The “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. ...
This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly
processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two
Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two
small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the
McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. ...
You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple
salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If
that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with
bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and
costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium,
or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of
Another argument runs that junk food is cheaper when measured by the
calorie, and that this makes fast food essential for the poor because
they need cheap calories. But given that half of the people in this
country (and a higher percentage of poor people) consume too many
calories rather than too few, measuring food’s value by the calorie
makes as much sense as measuring a drink’s value by its alcohol content. ...
It’s cooking that’s the real challenge. (The real challenge is not “I’m
too busy to cook.” In 2010 the average American, regardless of weekly
earnings, watched no less than an hour and a half of television per day.
The time is there.)
--Mark Bittman, NYT, on why demand, not supply, is responsible for the socioeconomic gradient in obesity