries that contain 200 calories for $4?

Write your congressman and urge them to support legislation that will remove farmer subsidies on corn and allow the free market to once again take hold. This will be bad news for McDonalds, but not for people wanting to eat healthy at a reasonable price.