Hunger, obesity and poverty

A few thoughts in reaction to the long (and partisan) discussion of hunger, obesity and poverty at Asymmetrical Information (found via 11d).

Food is mindbogglingly cheap in the US today, accounting for a smaller portion of people’s overall budgets than ever before.  In fact, this is one of the big problems with the official definition of poverty.  Mollie Orshansky, who developed the measure in the 1960s, found that the average family spent about 1/3 of its income on food; the poverty measure was thus set at three times the cost of an economy food plan.

So why are some families struggling to buy food?  Because other necessities have gotten more expensive, especially housing.  Many low-income families spend 50 percent or more of their incomes on housing; if they don’t want to be evicted or have their gas shut off, they pay their rent and utility bills first and whatever is left over is available for food.

Is healthy food more expensive than unhealthy food?  Yes and no.  It’s certainly true that you can prepare nutritious and inexpensive meals, especially if you minimize use of meat.  But if you want quick and easy meals — and if you’re a busy parent at any income level, you want quick and easy meals — healthy food is a lot more expensive than fast food or a candy bar from the store on the corner.  And if you’re looking at a vending machine, the soda is usually half the price of the juice.  (And let’s not even get into the cost of organic food.)

It’s also true that food is an easy way for low-income parents to indulge their children (and themselves).  If you’re poor, you spend a lot of time saying No.  No, you can’t have that.  No, we can’t afford that.  No, you can’t go there.  McDonald’s is an affordable treat, something you can say Yes to.

The Thrifty Food Plan for a family of 4 (with 2 young children) is $434.40 and I honestly think that we spend less than that most months.  But we also eat out occasionally, which would blow that budget quickly.  I also know that it’s cheaper to buy food if you have enough money to buy in bulk and to stock up on groceries when they’re on sale, which we do. I’m thinking of tracking our groceries 100% for a month and seeing if we can stay under it.  Anyone want to join me?

7 Responses to “Hunger, obesity and poverty”

  1. Emi Says:

    Jeffrey Steingarten tried the thrifty food plan and his own alternatives in one of his books.

  2. Suzanne Says:

    I think I just might try this! Thanks for the challenge.

  3. brettdl Says:

    Interesting post. We go to a farmer’s market in Pasadena, which originally began as a source of inexpensive food for the poor. Now the high prices guarantee it is a place for high-income families. It’s very expensive but oh, the fresh fruit and veggies are so good.
    I alos find it amazing that food that has 75 processed ingredients in it can cost so much less than simple whole food.

  4. DCist Says:

    The Thrifty Food Plan Experiment

    In the “you don’t really know until you try it” department, the self-described D.C. mom/policy wonk behind Half Changed World is conducting an experiment to see if she can stay under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan for a family o…

  5. taaaz Says:

    Some thoughts on the energy costs of obesity

  6. Dale Welch Says:

    I have yet to see a budget for a month for different families.
    1 person. 2 person. 1 adult, 1 child. etc…
    It gets a little easier with more in the family.
    But for individuals it can be very difficult to eat HEALTHY.
    And if you are in an area where there are not the discount stores
    it can be near impossible. Fortunately i like top ramen and rice.
    I buy 2 gallons of whole milk and add water to make it 4 gallons.
    And if your kids come daily but they don’t get counted by the
    government as being at your house…
    Then you are supposed to feed them one meal a day based on the
    amount for one adult.
    I would challenge people to EMPTY their house of food and ALL the
    basics relating to food. Then try to make it. And keep an exact list of
    what you bought.
    You are allowed $3.60 per day for your food per person in a 4 person family.
    so a $1.15 per meal per person.
    For one person you get quite a bit more. $5.
    $1.67 per meal.
    Now with nothing in the pantry to start with…
    No sugar, salt, pepper, cereal, etc.
    Can it be done? Absolutely.
    You must measure the weight of your dinner each night and specify it.
    You must admit to your height and weight.
    It can be done. But you won’t eat what you are used to eating.

  7. john smith Says:

    We tried the Aldi food thing. When my son was a week from his first birthday he had a seizure. I dont know if there are too many preservatives or what. I really dont know what caused the seizure but I think Aldi food had something to do with it.
    I bought a jar of Banana Peppers “Pepperchinis” from Aldi a few weeks ago. When I opened it there were two stems sticking out the top crushed as the lid went on. I should have said something but I just threw the jar away.
    I have nothing against Aldi. I even shopped there today and spent close to two hundred dollars.
    I also think that the swirly bulbs may have had something to do with brodys seizures. I removed those. I will stick with aldi.
    The grinders they sell rock.

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