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Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive?
October 20, 2012 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? (6.78 MB PDF) It turns out that it depends on how you measure the price. In a recent study by the USDA, some 4,439 foods were compared using the following metrics: the price of food energy ($/calorie), the price of edible weight ($/100 edible grams), the price of an average portion ($/average portion), and the cost of meeting the federal dietary recommendations for each food group. The study found that for all metrics except the price of food energy ($/calorie) healthy foods cost less than less healthy foods (defined as foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugar, and/or sodium, or that contribute little to meeting dietary recommendations).
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (123 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think the popular misconception largely comes from the fact that we don't teach each other how to shop or how to cook anymore...eating good food can actually be quite a chore (and quite expensive) if you have no clue how to do it.
posted by trackofalljades at 4:34 PM on October 20, 2012 [23 favorites]


But are they as profitable to manufacture?
posted by Seiten Taisei at 4:37 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


trackofalltrades is exactly right. The idea that good food -- which almost always requires preparation -- is "cheaper" ignores the time investment required to convert those cheap ingredients into something edible. It is often, to be frank, classist.
posted by pbump at 4:39 PM on October 20, 2012 [76 favorites]


Price of food energy is the only one that matters, at least to me. Getting up to 1800 calories a day on healthy food is a much bigger hit to my wallet. And you can educate all you want and bring vegetables to bodegas but until you can still hunger on a miserable budget with fresh, lean, healthy foods, poverty will always intersect with obesity and preventable disease. Want to know why a borderline starving person grabs a honey bun instead of an apple, while you judge? For 99 cents, it keeps you full for hours longer.
posted by availablelight at 4:40 PM on October 20, 2012 [30 favorites]


The thing is, when people say "healthy foods" are more expensive, they mean "healthy foods that are tasty and can fill the same role in my diet as the unhealthy ones."

Skimming through the study, it looks like they're kinda comparing Apple Jacks to oranges.
posted by straight at 4:42 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


A cheeseburger may be more expensive than a can of beans, but it's cheaper than a grilled chicken sandwich.
posted by straight at 4:46 PM on October 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Are they accounting for redlining? It's all well and good to say X is cheaper than Y, but is X available everywhere? in the same condition? at the same low price?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:47 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


It can be classist, but it doesn't have to be. The problems with suggesting healthier diets often come from things like bad education regarding diet and a lack of access to healthy food. These two things are, generally speaking, not the fault of the person with the bad diet. They are the product of the unequal distribution of healthy food and the unequal distribution of knowledge about eating well (Sys Rg also makes this point). These are things that can be changed. The USDA report provides another way of evaluating what the cost of eating healthy really is, not the solution to promoting healthy eating. Despite any lack of solutions, I think it is a step in the right direction. Its good that the USDA is re-evaluating their policies and ways of thinking about food.
posted by radcopter at 4:47 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The availability of healthy food is also an important factor especially since I understand that certain places are only served by a single supermarket . Calculating by average portion is all nice, but if you are short on money, you will probably concentrate on getting the most calories for your $ and food energy is the metric where veggies and the like are more expensive.
posted by ersatz at 4:48 PM on October 20, 2012


The thing is, when people say "healthy foods" are more expensive, they mean "healthy foods that are tasty and can fill the same role in my diet as the unhealthy ones.

And a big part of the role that food plays in a lot of people's diets is making them feel quickly comforted and a little bit happy when they're tired and down from going to work in a shitty job that doesn't pay enough in money or respect. I cook well, love to cook, and usually do cook healthily, but I've relied on unhealthy food a lot in my life when times have been hard and I just needed to feel OK.
posted by howfar at 4:49 PM on October 20, 2012 [36 favorites]


Here's another huge savings: really healthy eating --meaning fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, small amounts of whole grains, and minimal added salt/sugar -- greatly reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, reduces weight, and improves overall health. That seems like an enormous economic benefit.
posted by bearwife at 4:52 PM on October 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


straight: “Skimming through the study, it looks like they're kinda comparing Apple Jacks to oranges.”

Where are you seeing that? It says at one point that the costs of 4,439 food items were surveyed. Seems like there's a lot more than Apple Jacks and oranges in there. I do agree that it's pretty darned difficult to control for "tasty," but being encyclopedic about it seems like the right way to approach the problem.

I'm just a little ways in, but it's already a big step forward from what I (as a completely amateur layman with some interest in the subject) have seen before. I see a lot of studies that measure cost per calorie, and I am skeptical that that's a very complete way to do this.

“A cheeseburger may be more expensive than a can of beans, but it's cheaper than a grilled chicken sandwich.”

Indeed. I don't know what the authors would say, but my response would be: then don't eat the chicken sandwich. They're right in saying that most of us don't eat healthily. I don't know if anybody's going to have success in telling people to spend a little more money to eat slightly less unhealthily, even if that does play well in certain market segments.
posted by koeselitz at 4:56 PM on October 20, 2012


Boot straps are free and have a nice leathery twang to them.
posted by wcfields at 4:56 PM on October 20, 2012 [27 favorites]


Another important metric I would love to see is $/minute of prep time.
posted by Justinian at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2012 [24 favorites]


So far, I have to say that I do wish they accounted for preparation more, like a few people said above. It seems to me that it probably takes longer to prepare healthy foods, but I'm not sure. I see that they account for prepared weight rather than purchase weight, but I don't think preparation time and effort is factored in.
posted by koeselitz at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2012


(Even so, this is a really great study, and I'm probably missing something on preparation anyway.)
posted by koeselitz at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2012


I understand that certain places are only served by a single supermarket .

And some places are served by a single supermarket that has very little fresh produce that isn't already expired or suspicious-looking.

This summer I moved from an apartment that was within walking distance from a really skeevy Key Foods, to an apartment that was within walking distance from an enormous Stop & Shop. There was an immediate and enormous difference in the amount and quality of vegetables I ate.
posted by Jeanne at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know what the authors would say, but my response would be: then don't eat the chicken sandwich....have a bean salad at lunch and a cheeseburger and fries on the way home to make yourself feel better.
posted by howfar at 5:00 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


koeselitz, all I meant was they're comparing a grocery bag full of "healthy" foods to a grocery bag full of "unhealthy" foods without really asking if the one grocery bag is a realistic replacement for the other in people's diets.
posted by straight at 5:00 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


trackofalltrades is exactly right. The idea that good food -- which almost always requires preparation -- is "cheaper" ignores the time investment required to convert those cheap ingredients into something edible. It is often, to be frank, classist.

This. There's no way I could eat the way I do (far from perfect according to health guidelines, but with almost zero prepared/processed foods involved) if I had a long commute or had to work a second job on my evenings and weekends. It's more complex than just the money, though, given how many relatively wealthy people I've met who make what seem to me as quite peculiar eating choices -- it's more systemic and gets at the ways we have built subsidies and incentives into all levels of our food systems.
posted by Forktine at 5:00 PM on October 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


straight: “koeselitz, all I meant was they're comparing a grocery bag full of "healthy" foods to a grocery bag full of "unhealthy" foods without really asking if the one grocery bag is a realistic replacement for the other in people's diets.”

Yeah, that is a factor – what people perceive as a worthwhile replacement. But I still don't really think that's something it'd be possible (or at least feasible) to measure in a study.

Actually – just incidentally, I'm not really sure a chicken sandwich costs more than a cheeseburger to prepare at home. I actually think the cheeseburger would cost more to make. But of course that doesn't really mean anything toward the point – I'm not even sure chicken sandwiches are healthier – it's just interesting to think about how I spend my grocery money and consider the options.
posted by koeselitz at 5:05 PM on October 20, 2012


I'm not really sure a chicken sandwich costs more than a cheeseburger to prepare at home

Well, the more "healthy" you go the more likely the chicken is to cost more. Chicken breast is low fat and high cost, while thighs are higher fat and lower cost. Also depends on the grade of mince you choose. The fattier the mince, the cheaper the burger. In this particular case I reckon there's a fairly strong negative correlation between fat and price.
posted by howfar at 5:11 PM on October 20, 2012


All I know is, when I was unemployed for 3 years and was feeding a household of two on under $100/month, we were eating super healthy because I had the time to shop for nearly-expired meat and to spend a lot of time doing food prep and tending a backyard garden and baking bread and hamburger buns and such.

Now that I'm working, spending 12 hours a day away from the house (including commute time), and am only feeding myself (as my partner is working in Montreal), I'm spending more money and eating less well.

So, yeah. A lot of the trade-off is because of time and energy which goes into preparing healthy food, time and energy which is difficult to find if you don't have a life which is rigged in your favor.
posted by hippybear at 5:13 PM on October 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


Food Security ≠ Food Sovereignty.

They do talk about preparation though;
The edible weight metric measures the price of putting a given weight of a food item on the plate. The edible weight price differs from the purchase price for many store-purchased items because the skin, seeds, shell, bones, and other inedible parts have been removed. In addi- tion, moisture and fat may be lost or gained from cooking.

Wow "The waste (bone, skin, and fat on the skin) of a chicken breast is about 35 percent of the purchased weight".

This speaks to the utterly tragic current state of consumer protections in the US, the system is gamed against people with the least access to information, poverty compounds like compounding interest, only violently not like it:
The price metrics in this analysis are not easily accessible to the consumer at the point of sale. Many grocery stores display price per purchase pound or some other unit price as a service to customers wishing to make price comparisons of similar items that come in a variety of package sizes. This metric is less effective for nutritional quality price comparisons than the edible weight price between products with differing amounts of waste, such as chicken with and without the skin and bones, or between a large water-melon and an apple, or between prewashed and chopped winter squash and a whole winter squash.
posted by infinite intimation at 5:15 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


infinite intimation: “They do talk about preparation though...”

Yeah, I think that part is a bit deceptive though. They're not talking about the effort expended in preparing food; they're talking about the weight of food that is lost in preparation. They do mention later that one of the datasets they used focused chiefly on the easiest-to-prepare foods, which makes sense since they didn't really want to get into preparation. I guess that would be a lot to do in one study.
posted by koeselitz at 5:19 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


They do talk about preparation though;

The edible weight metric measures the price of putting a given weight of a food item on the plate. The edible weight price differs from the purchase price for many store-purchased items because the skin, seeds, shell, bones, and other inedible parts have been removed. In addi- tion, moisture and fat may be lost or gained from cooking.


That doesn't talk at all about the cost* involved in preparing the food. It only talks about how much food is considered edible after the food is prepared.

*cost here would mean the time it takes to prepare, the equipment required to prepare, the physical energy needed by a human to execute the recipe, and the cooking energy needed to make the food.
posted by hippybear at 5:19 PM on October 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was talking part of this over with a friend recently. We had a picnic and I, currently unemployed, brought along homemade hommous (from dried beans), carrot sticks, cucumber stick, apple and pineapple slices and an uncaramel*. She picked up takeaway salads which were fucking delicious. But as much as I love to cook, making the tastiest of the salads would be an immense undertaking. I could identify quinoa, two kinds of beans, lentils, tomato, eschallots and THEN the dressing.

To make I would either have to buy canned beans and lentils and quick quinoa, on top of the rest of it, then prep it and have a massive amount to eat OR buy smaller dried portions, soak and cook individually and still prep it all. And that's a reasonably easy salad to prep with just a knife and a chopping board. The amount of recipes I read lately that have such an enormous amount of fine dicing, slicing and chopping (all of which illustrated in the Cuisinart) that it's infeasible to try it just with a knife has been annoyingly large.

It's about on par with the amount of recipes I read that have canned items unknown to Australia (cheese, pumpkin, biscuits, crescent dough).

Add in to the difficulty level that I have a background that allows me to identify quinoa, and bean types, and lentil types.

I get a little preachy with this stuff because my partner and I have lived it at various points. And I love cooking, love food, but there are days that Christ Almighty, I do not want to fucking spend the time chopping and dicing and stirring and tasting and making something delicious and healthy when I know I can spend a quarter of the time, have something just as delicious, but unhealthy. When I know about BPA in cans so suddenly even canned beans aren't as healthy but cooking from dried takes a while and a lot of planning.

So pre-prepared is bad. Canned is bad. Dried is not gonna work if you're trying to soak beans in an ant infested house (been there, done that). So what's the option? And that's assuming you can get the beans - the last time my partner shopped there were no black beans to be had anywhere and this is a big grocery store, with a big range, in an area with a mix of new immigrants and upscale yuppies. What's left?

Don't forget that carbs are bad too. And dried fruit. And fat, and lowfat (because of the sugar) but also the sugary and carbs are just sugar dontchaknow? And cooked food in general, and meat, and potato, and salt, and anything factory farmed and anything non-organic and on and on and on. After a while it is a meaningless wall of noise because it starts contradicting itself and most of us remember the days where we were told to eat bread for fibre, and meat for iron and none of it makes sense. So the only arbiter is taste, and that can get totally fucked up after years of poverty.

*vegan raw 'caramel' - dates, peanut butter, salt, vanilla and lemon juice. It was...okay. Barely. I love dates, so I made it, but it wasn't worth it.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:20 PM on October 20, 2012 [34 favorites]


howfar: “Well, the more ‘healthy’ you go the more likely the chicken is to cost more. Chicken breast is low fat and high cost, while thighs are higher fat and lower cost. Also depends on the grade of mince you choose. The fattier the mince, the cheaper the burger. In this particular case I reckon there's a fairly strong negative correlation between fat and price.”

And prep time is a big one here, too, right? I mean: I just bought a whole chicken at Walmart for $5. That's a pretty standard price for a small chicken, I think. And I believe there's more "healthy" meat on this chicken than there is in $5 of ground beef, even the cheap 73/27 beef. It's just... well, turning a whole chicken into a chicken sandwich takes a bit more effort than turning a package of hamburger into hamburgers.
posted by koeselitz at 5:22 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obviously healthy food isn't necessarily more expensive. A can of sardines is $1. The problem, as others have said, is that preparing healthy food in ways that taste good and provide lots of variety is skill, time, and labour-intensive. I like to cook, so I make time; lots of people don't. At the same time, lots of people make time for hours and hours of TV everyday. I don't share these priorities, but I understand that lots of people do. The question is why.
posted by smorange at 5:27 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I kind of hate the modes of thinking used in this study (I wasn't defending it by noting that bit, just putting it here to further the discussion in case someone didn't want to read the [long, misleading and abstruse paper, no offence intended to the poster, but it is basically selling an ideology as "fact", when many who study food issues would disagree with their methodology, and embedded ideology]);

Foods low in calories for a given weight tend to have a higher price when the price is measured per calorie—vegetables and fruits without added fat or sugar are low in calories and, by this metric, tend to be a very expen- sive way to purchase food energy.

See, this is what "food security" obsessions bring; no thought to the unique properties of specific foods, so, "you are poor? guess you shouldn't eat veggies (low caloric to weight ratios), opps, sorry that you just happen to not get the foods that might help you reduce your risk of stroke,

It isn't just increased "time for prep" (you are both correct hb and K), it is also "time and energy investment to get to a place that has the same options", do people all have cars, or do they need to take transit to get to a store with the "healthy but cheaper" options. Because this is all about buying "bigger amounts of X", people only have two arms (or an average of 1.5), and if they have small children, that reduces vastly what a person can carry on public transit.
posted by infinite intimation at 5:33 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


The question is why.

I don't think that's quite the question. I don't really care about why people prefer x over y, what I care about is why people have a much more limited range of things to choose to care about. If you want to watch TV and eat burgers every evening, that's great. If you are too demoralised, stressed, poor, tired, undereducated, underinformed or underinspired to be able to choose much of anything else, that's a problem. Now of course some people apparently 'spontaneously' pick up and find something new to do, but we live in societies that squeeze the options of the many of us who, while materially rich by historical standards, are still trapped by the conditions of their lives.
posted by howfar at 5:35 PM on October 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


For sure around here, organic milk lasts about 10 times longer than regular store brands. From what I've witnessed, it may be due to better handling. Pallets of organic milk are seldom left on the sidewalk while the truck is unloaded.

Since I only use it in coffee the organic is a big savings.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:06 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I worked in a dairy bottling facility for a while. Milk has a shelf-life of 3 weeks when it leaves the facility. That it has a lot less time left when you find it in stores means that it's been held in storage for quite a while before it gets to the consumer. It's one of the many things I was surprised to learn during my time working there.
posted by hippybear at 6:11 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Since I only use it in coffee the organic is a big savings.

I don't like my coffee too hot, so I'd freeze it into "milk cubes". Fun in White Russians too.
posted by howfar at 6:21 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


For sure around here, organic milk lasts about 10 times longer than regular store brands. From what I've witnessed, it may be due to better handling.

More likely, the organic milk you're buying has been UHT pasteurized.
posted by Orinda at 6:22 PM on October 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


Oh, yeah. Ultra-pasteurization has a huge effect on milk shelf life. It also affects the flavor of the milk, for those who can notice that kind of thing.

Milk is usually clearly labeled with how it's been processed. Read the carton, and it will either say pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized. If it's the latter, then that's why it has such a long shelf-life. If it doesn't say that, then likely it's because it's getting to the store shelf a lot faster from the facility.
posted by hippybear at 6:26 PM on October 20, 2012


If you are too demoralised, stressed, poor, tired, undereducated, underinformed or underinspired to be able to choose much of anything else, that's a problem.

Some of these adjectives approach explanations, but many of them don't. Moralistic language that makes us feel good and conforms to our political beliefs isn't useful. It doesn't actually explain anything. Let's say that poor people disproportionately choose to watch hours of TV instead of cooking, as studies suggest they do. That they might be "demoralized" or "uninspired" doesn't actually explain anything. It just raises further questions: Why are they demoralized? Why are they uninspired?

Often people charge their explanations with morality. On MetaFilter that morality tends to exonerate the poor and execrate the rich. This has much more to do with political beliefs than reality. For example, "lack of time" is often cited as an explanation for why people eat badly, but poor people often have lots of time. After all, the problem in America is too little work, not too much; underemployment, not an abundance of overtime. That's how people can spend so much time watching TV. Until we're honest about things like this, discussions like this won't produce much insight.

That's why, in my view, we should care about "why people prefer x over y." That is, of course, if we want to understand behaviour.
posted by smorange at 6:26 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


More likely, the organic milk you're buying has been UHT pasteurized.

Yes. Milk gets sour you know. Unless it's UHT milk, but there's no demand for that because it's shite.
posted by howfar at 6:26 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The study found that for all metrics except the price of food energy ($/calorie) healthy foods cost less than less healthy foods (defined as foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugar, and/or sodium, or that contribute little to meeting dietary recommendations).

In other words, "yes, it is more expensive". If you don't get enough calories, you'll starve to death. To avoid that fate with "healthy foods" you must spend more.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:26 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think it's a misconception that people on low incomes don't eat healthy because they can't afford it, or because it takes too long. The sad truth is that cheap junk food hits all the buttons we're programmed to respond to as evolved mammals -- caloric density, salt, sweetness etc.

It's quite possible to eat healthily on a budget, and it doesn't have to take an age to prepare (how long does it take to steam broccoli, ferchrissakes?) but the key factor is EDUCATION. When your body is signalling you that what you're eating is hitting all the spots, you need a lot of leverage to listen to your brain saying 'maybe that's not as good as it feels'.
posted by unSane at 6:27 PM on October 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


turning a whole chicken into a chicken sandwich takes a bit more effort...
posted by koeselitz


There's also an education and lifestyle issue. I am so thankful to all the French girls in my life that showed me that cooking a chicken can be something to look forward to.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:28 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you don't get enough calories, you'll starve to death.

Yeah, the epidemic of obesity in the US really suggests that's the problem we're addressing here.
posted by unSane at 6:32 PM on October 20, 2012


Yeah, the epidemic of obesity in the US really suggests that's the problem we're addressing here.

Obesity rates are way up, but so are measures of food insecurity. Not only are the two not contradictory, they probably build on each other.
posted by Forktine at 6:39 PM on October 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


the key factor is EDUCATION.

Y'know, I really doubt this is true. People know that eating badly, drinking too much and smoking are bad for them, many of us even have a pretty good idea of how bad it is. The fact is that people in lower-status and lower-wage jobs, or out of work, disproportionately choose unhealthy lifestyles, compounding the housing, stress, healthcare and other issues that already threaten them. The notion that if those people were better educated they'd make better choices seems to miss what's really going on here.

Yes, you need leverage, but that leverage isn't education, it's motivation. People have to be able to live lives that make the pay-off of feeling healthy in a year worth more that that of feeling satiated and warm in 10 minutes. That means decent wages, ambitions for the future, job security, respect from their peers, good relationships with the community. If you want people to choose to be healthy, you have to make being healthy a sufficiently attractive long-term goal.
posted by howfar at 6:39 PM on October 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


My wife and I have been on foodstamps twice since meeting, and throughout most of our marriage, we haven't really had much money, so our food-budget has mirrored food-stamp budgets pretty closely for a very long time, it's only been in the past few months that we've even had spare money to spend on more expensive and better foods. We have even started writing a cook-book that's organized a week's menu at a time for people who are on food-stamps, that we will attempt to self publish and give away at the food-stamp office (or DHS or whatever it is in your state).

It was cheaper for us to buy real, unprocessed food and cook it instead of eating anything that was processed and unhealthy (even when we were stressed, tired, demoralized, etc). Always. Without exception. I really hate the argument that people are just too fucked (in whatever way) or too time-poor to cook. This is horseshit. Poor people and poor cultures have created some of the most amazing, delicious, filling, nutritious dishes ever. Pho? Cassoulet? Red beans and rice?Really? There are entire cook-books dedicated to peasant-cooking.

BUT, I agree on the point that education and information are to blame. Sort of. I view this as a serious cultural failing. Americanized culture doesn't know how to cook economically. We know how to cook single meals pretty well, but our cultural knowledge doesn't know how to dovetail together menus that decrease the amount of labor involved; it's really foreign to almost everyone, at least in my generation. We also have no idea how to build a pantry, which again; total educational failing. It's a skill my wife and I had to reinvent, and look to other cultures to obtain. Once you get the hang of it, it's not difficult, it just is. It normalizes pretty quickly.

Roasting a chicken, then making chicken-stock out of it gives you the building blocks to fucking OWN dinner HARD for a full week for a family of three (one of whom is a picky toddler). We don't spend much more then 15-20 minutes actively cooking each night either...I'm not counting time shit spends sitting in the oven or the pot.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:46 PM on October 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


This is horseshit. Poor people and poor cultures have created some of the most amazing, delicious, filling, nutritious dishes ever.

Almost exclusively in cultures where only one member of a couple works outside the home.
posted by howfar at 6:48 PM on October 20, 2012 [46 favorites]


For example, "lack of time" is often cited as an explanation for why people eat badly, but poor people often have lots of time.

Are you trying to be ironic with your statement, because the reality is exactly the opposite.

Poor people, as in the people who are working like hell just to survive from day to day, don't have lots of time. They have way too little time. They're working more than one job, or they're commuting long distances to work (whether by personal car or public transit doesn't matter if it's eating 3-5 hours of your day), or both. They're doing jobs which are physically demanding, requiring a lot of hours on one's feet every day and a lot of physical movement and/or lifting or whatever.

If you're spending 10-15 hours away from your house working jobs which require a lot of physical energy and commuting there and back, how much energy and time do you have to spend in the kitchen?

I leave my house at 6:30 every morning, and get back at 6:30 every night. I take public transport to work out of choice. If I drive, I leave shortly after 7 and return just after 5:30. The price for the extra time I get at home if I drive to work is $120/month above the cost of a bus pass.

I spend all day at work on my feet, picking things up and putting them down again. I work in an auto glass warehouse, so my time is spent running down product ordered and making it available for delivery drivers to take to customers. Windshields weight between 30 and 70 lbs, and I fetch around 200 of them a day, along with related products. Even with mechanical help for transport, it's a job which even after a year I still finds leaves me physically spent at the end of a work day.

When I get home from work, if I wait until I have recouped the physical energy and ambition to cook a meal of the sort I would cook when I was unemployed and had lots of time, it's easily after 8pm. If a meal takes an hour to prepare, that puts me eating at 9. With a bedtime between 9 and 10 (because my alarm goes off before 5:30, and I need my sleep), that's not a very healthy time to be eating.

And mind you -- I'm working a job which pays above the minimum wage here in Washington state, which has the highest minimum wage in the nation. So I'm not actually "poor" according to a lot of metrics. But I'll be damned if I can find the time and energy to cook like I did when I had no job whatsoever. And I'll be damned if there is anything about the money that I bring in and the lifestyle that I lead which doesn't classify me as below lower-middle-class.

Perhaps your solution is to make sure that everyone who is "poor" actually has absolutely no job and is given a minimal amount of money to survive on so they can take all that leisure time you seem to think they have and spend it comparison shopping, finding meat in the About To Expire bins, and bake their own bread and grow their own vegetables. (And that's if they live in a small town like I do, with 3 grocery stores within 3 miles of each other, and not in a large city where there is only one grocery choice within many many miles).

You claim that moralistic language makes others feel good. But you seem to have gone a long way toward demonizing an entire class of people about whom you have no understanding, the working poor, and making gross assumptions about them which simply are not true.
posted by hippybear at 6:49 PM on October 20, 2012 [56 favorites]


No, actually, the key factor is that no one actually wants to redistribute money and resources. The government keeps trying to substitute knowledge and hectoring for actual resources*, because nobody wants to trust the poors with actual money or cost any rich people anything. You want people to eat better? Hello, make sure everyone gets a living wage at a safe and non-discriminatory job and can work an 8 hour day, make sure that everyone has a kitchen which meets minimum food-storage, cleanliness and safety standards and maybe even start giving healthy-food vouchers to people who make, say, less than $35,000/year. You could also subsidize community ed cooking classes, which would have the double advantage of employing people as teachers and, you know, teaching. Heck, run some kitchen/meal-delivery services for disabled folks while you're at it. Once you're doing that, it makes sense to start hectoring people because people suddenly have the resources to follow the suggestions.

But of course, we will never do that - it's much better to find the tiny handful of low-income folks who have the time, skills and resilience to eat, like, home cooked beans and rice and frozen spinach every day and say that everyone should be like them. For preference, we should also indicate that what they do is easy and that everyone else is weak and lazy for not doing the same thing. That will give us a glow of accomplishment - particularly if we can describe our own healthy eating practices in minute detail - without actually costing any money.

The longer I continue as an activist, the more I realize that you can't solve social problems without, you know, solving social problems. Many people like me keep trying to square the circle - we want to change society without actually changing our own social status, social power and financial prospects, so we're always looking for the magical solutions to poverty and misery which will preserve current distribution of wealth, current markers of status and current work arrangements. We often do this unconsciously, not because we're terrible people, but we do it all the same. So there's always money to pay middle class people to advise the poor, always money to provide motivational/educational posters in the bus shelters, always money to "study" the problems of poverty - but never actual food distribution, provision of housing, provision of medical care, or chances for low income people to actual say what they need and get it. Which is why social problems never go away.

*Just like how, in my city, you can easily find a social worker who will 'sit down with you" to go over the very limited number of housing assistance programs, the free clinics that can't treat anything complicated, etc. Lots of social workers available for that, very few actual resources.
posted by Frowner at 6:53 PM on October 20, 2012 [58 favorites]


Hippy bear, I grew up in the working class. I got a job when I was 11 years old because that's what was expected. I'm talking about people like my family. Statistically, they actually do have time. As howfar says, this is mostly, though not exclusively, about motivation, i.e. incentives.
posted by smorange at 7:03 PM on October 20, 2012


Statistically, they actually do have time.

[citation needed]
posted by hippybear at 7:07 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Statistically, hippybear. STATISTICALLY.
posted by Justinian at 7:09 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lies, they actually do have time.

Damn lies, they actually do have time.

Statistically, they actually do have time.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:10 PM on October 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


As frowner said: The longer I continue as an activist, the more I realize that you can't solve social problems without, you know, solving social problems.

Anecdotal evidence cited above - personal stories, more convincing than party-line positions, sometimes - point to the values of "social medicine" - look it up on Wikipedia for a one paragraph summary, or look at this.

Our overall health, affected greatly by the food we eat, is not just a personal choice issue or a matter of regulatory law. "Classism," as mentioned above, is indeed a factor in all of this, but not just in terms of farcical constructs, as in Hollywood liberals telling the working class that they need to steam more broccoli.
posted by kozad at 7:18 PM on October 20, 2012


Want to know why a borderline starving person grabs a honey bun instead of an apple, while you judge? For 99 cents, it keeps you full for hours longer.

If highly-processed, sugary snack foods kept people full for hours longer than fruits, there wouldn't be so much obesity. It's exactly because foods like that have low satiety values per calorie that people end up overeating and gaining weight. People eat them because they're highly palatable and therefore highly rewarding to eat, not because they're satiating.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:19 PM on October 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is a subject the Bureau of Labor Statistics is all over, because food accounts for a lot of the Consumer Price Index. One thing I saw recently but unfortunately now I can't actually locate, was a chart of percentages of family and personal budgets spent on processed or prepared foods (including restaurants) vs. self-cooked foods, over the past few decades. I recall that in 1990, it was about 75% cooked foods, about 25% prepared foods. Then in 2010, it was exactly the opposite, about 25% prepared foods (including frozen, microwavable foods) and about 25%.

Here is an interesting PDF from the BLS called "How family spending has changed in the U.S." Notice the chart on the 4th page, entitled "Percent distribution of the family food budget between food at home and away, 1909 to 1986-87." In 1909, 3 percent of the typical family's budget was away from home. In 1986-7, 27 percent. I wish I could find the more recent report, which shows the dramatic change since 1990.

This is the real problem. "Convenience foods" like prepared frozen meals have corporatized our food supply. Cooking at home used to mean actually cooking, nowadays it usually means tossing something in the microwave.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:21 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


People eat them because they're highly palatable and therefore highly rewarding to eat, not because they're satiating.

Exactly. Shitty food is a drug.
posted by unSane at 7:23 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Honestly, is my assertion a surprise? TV watching skews poor. Study after study shows this. And the average US household watches hours everyday. Is it any surprise that the people who eat the food advertised on TV also tend to be poor?
posted by smorange at 7:24 PM on October 20, 2012


What's more surprising is that you continue to make your claims in the face of your earlier assertion that people tend to use "moralistic language that makes us feel good and conforms to our political beliefs" which isn't useful.

You don't provide citations for any of your claims, and your moralistic language about television watching vs. healthy food consumption is suspect, especially in the context of this conversation.
posted by hippybear at 7:27 PM on October 20, 2012


"Convenience foods" like prepared frozen meals have corporatized our food supply. Cooking at home used to mean actually cooking, nowadays it usually means tossing something in the microwave.

I think that's one of the larger components of this problem. My wife used to teach high school in a poor district; most of the students in one of her classes, she found out one day, literally did not know you could make a sandwich at home. More than that, they didn't say they ate "sandwiches", they ate "Wendy's" or "Arby's" or whatever. There's been a dereliction by society of teaching people how to prepare food accompanied by enormous amounts of propaganda money from food-product companies.
posted by junco at 7:29 PM on October 20, 2012


I didn't say TV watching is bad. Nor did I say eating healthy is good.
posted by smorange at 7:32 PM on October 20, 2012


I'm not sure anyone reading your original comment would actually believe that what you were saying is that "watching TV is a neutral activity as is cooking healthy food and therefore it's a toss-up as to which is better for those doing either activity".

If that's what you meant to express, you didn't actually achieve that.
posted by hippybear at 7:35 PM on October 20, 2012


If highly-processed, sugary snack foods kept people full for hours longer than fruits, there wouldn't be so much obesity. It's exactly because foods like that have low satiety values per calorie that people end up overeating and gaining weight. People eat them because they're highly palatable and therefore highly rewarding to eat, not because they're satiating.

Maybe in an alternate universe where no one is genuinely hungry. I've had to run this experiment, unfortunately. And an apple lasts about an hour on the stomach, while the body knows the honey bun is providing more (albeit junk) calories for survival. That's partially why fatty food is so addictive: cavemen who eat it survive longer when scarcity occurs. These days, I can grab an avocado for the same effect, but that's about $2. And poor people/people without cars/people living paycheck to paycheck can't utilize a Costco, buy in bulk strategy. It's a truism that it costs more money to be poor.

I've switched to a diet high in fruits and vegetables (at least 5 per day). Let me tell you, the sheer volume I have to consume to chip away at my daily caloric needs (even after protein 2-3x day) is high in both cost and prep time compared to the standard American diet. I feel great; I also could never have afforded this at my last job.
posted by availablelight at 7:35 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Statistically, they actually do have time.

[citation needed]


Without regard to commuting times (about which I have no data available), I'm pretty sure it is in fact correct that people with lower incomes work on average fewer hours, source EPI (a left-leaning think tank).
posted by dsfan at 7:42 PM on October 20, 2012


of course, how straight of a line can be drawn from "working fewer hours" to having more "free time".

they say that finding a job is full-time work in itself.

how many low income workers, do you think, are happy enough with the fact that their jobs offer them twenty hours a week that they aren't looking for other sources of income in their "free time."
posted by One Thousand and One at 7:49 PM on October 20, 2012


I've switched to a diet high in fruits and vegetables (at least 5 per day). Let me tell you, the sheer volume I have to consume to chip away at my daily caloric needs (even after protein 2-3x day) is high in both cost and prep time compared to the standard American diet.

Maybe we're talking past each other. The fact that you have to eat a lot of apples to get a lot of calories is what I'm saying. That's part of the reason fruit is more satiating than pastries -- it's not energy-dense. You get a lot of volume for fewer calories.

I've had to run this experiment, unfortunately.

Do you mean that figuratively, or did you actually run a study? Because I'd be interested in reading it if you did. Here's a study where people were given isocaloric servings of different foods, and their ratings of fullness and subsequent ad libitum food intake were measured:
A satiety index of common foods. Protein, fibre, and water contents of the test foods correlated positively with SI scores (r = 0.37, P < 0.05, n = 38; r = 0.46, P < 0.01; and r = 0.64, P < 0.001; respectively) whereas fat content was negatively associated (r = -0.43, P < 0.01).
Refined, highly-palatable foods like pastries, which are usually high in fat and sugar, are the least satiating group of foods, meaning they make you less full per calorie. So people who eat foods like that take in more calories in order to feel the same amount of fullness, which leads to overconsumption and weight gain. From the satiety index study: "There were significant differences in satiety both within and between the six food categories. The highest SI score was produced by boiled potatoes (323 +/- 51%) which was seven-fold higher than the lowest SI score of the croissant (47 +/- 17%)."
posted by ludwig_van at 7:53 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yesterday I was hungry and concerned that I'd been eating junk all week so I had an apple as a snack in the car. Like fifteen minutes later I felt like I'd drank sugar-water and desperately wanted a glass of milk or something so I didn't feel so... diabetic. Food is weird.

As a "working class" person, time, energy and money are factors, I think. When I've had jobs involving physical labor the last thing I wanted to do ever was go home and cook a healthy dinner after all of that. When I did, I felt better, but fuck me, I did not want to. However, I've felt the same way after a day at the office where I woke up early and was on my feet for 8 hours, and a day where I've been sitting in a shitty desk feeling shitty for 8 hours. Demoralization is a big part of it... and in general, the fewer resources I've had (no health insurance, no money, &c.), the more I felt like just giving up and eating whatever and smoking again, too. A lot can be traced back to demoralization, I think, including poor money management (always a hot topic when it comes to the "working class"), health, and so on. You have to have a foothold to feel that any of it is worth it.

The best incentive for me to actually eat well was noticing the change in my mood when I eat well on a normal schedule (versus times when I was literally starving or whatever) and installing the narrative of healthy eating as a lifestyle improvement into my mindset. This is an education issue... but not just at the level of "eat an apple instead of that honey bun!" More on the level of "this is how you use healthy, raw ingredients to make actual food," instead of eating a salad for lunch and dinner and equating healthy eating with wasting money and suffering. Cooking is a skill and needs to be taught, same as changing oil or anything else that most people shrug their shoulders at most of their lives because it seems annoying and unwieldy when you've never done it before/rarely do it. I actually think it's kind of sad that high schools don't have mandatory home ec. anymore (actually, I graduated high school 5 years ago and still had to take mandatory home ec., but "serious" schools don't) because I learned a lot about cooking and taking care of myself there that I still use today.

The best discovery of my entire broke-ass life was eggs. But I didn't grow up knowing how to prepare them in a good-tasting way (pro-tip: mushrooms, salt), and I thought of them as "breakfast food" that you couldn't really eat on its own. Idk, it just took me like five years of way more effort than my frozen-pizza-eating friends to figure this stuff out, and the reason I felt motivated was because my depression was kicking my ass and I knew sleep and food mattered.

(Also, One Thousand and One, I don't know how true this is on a widespread basis, but at times when I've had low hours or low income, I've spent a loooooot of time hustling in my time off. So that is also true.)
posted by stoneandstar at 7:54 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've sometimes wondered (with my limited scientific knowledge) if a fatty chunk of pork stewed in soup would be a lot healthier than, say, a salad lunch with some fruit for lunch.

I mean, the fat and protein would be a much slower release of energy over the rest of the day, while the salads and fruits are just straight carbs which does unkind things to your sugar levels.

Ultimately the extra calories get stored as fat anyway, whether they're from fat or from sugar.

Always makes me scratch my head when people say fatty foods are unhealthy...
posted by xdvesper at 7:54 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


So people who eat foods like that take in more calories in order to feel the same amount of fullness, which leads to overconsumption and weight gain

Wasn't that kind of the point though, that for 99 cents at a gas station you can get a low-calorie apple, or a high-calorie pastry, and the latter will make you feel "fuller"?
posted by stoneandstar at 7:55 PM on October 20, 2012


Wait, maybe I just got confused by the cross-conversations. Not sure.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:56 PM on October 20, 2012


Always makes me scratch my head when people say fatty foods are unhealthy...

What you're saying is pretty much borne out by research as I've had it explained to me. The issue with fatty foods is largely that it's very easy to over-consume, not that they do anything particularly bad if eaten in an appropriate amount.
posted by howfar at 7:59 PM on October 20, 2012


Roasting a chicken, then making chicken-stock out of it gives you the building blocks to fucking OWN dinner HARD for a full week for a family of three (one of whom is a picky toddler). We don't spend much more then 15-20 minutes actively cooking each night either...I'm not counting time shit spends sitting in the oven or the pot. - furnace.heart

I do this too. And guess what? Roasting a chicken takes a fuckton longer than 15-20 minutes. Prepping the chicken and roasting only the chicken, yeah, that can be done pretty quick. Once you know what you're doing. If you aren't being totally grossed out by the inside bits that you have no idea what to do with.

Add in vegetables, depending on what kind, lets say 10. That's compensating for having to buy them, and the fact it's probably the dirtiest potatoes, the carrots really need peeling, you're cutting off the nasty stuff because you had to buy from the place closest to you rather than a market.

So, 15 to get a roast chook with plain vegies in the oven. That's not touching on expense, just time.

Now you're eating the chicken - dishing it up is a learnt skill, you probably mangled it a little but that's okay but it's still a five minute job and one fraught with opportunities to burn and/or cut yourself since you're not at ease in the kitchen. Also you're used to KFC etc. so a plain roast chicken (probably without crispy skin since that's an art form, and maybe a little dry). Add another 10 minutes for real gravy, two for packet stuff. Now you've eaten it and it was okay. No KFC but it's okay (you don't have the cultural knowledge to jam a lemon and garlic in the chicken, or parboil the potatoes first, or any of that stuff that comes with watching people cook, having a TV and watching cooking shows, or having a discerning and adventurous palate that understands balancing flavours). And the family is whining because you spent $5 on a chook (my Australian mind is boggling at that - it's at least $6 for a tiny cage bird here), all this time, and the money on the vegies, and it isn't nearly as good as takeout.

Now you're breaking apart the carcass. Do you eat the fiddly meat between the ribs? It seems kinda nasty. Same with some of the skin. But you break it all down anyway and pop the carcass in the pot. now, my Ma is a champion chicken-breaker and she will take a good ten minutes getting every little bit of meat off. My partner is a little more lax but it's still a good 5-10 minute job*. He pops it in the pot and covers it with water and that's a fucking nasty stock right there. You need to know tricks like reroasting the carcass (probably why my partner is so lax with meat removal - reroasted chicken scraps are delicious apparently), sticking more vegetables in there, things like that. Vegetables that are pretty unappetising afterwards anyway, so it feels like they're wasted.

Anyway, lets assume you've made a nice stock. One that needs to simmer for a good hour (I know, I know, but I'm being generous here). You are now up WAY past your bedtime with a pot simmering. You strain it and chuck out the scraps. You fridge it. Let's be generous and not count the time simmering and checking and skimming, and call it 10 for the stock.

Now, turn the stock into a meal. Um. Soup? Use the leftover chicken, some more vegetables, some salt, some pepper, a few other things. You still have to chop and dice and slice and watch it and all that jazz.

And, let us not forget the clean up. Or the fact you need an oven. Or the fact that in shitty houses using the oven increases the temperature of the house enormously AND drives up power bills (thanks to shitty seals) and is likely to be unreliable (mine is notoriously off kilter and can take anywhere between 60 and 120 minutes to roast a chook). So, twenty minutes clean up for a roast chicken, with gravy, vegetables and stock. Plus thirty minutes, in increments, to make. Close to one hour, at least, of active involvement with the food given that it also involves a lot more attention to even eat AND dinner takes a lot longer to get on the table.

Or you could take a ten minute drive (erring on the side of over-estimating here), ten minute wait, ten minute drive home, and clean up under a minute. For food that tastes better (until you know what you're doing) and has more calories (our bodies, no matter our weight, want those delicious calories) and hits all the tastebuds that poverty prepares you to have.

Don't get me wrong, I do this. I make roasts and stock and use it in soups and stews and chilli and what-have-you. I just refuse to underestimate the skill needed to make food taste good, and how much of that skill is education/activity based - knowing what to do, what to buy, how to buy, all of that. Roasting a chook seems easy to those of us that do it every week. Chopping vegetables is a simple job, you chat while you do it, except for when you're learning and chopping your fingers and your knives are shit but you don't have the money to buy good ones or to get the shitty ones sharpened and you shy away from that concept anyway. Knowing to jam garlic up a chook isn't part of people's skillsets now. Being able to understand the interplay of cooking times and temperatures and the way meat reacts is something you learn through trial and error. And when every meal you waste learning is a meal you miss, learning is a risky prospect. Particularly when there's another option to be had.

I love to cook, I really do, but lectures from those of us who find it easy, who enjoy it? Unhelpful. I try and imagine how I would convince my younger self to cook more, and even that is a whole lot easier than convincing YoungPartner, or YoungSisterInLaw, because I grew up with a mother who loved food, loved to cook (she just hated roast chicken). I had some knowledge and I had someone to talk to about it and an appreciative audience.

*He gets that job because thanks to pregnancy and gallbladder issues I cannot handle touching a chicken carcass, or raw chicken, or chicken fat. Interestingly, while I was at my sickest during pregnancy, McDonalds was the only thing that I could always keep down.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:59 PM on October 20, 2012 [41 favorites]


And now there's this FPP, on the reality of a food stamp budget:

I explained that, for a variety of reasons — including feeding my boys the most nutritious food available, supporting local farmers, and reducing the carbon miles our food inflicted on the environment — I tried to buy our food locally and organically. She looked at me as if I’d just told her I believed in Santa Claus and, with a poorly disguised smirk, said, "Honey, those days are over."
posted by availablelight at 8:01 PM on October 20, 2012


As focused as the original post's material may be, the matter taken up in this thread re: the importance of nutritional education is not new at all to the USDA / FNS, esp. w.r.t. the WIC prgram or the SNAP program, as both are intended to reach the impoverished or working poor. (The fact that such state-sponsored education is apparently/"generally-assumed-to-be" deferred until a person is eligible for a supplemental program is interesting in itself.)

Whether or not a person who is poor can cook a nutritious meal seems to be beside the point, given the commentary. The fact is that, even given the ability to get "free food", (some) people need to also be educated in the value of said food (which is not necessarily cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, or even anything laden with salt, saturated fats, or other unhealthy things).
posted by timfinnie at 8:01 PM on October 20, 2012


Maybe we're talking past each other. The fact that you have to eat a lot of apples to get a lot of calories is what I'm saying. That's part of the reason fruit is more satiating than pastries -- it's not energy-dense. You get a lot of volume for fewer calories.

I'm not in need of losing weight (just about the opposite, with a fast--i.e. expensive--metabolism to boot) and it would cost me about $8 more to fill up on apples than a pastry. "A lot of volume for fewer calories" is the recipe for an eating disorder or going broke for some people on low budgets. So they grab the honey bun.
posted by availablelight at 8:04 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've switched to a diet high in fruits and vegetables (at least 5 per day). Let me tell you, the sheer volume I have to consume to chip away at my daily caloric needs (even after protein 2-3x day) is high in both cost and prep time compared to the standard American diet. I feel great; I also could never have afforded this at my last job.

I recall a few years back when some economist wrote about how a healthy diet was becoming an unaffordable luxury item. I didn't really believe it until I became totally broke to the point where I lived on food stamps and trips to the food bank. I had to budget very carefully to stretch my food budget to last the whole month. That meant no prepared foods, I had to cook a lot. There were days where I skipped meals, and the food bank generally gave out canned goods that required some cooking. I got to the point where I just could not look at canned corn or green beans again. My specialty was what I called "poverty soup," take a can of industrial quality chicken soup and toss in a whole can of green beans. After I ate it, I felt like I ate tablespoons of salt, because I probably did.

Then I got involved with Occupy Wall Street, and worked in the kitchen a lot. Our local encampment was involved with a lot of the issues around food production, since it was a local issue. People talked a lot about improving the quality of the food supply and taking it back from the corporations. But that was a luxury we could not afford. The most popular staple food was PB&J. I never ate crap like that in my life, not since I was in kindergarten taking a bag lunch. But when that's all you have to eat, you get used to it. My diet has seriously deteriorated since PB&J became something I could even tolerate eating, let alone eat fairly often. It's cheap, it has all the basic carbs, protein, and sugars, but is too heavy on fat and sugar. I have gained weight eating horrible crap like that.

But now I'm doing a little better, I have a decent job and can afford a little better quality of food. The problem is, I work so much, I still am not taking the time to prepare healthy foods. It is hard to take back your diet, once you become dependent on corporate food supplies.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:06 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The USDA has also published a study looking at how much time Americans spend on food related activities (6.3 MB PDF) using data from the Americans Use of Time Survey. Here are some key findings:

• On an average day over 2006-08, Americans age 15 and older spent about 2.5 hours eating or drinking. Slightly less than half of that time (67 minutes) was spent eating and drinking as a "primary" or main activity, while the remaining time was spent in eating and drinking while doing something else considered primary such as watching television, driving, preparing meals, and/or working (78 minutes) and in waiting to eat and/or traveling to the meal destination (7 minutes). Eleven percent of the population spent at least 4.5 hours on an average day engaged in eating and drinking activities.

• Lower income Americans, those with household incomes less than 185 percent of the poverty threshold, spend less time engaged in eating and drinking activities than those with higher incomes.

• Those who engaged in secondary eating or drinking while driving, working, grooming, or during meal preparation and cleanup had lower-than-average BMIs, while those who engaged in secondary eating while watching television had higher-than-average BMIs.

• Obese individuals, on average, spent just over 3 hours watching television per day, about 37 minutes more than those with normal weight.

• Women were more likely to grocery shop than men on an average day, and spent more time shopping as well.

Here's some more on the correlation between income and time spent eating, and income and time spent on food prep:
Those with household income greater than 185 percent of the poverty threshold spent more time in all eating/drinking activities than those with incomes below 185 percent (fig. 4.) The greater amounts of time spent in secondary eating and drinking are likely due to the fact that those with higher incomes are more likely to be employed than those with lower incomes. In addition, those with higher incomes were more likely to eat out at a restaurant or bar—23 percent of those with higher incomes ate at a restaurant on an average day, versus 13 percent of individuals with household incomes less than 185 percent of the poverty threshold.

...

Those employed spent less time and were less likely to engage in food prep on an average day than the total population average. Persons in households with higher incomes spent less time, but were equally likely to prepare food as those with lower incomes. Over two-thirds of individuals in SNAP/FSP households engaged in food prep on an average day, and those SNAP/FSP recipients who prepared food spent 75 minutes doing so.

posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 8:14 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


those with household incomes less than 185 percent of the poverty threshold

I don't want to keep beating the WIC/SNAP drum here, but given Jasper Friendly Bear's breakdown above, I want to note that (as I understand things) people at 131+% of the poverty line are not eligible for SNAP funds and associated benefits, and at 186+% are not eligible for WIC funds and associated benefits.

I'm done beating the WIC/SNAP drum now.

(I now remember reading that report when it came out and I wish I had recalled it for inclusion in my last comment. Thanks Jasper.)
posted by timfinnie at 8:29 PM on October 20, 2012


I've switched to a diet high in fruits and vegetables (at least 5 per day). Let me tell you, the sheer volume I have to consume to chip away at my daily caloric needs (even after protein 2-3x day) is high in both cost and prep time compared to the standard American diet. I feel great; I also could never have afforded this at my last job.

The opposite thing actually happened to me in Chicago. I actually ended up spending less money when I ditched all my sugary, fatty, processed goodness and went almost full paleo (almost because I have a very strong weakness for Frosted Flakes).

The local produce store next to where I lived was so much cheaper, which was great on a student's budget! I could usually get my day's worth of vegetables for about $5-$8. A standard dinner for me would be a chicken breast or thigh with 2 heads of broccoli, a bell pepper, and an avocado. I suppose I lucked out that avocados at the produce store was rarely above $1 each and that usually happened around February, in the dead of winter. On a good summer day, I could pick one up for $0.33!!! What killed me in terms of food spending was getting the organic/free range meats, not the veggies. However, I realized it still costed me less to eat better than when I just bought loads of frozen dinners and other crap. I never stored any raw veggies in the fridge for longer than a day since I tended to buy and cook on the same day.

The prep time also wasn't that much. Dinner took about 20-30 minutes to get ready. Lunch involved deli meats wrapped around veggies (raw), and breakfast was usually a hard boiled egg or scrambled eggs or even leftovers from dinner. If I was really ambitious or had a bit of free time on the weekends, I'd make a big roast and slowly chip away at that for about a week.
posted by astapasta24 at 8:42 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just a data point here: When I was working 12 hour days, I was watching a lot more TV because it was about the only thing I was physically capable at the end of my day.

That tv time is not interchangable with food prep time, anyway. It's the TV on to keep your kids occupied while getting ready for school, or to keep them out of trouble for the babysitter. You have it on while your doing your washing or housework, because having no transport budget means staying at home a lot, and that shit gets lonely as all hell. Stir crazy if your stuck at home with another unemployed person. It's totally passive. Cooking is active. It's being alert because if you burn something, or fuck up the measurements, you're either stuck eating something revolting or having no dinner at all. You gotta watch the oven because it's who knows if that 180c is actually 180c? You've got to hover over the chopped veg so your bottomless pit of a teenage son doesn't nibble your ingredients into oblivion. Keep the roaches off. Stir, chop, measure, whatever - it's not at all the same as just lying gently in one spot, not really moving, letting that glow wash over you.

You watch Cheers because you can't afford your local any more. You watch Sex in the City because you can't afford to make a day trip into town. You watch soaps because the characters are the only friends you can afford to hang out with regularly. You watch cooking shows - food porn - because it's rice and beans again tonight. I lived in a household so broke that we were literally stretching a bag of red lentils and rice into a dhal that was meant to feed four of us for a week. We'd sit and salivate over triple cooked roast potatoes and chocolate gateaus and try and work out how you could make them for under a fiver.

You watch infomercials at three am because the stress related insomnia has kicked in again and you can't sleep without at least numbing yourself with something banal. You watch Dr Phil because you can't afford a real therapist.

When you are poor, you watch a lot of TV because it is a free source of entertainment. When your play money comes out of your food budget, you find cheap things to occupy that free time.
posted by Jilder at 8:43 PM on October 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


I find it really weird that most of the responses here seem to endorse the "if you're poor there's no choice but to eat shit" point of view. It's a counsel of despair, since it imples the only way people will ever eat better is to earn more. Which is a nice idea, but...

It's not an either/or thing. There are bad choices, and less bad choicds, and less good choices, and good choices. Moving people incrementally from one category to another is possible. If you just wish to defend diet choices, well, okay, but be aware of what you're doing, which is conceptualizing folks as entire victims of circumstance, and not self-aware agents.

I live in a rural area where a lot of people are poor and eat badly. A lot of people are poor and eat OK , too.
posted by unSane at 9:14 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you just wish to defend diet choices, well, okay, but be aware of what you're doing, which is conceptualizing folks as entire victims of circumstance, and not self-aware agents.

How would you describe someone living in a neighborhood in a city which only has one grocery store which doesn't stock good food, who may own a car but doesn't have the money to buy gas to do regular grocery shopping at the good stores all of which are a few gallons of gas away (or who may not own a car and the extra hours it takes to go to said stores is a major hit on their non-working time), who is away from the house 12 hours a day during weekdays and has a load of chores to tend to on weekends because that's the only time they have the energy and ambition to tackle necessary things like cleaning and laundry, and who is making the best choices they can with their limited time and resources but still cannot meet the rubrik of moving to the next better scale of choices you outline?

Are they victims of circumstance? Or are they simply just not exercising enough self-aware agency to meet your standards?
posted by hippybear at 9:25 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


The time issue is (as others have noted) as critical as access and affordability. I have just enough time when getting home from work to prepare dinner in about an hour. And I work fast but do not expect to see feats of culinary prowess in my kitchen on a weekday...unless some Le academie de cuisine graduate breaks in and treats that hour like it's a quickfire challenge.
posted by datawrangler at 9:27 PM on October 20, 2012


People may be self-aware agents but that doesn't mean they are free agents, free of constraints. I also don't see people making excuses so much as offering explanations that have to be accounted for if you're looking for a resolution.

One of the constraints I haven't seen really discussed yet is disability. There's a lot to show a correlation between eating poorly and poor health. There's also a strong correlation between poverty and disability. That includes the unofficially disabled, such as the working class people who come home from work every day barely able to move and the many people self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs.

Then there is the fact that the people who do most of the cooking also happen to be the people who do most of the caretaking of their disabled and generally unhealthy family members. If there is one thing I have seen from a lifetime of being poor and living in a poor neighborhood and just being around poor people all the time, it's that sickness and lack of adequate health care have a major impact on the choices we make.

I really love the Spoons explanation of what it's like to try to get through your daily tasks when you're disabled (diagnosed or not). The reduced energy and the greater likelihood of being unable to complete tasks greatly affects what you can cook. I can't make the point strongly enough. When it hurts to stand for more than a few minutes, whether it's because you have a chronic disability or because you've been working all day at a job your body can't handle, you dread anything with dicing or chopping or extensive seasoning or multiple pots. But you still need filling food. ESPECIALLY when your body is suffering, that's when something delicious, filling and comforting hits the spot like nothing else. It's like medicine, the medicine you can't afford.
posted by Danila at 9:34 PM on October 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure anyone reading your original comment would actually believe that what you were saying is that "watching TV is a neutral activity as is cooking healthy food and therefore it's a toss-up as to which is better for those doing either activity".

Of course I think cooking healthy food is better than watching TV. I cook and don't watch TV. But that has nothing to do with which activity is actually better, or which activity other people think is better. I don't pretend that my preferences are objectively correct. I don't insert them into an explanation of behaviour, not even my own. After all, you might just as well ask why I think that cooking is better than watching TV, which isn't necessarily transparent to me, and you'd have to know lots about me and my life to figure out the answer.

If you just wish to defend diet choices, well, okay, but be aware of what you're doing, which is conceptualizing folks as entire victims of circumstance, and not self-aware agents.

This. It's really odd to go to a liberal site like MeFi and see people denying agency to the poor (except when they make good choices) in one thread and then ascribing it to the rich (except when they make good choices, in which case it's luck) in another. If you go to a conservative site, it's agency all the way. In that mindset, choices are all equally free and uncoerced. Both are mistaken. The truth is, we're animals. We make choices as a result of who we are as we interact with our environment. Who we are is likewise the result of our genes and our environment.

If we have a particular conception of the good, and if we want to design a society that promotes it, we have to look at why people choose not to pursue it. The answer isn't going to be anything as simple as "because the poor are victims" or "because they're lazy." Those aren't actually answers. Those are value judgments about the situation. An answer will be more along the lines of "because people who have x, y, and x characteristics in a, b, and c situations choose this. As this thread has developed, we've seen more data and deeper explanations. That's good. Earlier I reacted negatively to shallow explanations that relied on false assumptions.
posted by smorange at 9:53 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


smorange: “As this thread has developed, we've seen more data and deeper explanations. That's good. Earlier I reacted negatively to shallow explanations that relied on false assumptions.”

I think people responding to you were probably a little irked that you told them ahead of time that they "exonerate the poor and execrate the rich" simply because of their "political beliefs." Even if it's true, people don't tend to like being told that.

This thread is very interesting, though, and I'm enjoying it. Thanks, all.
posted by koeselitz at 10:05 PM on October 20, 2012


My husband is the sole wage-earner in our household. Earlier this year he was unemployed for several months, and then took a job at half his previous salary. I cut our grocery budget to the BONE; I was feeding the four of us on $500 a month. I cooked everything from scratch that this family ate save our breakfast cereal, drawing heavily on what I think of as "peasant cuisine."

Every single meal was based around carbohydrates, because that's what we could afford. Potatoes, pasta, rice; homemade bread; dal with rice and naan and curried greens, delicious and nutritious, but so much starch. Bubble and squeak made with half a pound of nearly-expired Jimmy Dean sausage, mashed potatoes, and fried cabbage. Four slices of bacon, frozen peas, and a block of generic cream cheese, served over pasta. The food bank would give me up to twelve pounds of dried pasta for two weeks, but only one plastic grocery bag full of "fresh" vegetables, and two portions of meat. For a family of four, for two weeks.

I gained 35 pounds in 8 months.

Turns out I have a dreadfully dysfunctional carbohydrate metabolism, which is no surprise given that I have reactive hypoglycemia and my father has type II diabetes. I was eating way more calories than I needed, but I was hungry, exhausted, and surly all the time. I didn't want to exercise; I didn't want to do anything but eat and sleep. I've never yelled at my kids so much in my life. My fasting blood sugar crept up towards the danger zone, I started having to take sleeping pills, and my cholesterol soared. It was a terrible time.

Fortunately, my husband got a better job, and I went mostly-paleo and quit eating carbohydrates virtually overnight. I've lost 24 of the 35 pounds, my fasting blood sugar is 91, my cholesterol is 179, I can sleep and exercise, I have a ton of energy. But our grocery budget? Yeah, it nearly doubled, and it's not because I'm eating processed crap and frozen dinners, it's because meat and fish and fresh healthy produce (even in season) is EXPENSIVE compared to simple carbohydrates.

I still cook everything this family eats from scratch except our breakfast cereal, because I'm a SAHM and I like to cook, but that takes real time; if you add up all the time I spend planning, shopping, and cooking, it's easily 10-15 hours a week. And I live in suburbia, where I have a reliable car and a Costco and a Cash & Carry and 5 grocery stores within 5 miles. Life is a lot shittier without any of those around. It's a second job, albeit a part-time one, and not everyone has the time or the inclination to work that second job.

If we go through a broke period again, I'm not eating like that any more. I'll hit the cash and carry and buy the 40 lb box of chicken thighs for $50 and the 30 lbs of pork shoulder for $40 and the 45 lb box of cabbage for $8 and the 20 lb bag of carrots for $4 and tell the family that they can suck it up, this is what we're eating. But I have the cash and carry available. It's a really different situation if you don't.
posted by KathrynT at 10:34 PM on October 20, 2012 [22 favorites]


You can have my mayonnaise only when you pry it out of my cold, dead, fingers, after I die of a heart attack.

But I'll die happy and satiated!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:16 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's something so uniquely American about all of this. I live in South Korea and one of my favorite things about it is how people take food seriously. It's not just a delivery-system for calories, but a social thing. In fact, it sucks when you want a certain type of food but are by yourself, because it's weird to go into most restaurants for a sit-down meal by yourself here. It's similar to how the French must feel about our national obssession with Le Big Mac.

So basically, you can stuff your face for as little as $3.50 here in a clean, sit-down restaurant (I live in Daegu and Seoul is more expensive, but you can find a 4,000 won meal anywhere if you look hard enough). And it's the kind of meal that will sustain you for hours, if not all day, and it's got a good balance of protein and carbs and veggies and fiber.

I just don't get it. Countries significantly poorer than the US manage to have avoided the obesity/diabetes epidemic, and sustain a vibrant restaurant culture that isn't based around expensive crap. There are a lot of factors at work but I come around to the fact that as a culture, Americans fell hard for the Federal Highway System in the 1950's and food became a chore, a requirement, a hassle in and of itself.

Honestly, food is one of the reasons I may never move back to America. Unless I become obscenely wealthy, because then I can eat how I want with no trouble wherever I go.
posted by bardic at 11:21 PM on October 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


We've talked about this a hundred times on the blue, but you really have to walk in other people's shoes to understand why buying and eating this way just does not work out for everyone. It's sad, it's not fair, blah blah blah, but it's the truth, and the truth isn't going to change.

I love eating healthy, but oftentimes we just can't afford it in our household. Not lately, anyway. And this is coming from someone who knows how to cook from scratch, who knows how to eat healthy (I was vegan for seven years, and not the junk food kind.)

I have gone out and compared (in fact I did this just yesterday) all of the ingredients it would take to make one dinner that you could get frozen. And while the one I made would probably have been healthier and tasted better, it came out to $5 more, and there was no way to cut that back.

This is because companies get foods in bulk much cheaper, and can offer pre-made things cheaper than it would cost you to make them. That's just how it is, and it can't be said any plainer than that.

I agree that people should do their best to eat well, but it's just not possible (as I said) for everyone all the time.

And that doesn't even touch on lower class families where both parents work 40+ hours a week and are exhausted when they get home.
posted by Malice at 11:23 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just don't get it. Countries significantly poorer than the US manage to have avoided the obesity/diabetes epidemic,

Exercise?

I would take a stab that people walk more in other countries. We drive here. My husband lived in France for a time and pretty much everywhere you went, you walked.
posted by Malice at 11:24 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


True dat. But it also ties into how non-USians think about food holistically, as a source of nourishment but also a social thing. Even with more walking, you've also got restaurants serving cheap and healthy dishes 24/7 (and there's plenty of greasy crap food as well, but you simply don't have the first option in America).

Eating lunch at your desk by yourself here is utterly shameful and shocking here, no exaggeration. (And I do it all the time, much to the consternation of my boss. "Why James? Why do you eat like an animal at your desk?")
posted by bardic at 11:36 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


These threads always make me extremely depressed about the state of food in this country. Even though I grew up in poverty and I consider myself lower-middle class, my life experiences have given me the knowledge and skill to be able to feed myself nutritionally yet cheaply. Not only that but I have easy access to good food and my lifestyle permits me time to prepare and cook. I know I'm very fortunate and not everyone is going to have the tools that I was given. I used to be very judgmental about people's food choices but I've come to realize that people's poor eating habits is not a moral failing.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:38 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I've come to realize that people's poor eating habits is not a moral failing"

I'd say it's 90% structural, with an additional 10% of utter bugfuckery when it comes to Big Agri-business in America. Our governments doles out billions of dollars to businesses (under the guise of "family farmers") to ensure that things like white sugar and corn syrup are cheap as hell, while nutritionally decent things don't get similar treatment.

It's never going to happen because FREEDOM but hey, just imagine if the Department of Agriculture decided to given even 1/100 of those subsidies to local organic farmers.
posted by bardic at 11:44 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I completely agree with you bardic.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:46 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just don't get it. Countries significantly poorer than the US manage to have avoided the obesity/diabetes epidemic,

Well, I mean, traditional diets are often radically different from the "Western pattern diet" - from Inuit meatitarianism to the almost totally plant-based Okinawans - but one problem is that they are different in so many ways that it is hard to tease them apart, e.g., what types and how much of fat is eaten, animal vs. plant consumption, carbohydrate type and amount, etc. (And of course, many people around the world practice caloric restriction on top of all this, in an involuntary sort of way I mean.) It just becomes this huge statistically intractable mess. And even when you find alternatives with better health outcomes, there are still the challenges of scaling up a diet that works for a specific group of people in a particular cultural context (probably there is not enough walrus to sustain the world on an Inuit-style menu).
posted by en forme de poire at 11:47 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It’s important to remember that it’s not only the US that has an obesity epidemic. It’s a problem across most of the wealthy countries. The Obesity Update 2012 (PDF) report from the OECD has a lot of very interesting cross-country comparisons.

For example, here are selected obesity rates among adults:

US: 33.8%
Mexico: 30.0%
New Zealand: 26.5%
Chile 25.1%
Australia: 24.6%
Canada: 24.2%

Though Korea has a very low adult obesity rate, 3.8%, it has quite a high proportion of boys aged 6-17 years who are overweight, 16.2%.

Across many different countries, women with low levels of education are much more likely to be overweight than women with high levels of education. This effect is particularly strong in Korea. Surprisingly, this effect isn't very strong for men across different countries (see figure 4 on page 3).
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 12:17 AM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Surprisingly, this effect isn't very strong for men across different countries (see figure 4 on page 3).

Dare one speculate that fewer of the men are directly involved in meal planning, food purchasing, and meal preparation? So increased levels of education among men has less of an impact on what they eat.
posted by bardophile at 3:43 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm trying to avoid falling way down this rabbit hole, but I will just say that if all the kinds of things under discussion here are issues of concern to you, take a look around your community because you might be surprised by how many opportunities there are to contribute directly in small but meaningful ways to the genuine, complex, and difficult-to-solve issues of food security, food access, and food choice.

The food shelf managed within my church runs a community garden, it is involved with programs that source produce from other gardeners in the community, and programs that harvest fruit from trees and plants that otherwise go unharvested (and often end up just being a mess to clean up for whoever owns the property the plant is on), it secures donations of produce from the local farmer's market, often items at the end of the selling day that wouldn't be fit for another round of re-transport, storage, etc. but can take gentle transport by volunteers and be perfectly fit for donation by people who will use it in a day or two. There is never an issue with giving away fresh produce. It is always easy to dispose of. Little is thrown away (composted, naturally).

We're connected to a local co-op that does tons of programming trying to reach out to the community about food choice and food security issues from the family diet to the international scale. The co-op provides significant direct support to the food shelf as well, there are amazing people working there. And we are just one tiny organization, always strapped, barely making it, scrambling for every dollar. It's terribly difficult to get notice and support. The impact the economy of the last decade has had on food security, has been blatant, obvious, dramatic and heartbreaking. Look around if you care about it, don't just talk about it. Somebody in your community is likely trying to do something about it and they need help and they need money and literally almost anything could help.
posted by nanojath at 7:14 AM on October 21, 2012


I'd say it's 90% structural, with an additional 10% of utter bugfuckery

I'd give it a more complicated mix of structural plus culture plus individual choices. The structure provides the constraints -- the limits of both what is actually possible and what you believe is possible -- as well as incentives. Culture gets at the ways in which food is so intimately tied to identity, family, and intimacy, and why people of similar economic positions in different places will make startling different eating decisions. And on top of that, people make choices as individuals.

Structure is huge, from the ways in which we subsidize selected aspects of the food system, to the ways we have built our transportation networks and built environments, to the ways we design the safety net programs like foodstamps, to the ways we have chosen to distribute wealth. To change things like food insecurity and access to good food across an entire country, you have to change the structural elements. You don't solve hunger by telling people to try harder, you solve hunger by providing universal access to resources like food and money.

But at an individual or family level, culture and individual choices loom huge. There are still enormous structural constraints, but within those there is room for all kinds of choices and outcomes. Food-wise, there will be complex outcomes (both good and bad) of choosing to live in separate nuclear family units versus living in a huge extended household, for example. That's cultural and individual, but within the structural constraints that impact all of us.
posted by Forktine at 7:22 AM on October 21, 2012


A wink to those who don't have the time to prepare their own meals but haven't missed an episode of "Dancing with the Stars".
posted by incandissonance at 8:12 AM on October 21, 2012


A wink to those who don't have the time to prepare their own meals but haven't missed an episode of "Dancing with the Stars".

Indeed. How dare poor people want leisure time? They'll only spend it watching some prole-ey programme. They sicken me.
posted by howfar at 8:20 AM on October 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


A wink to those who don't have the time to prepare their own meals but haven't missed an episode of "Dancing with the Stars".

See also: Suburban McMansions with aircraft-hangar-sized kitchens stuffed full of Viking and Sub-Zero appliances, and the microwave gets 95% of the action.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:44 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


A wink to those who don't have the time to prepare their own meals but haven't missed an episode of "Dancing with the Stars".

A wink to those who don't realize that Dancing with the Stars is on after dinnertime is over. Time isn't fungible like that -- you can't take the hour of 8-9 pm and shove it in between 4 and 5 PM instead.
posted by KathrynT at 8:52 AM on October 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


Though Korea has a very low adult obesity rate, 3.8%, it has quite a high proportion of boys aged 6-17 years who are overweight, 16.2%.

In Korea this is a new phenomenon, and it's almost certainly due, in descending order, to: 1) video games; 2) hours spent at hagwon (private study schools); and 3) the rise of quick, cheap, Western food in the country.
posted by smorange at 9:15 AM on October 21, 2012


I eat fairly well but often don't take forever cooking. Jamón serrano with persimmons rocks! Yummy!
posted by jeffburdges at 10:09 AM on October 21, 2012


what I don't even
posted by howfar at 10:12 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Healthy (unprocessed) foods are certainly getting more expensive. $3 for a pound of bran? $5 for a pound of oats? $3 for a liter of water? (the gods laughed!)
posted by Twang at 11:09 AM on October 21, 2012


Meatloaf barley
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:40 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


No time, no time. But there is, somehow, time to watch TV, to visit favorite websites, to go to a movie.

If there is time to do these things, there is time to do food preparation. The key is planning, not time availability.

We folks in the US have toxic addictions to foods that actively harm our health and longevity, and we protect those addictions with shibboleths about how we simply cannot do otherwise than maintain our intake. And so everyone ends up fat and sick. And that this trend is spreading around the world is hardly a good thing.
posted by bearwife at 12:53 PM on October 21, 2012


Not one word about advertising affecting what people eat?

Companies spend millions and millions in food advertising--they wouldn't bother if it weren't effective. People with cable TV avoid a goodly bit of advertising. Poor people with six or seven channels see nearly 15 minutes of ads for every 15 minutes of programming.You don't much see big billboards advertising broccoli or legumes. If a McDonald's billboard is what you repeatedly see, McDonald's is what you think of as food. Advertising is a type of education (brainwashing?) continually directed at the public. Don't kid yourself that young people aren't susceptible to that influence. As a SAHM, I used to make oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, or eggs for breakfast, bake all our bread, make jelly, and can tomatoes, beans, and tons of fruit. My kids pissed and moaned about not getting boxed cereal, wanted Welsch's jelly, Hunts tomato paste and DelMonte peaches. The worst thing of all was that they thought Wonder bread was the be-all and end-all.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:59 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


No time, no time. But there is, somehow, time to watch TV, to visit favorite websites, to go to a movie.

And that time is not during the time when dinner has to be prepared.

shibboleths about how we simply cannot do otherwise than maintain our intake.

It's not that we simply cannot do otherwise. It's that people have frequently optimized their choices based on their available resources, and it is wise to recognize that and acknowledge that making different choices may come at a cost. The cost may be worth it in the long run, but lower-income Americans are hardly the only people in the world who have ever optimized for the short term at the expense of the long term when times were tight.

Speaking as someone who WAS getting fatter and sicker because of what I ate, and who changed my diet and therefore my health -- what changed wasn't that I was finally scolded into eating better. What changed is that I had more money. If my circumstances tighten up again, I'll make different choices next time, but I have access to resources that make those different choices possible.
posted by KathrynT at 1:18 PM on October 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


bearwife, if you are at work until 6pm, time is your issue. Not planning.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:56 PM on October 21, 2012



bearwife, if you are at work until 6pm, time is your issue. Not planning.

Planning can be still part of it. Not suggesting it's easy or works for everyone in every situation but there are things that can be planned around when time is an issue. My Mom for instance, when she started working would spend some time on her day off preparing food for the week ahead and for days when she needed a quick meal. Four hours in the kitchen doing several things at once would end up saving time in getting the daily dinner prepared. Many of our weekly meals were heat up and serve with a quick, 10 min additions added in.

She would also, regularly plan to have leftovers and cook accordingly as time wise it doesn't take a whole lot more to cook more to just be heated up over the next couple days. I grew up with at least one leftover day each week, usually when Mom was tired or the containers in the fridge needed to be used. She called it potluck night. Everything would be set out on the counter and we'd all choose bits of this or that would be heated in the microwave.

This habit has been passed on to me. My freezer is full of 'frozen meals' that take 5 mins to get on the table. Some come from purposely making them up and a lot just from freezing leftovers from a meal.

She also passed on the art of soup making or as I like to call it. "Whatever chucked in a pot with some liquid" Sometimes it would be based on a canned soup and sometimes from scratch. Leftover, frozen veggies, whatever is in the fridge, some bulk (barely, potatoes, rice) chucked in and some sort of chopped up meat. It was always yummy. Our favorite was actually hamburger soup with ground beef. We always thought this was her gourmet cooking but after I grew up I learned it was her 'I need to cook something quick that I can leave on the stove because I have other things to do in the meantime meal.' She still does it. When we visit she'll disappear into the kitchen for ten minutes, return and while later we'll have a delicious hearty meal. She makes it seem like magic.

She was never into using slow cookers much. I've gotten into that. I started when I was getting into small scale growing myself. There was nothing I hated more then coming in after a long day of physical labor and cooking. With a slow cooker, especially a programmable one everything can be put in in the morning and like a miracle it's hot a ready when you get in. They are also wicked at making inexpensive cuts of meat absolutely delicious with very little hands on time involved.

They're also great for cooking things like dried beans(cheap) while you're sleeping. My weekly plan usually goes like this. One morning chuck some dried beans in a bowl. Stick them in the fridge. Before going to bed, rinse the beans, stick in the slow cooker with some water. Beans are ready in the morning. They'll either go back in the fridge for later (either for meals or frozen) or I make something to cook during the day in the cooker and eat it when I get home.

No doubt this takes planning. When I first started I would keep forgetting to set the beans to soak which would put me a day behind. It soon became habit though. And time wise for the time starved its great because it takes as much time to make as it does to cook some pre-prepared meals.

I actually led part of course put on by our community center directed at low income families around cooking with slow cookers. Some cookers were even donated to families that would have trouble affording them. The feedback from the families involved has been nothing but positive. Yes they take some work to get used to using and can change the way one looks at cooking but what you get out of it in both time and food cost savings and yummy food can be great. A few women who took the course even called it life changing.

I would recommend looking into the world of 'slow cooking' with cookers to anyone who wants great (and healthy) food that's easy on the wallet and easy on time use. They're like having a chef that does most of the cooking for you whether you're home or not.
posted by Jalliah at 2:44 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been rich and I've been poor and I love food, so I feel like I have a bit of authority to speak on this. Healthy food is not that expensive, it just tastes like shit unless, as multiple people have mentioned, you can afford the time or money to prepare it. If you are poor having a healthy diet takes a ton of discipline... you gotta stomach that Amy's soup with a slice of whole wheat bread and some steamed peas. Bootstraps, etc. If you have some money, you can go out to eat at nice French restaurants and get the Bronzino with a side of haricot verts. IMO that's what it all boils down to. It's a class thing and no amount of education is going to make people trade their Arby's sandwich for a spinach salad so long as this is a free country.
posted by gagglezoomer at 3:24 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


>>Though Korea has a very low adult obesity rate, 3.8%, it has quite a high proportion of boys aged 6-17 years who are overweight, 16.2%.

>In Korea this is a new phenomenon, and it's almost certainly due, in descending order, to: 1) video games; 2) hours spent at hagwon (private study schools); and 3) the rise of quick, cheap, Western food in the country.


It is true that childhood obesity is on the rise here -- there's been a radical and noticeable increase in the 16 years since I first came here to Korea, but I would say that neither 1) nor 2) have much to do with it at all. Number 3, though, has had a much greater impact, not only in the radical increase in the availability of junk food, but in the changes in food culture here that have incorporated it.

It's nice to be able to buy things like baked beans or fajita spice or real cheese, things that were difficult to get my hands on even a couple of years ago. But with that comes a veritable plague of Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins on streetcorners everywhere.

Meanwhile, the price of fruit, vegetables, meat and other unprocessed foods continues to rise dramatically. I pay literally three times as much for a kilo of tomatoes as I did a year ago, or twice as much for some pork loin, to pick two examples that stick in my craw every time we go shopping.

It's a process that is still underway, but in the meantime, in less than two decades, the number of overweight Koreans -- and especially overweight children -- has noticeably increased.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:11 AM on October 22, 2012


All that said, my weekday dinner these days tends to be a boiled chicken breast with a little dijon mustard and some sliced cucumbers and carrots, so.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:13 AM on October 22, 2012


I grew up not extremely well off, but nothing that I would consider poor either. My family was also not urban so we would grow a lot of our own food. I remember growing tomatoes, green beans, and beets on quite a large scale. We would pickle and can the beets and green beans and process and can the tomatoes into spaghetti sauce. It would take time, and time on your day off but we would have the best spaghetti sauce you could get on the planet. Tomatoes, garlic, and onions with fresh grown basil and oregano, the only thing we needed to buy was some fat for frying the vegetables in and that was it. We would easily make 50 jars of this sauce and would have spaghetti one day a week. It was an easy meal to cook, brown some meat (ground beef, italian sausage, bacon, ground pork, ground turkey, etc whatever is on sale that week) and pour in the sauce from the jar. Cool some spaghetti spoon over the sauce and a nice dinner on the table that everyone would eat in under 15 minutes.

I don't know how urban poor are able to do it. Back home in Vermont there are a lot of poor people, but they're all usually got some land to grow things on and tending to a garden on your day off can easily reduce your food budget by quite a lot, and then with canning and hunting you can get fairly self sufficient pretty quickly. Especially if you enjoy gardening and hunting and fishing. It isn't too bad heading out with Dad going ice fishing and catching perch having fun and then getting to eat "Lake Champlain Shrimp" (steamed fillets of perch served cool with cocktail sauce). Dad enjoys it as well and you bring home 20-30 perch enough for 2 or 3 meals with the family. Being jammed into a small apartment and surrounded by concrete without easy access to good clean places to gather food and those places being stripped from being worked too hard anyways would make it a lot tougher. Doubly so if you worked a tiring job where you were exhausted at the end of the day.

I still do think that education and access to healthy food is the key. I was taught how to cook by my grandmothers, one of which was a farmer where they grew everything that they ate, except for an orange on xmas. I can cook on the cheap and make really healthy food. I am still not up to her level of saving bacon fat to use to make cookies (because lard is expensive and you've got this fat right here which is essentially lard except a bit saltier) but with a small investment in some seeds and labor I can feed myself and my family in weekends worth of work and canning and pickling everything that I grew supplemented with bulk goods from the store for very cheap. I would definitely want a slow cooker though because that is the best single purchase if you want to make healthy tasty food on the cheap.

Bonus recipe for a healthy meal:
Get boneless skinless chicken thighs (or for cheaper bone and skin them yourself but takes good skill to make it worth your while)
Jar of salsa
Bacon trimmings (probably able to get these for free from the butcher you got the thighs from just the fatty trimmed bits from real bacon that gets cut off before slicing)

Put all into a slow cooker and cook on low 8 hours. Remove the bacon trimmings and shred with a fork and use as desired (sandwiches, tacos, buritos, salad topping, main dish alongside some rice and beans, baked potato topping, etc.) a very easy meal for under $6 cheaper if you are able to make your own salsa from home grown veggies.
posted by koolkat at 3:55 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meatloaf barley
(This is what happens when you read a thread on food, late at night, and decide you want to search for using barley in meatloaf, because that sounds delicious. And you type it in the metafilter window accidentally and don't realize until the next day. What a thread to do that in. *waves of embarassment*)

posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:19 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have also been rich and been poor (in New Zealand, not America).

[and incidentally, my past poor self laughs hysterically at this: The local produce store next to where I lived was so much cheaper, which was great on a student's budget! I could usually get my day's worth of vegetables for about $5-$8. A standard dinner for me would be a chicken breast or thigh with 2 heads of broccoli, a bell pepper, and an avocado.

As a single student, my weekly food budget was $15, because my income from my 20 hours of weekly work during the semester was precisely my rent cost, my utilities (a set amount), + $15. And I worked over the summer to save money to cover my university fees for the following year. $15 bought a loaf of bread ($2 for the crappiest white bread available), a small bag of rice ($3), four or five tins of tuna ($1.50 each), a bag of dried lentils ($3), peanut butter for the bread ($4), some soy sauce to make the rice/lentils/tuna combo palatable ($6 but only an occasional cost), and some eggs ($5) Sometimes I could afford a couple of apples as well, but not every week. I got diagnosed with a bunch of vitamin deficiencies after a couple of years of that. For one memorable 2-month period, my food budget was actually $5 a week. That was when I was living in Germany, where dried lentils were cheap, so all I ate for that two months was lentils with soy sauce. At EVERY meal.]


I wasn't eating crappy pre-prepared food or candy or any sort of food that is thought of as "unhealthy" in itself while I was poor. But the variety was insufficient and did not provide all the necessary nutrients. I used to dream about (non-canned) fish, and green vegetables, and exotic fruits, but the reality was if I spent my food budget on those things, I would run out before the end of the week. (I did once fast for two days so that I could buy a piece of snapper and some asparagus for a celebratory meal).

I also don't think I was quite meeting my caloric needs. I was super thin during that period of three or four years. But the link between poverty and obesity for me is that I really started putting on weight once I got out of the poverty and could afford food again. Once I could afford to eat whenever and whatever I wanted, of course I wanted to EAT ALL THE THINGS. And I was also kind of scared to not clean my plate even if I was full, or not eat up leftovers if someone was going to throw them out, or not take a piece of cake at a party even if I didn't really feel like it, because I had this mindset that I didn't know when I would next get that opportunity. I think it's taken my about ten years to get past that. And during that ten years, I have put on 20 kilograms. Because I am lucky to have a good metabolism, and I get lots of exercise, it hasn't been more than that, and because I started off skinny, I am still not technically overweight, but I can see how it can happen very easily.

If you spend your whole life going through cycles of famine and feast in terms of food availability, it must be almost impossible to learn to self-regulate.
posted by lollusc at 1:52 AM on October 23, 2012


(The reason why my addition seems a bit dodgy in the list of foods I used to buy on a $15 budget is that some of them didn't have to be replaced weekly - the rice, peanut butter and sometimes the eggs lasted for more than one week.)
posted by lollusc at 1:54 AM on October 23, 2012


It is true that childhood obesity is on the rise here -- there's been a radical and noticeable increase in the 16 years since I first came here to Korea, but I would say that neither 1) nor 2) have much to do with it at all.

Stavros, how do you explain the differences between boys and girls? Obviously there's a ton of social pressure on girls to be thin in Korea, but it seems to me that boys in Korea also spend a lot more time doing sedentary activities than they used to.
posted by smorange at 10:43 AM on October 23, 2012


Little prince syndrome, in part -- boys are still valued and cossetted and indulged in their every whim as the 'bearer of the bloodline' to an extent that is (to me at least) distasteful. Although this is changing with much else -- especially with the birth rate being so low that more than two kids is almost unheard of these days, and even two isn't as common (unless the first is a girl, and the parents decide to 'try again'). It's certainly much better than it was a generation ago, but it's a powerful and unpleasant strand in the cultural fabric.

I think kids in general are more sedentary here than they were a generation or two ago, certainly, as is the case in every developed country, pretty much. But I don't think there's any significant difference between boys and girls on that front.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:35 PM on October 23, 2012


The Complicated Relationship Between Food And Money
Ever wonder what the path from “farm” to plate actually looks like? Bet the Farm (John Wiley &Sons, Inc., 2012) by food journalist Frederick Kaufman illustrates this shocking journey starting with a slice of pizza and ending at the commodities exchange where food gets its price. Along the way, Kaufman reveals all the forces at work from the profit motives of big business to the food politics that have broken the world food system. Be a fly on the wall at the World Economic Forum and read how the relationship between food and money skews the relationship between food and people in this excerpt taken from the Introduction, “Closed to the Press.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:39 AM on October 27, 2012


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