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Healthy food DOES cost more.......

  • j

In follow-up to a discussion this past spring about eatting organic and cost and what its like to have a low impact and try to eat healthy, from todays New York Times:


In essence, good healthy food DOES cost more.

there you go.

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  1. There you go ... NOT

    The NY Times is WRONG

    The American Dietetic Association is WRONG

    Adam Drewnowski, director of the center for public health nutrition at the University of Washington is WRONG

    I am RIGHT

    Conclusion - Eating like a Chowhound on $3 a day

    I didn't spend a month eating on a budget for some twits with flawed, skewed studies to say otherwise.

    Also reading all the comments at the end of the article by people who ACTUALLY eat healty on a budget is more the reality.

    I agree with one person who called it "Bad science or at least bad theory based on empirical data."

    They say if you do something a month it becomes a habit. So that month-long experiment has spilled over into my regular life. This morning was a breakfast of Quaker Oats (sale 18 oz canister 50 cents) with fresh pomegranite seeds (79 cents lb) and chopped fresh fuyu persimmon (2 lbs for $1).

    Lunch is African yellow lentil wot which I got 6 healthy servings out of for a total of about 50 cents a serving. I'm having it with a salad of iceburg (Foodco 39 cent head special this week), cucumbers (2 lbs 88 cents, Foodco), Radish (3 bunches $1), pomegranite seeds and chopped persimmon dressed with olive oil ($3.99 a bottle)

    Then there was that Fresh Diestel turkey I bought Sunday after Thanksgiving for 49 cents a pound ... even Thanksgiving week frozen turkeys at major markets could be had for about $10 bucks which would make lots of nice dinners and soup for very little money. Onions are currently 4lbs for $1. Oranges 3lbs for $1. Yams are 49 cents a pound.

    Even if I weren't keeping an eye out for bargains a very similar meal could be put together for very little money ... from Safeway ... 18oz Quaker Oats $2.99, box of raisins for $1.99. Lentils don't cost that much no matter where you buy them. I haven't checked out the sale priced fruits and veggies at the major markets this week, but there are always some.


    They do skewed, selective comparisons. SHAME ON THEM.

    Why aren't there studies on how to educate people how to eat well on little money rather than all the press that wrongly says it cant be done. SHAME ON THEM.

    10 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      "Why aren't there studies on how to educate people how to eat well on little money rather than all the press that wrongly says it cant be done. SHAME ON THEM."

      yup. you get no agreement from me. I've thought we needed to educate people about food and cooking since I used to go grocery shopping in Cleveland back in the early mid 80s and saw people on food stamps buying tons of unhealthy processed food instead of raw ingrediants.

      I know the study was done by UWA but I wonder who paid for it???

      1. re: rworange

        I think you're taking this the wrong way. I would say that the media is more to blame for being selective about what sort of studies they put on their newspaper and then interpreting it in their own special way than the researchers for not encouraging people to eat healthier. Researchers may feel they have personal moral obligations or have personal opinions, but typically one does not (or at least should not) perform a study to push a very specific agenda.

        The study simply states that they found in a regular supermarket the price per kcal of "healthy" food was more expensive than the price per kcal of packaged junk food. It was a study, not a brochure to support eating junk food to lose weight or a marketing tool for Oreos (Look, by eating our cookies you can fulfill your calorie requirement for a day with less money!).

        1. re: rworange

          rworange, the article is saying what I would guess you agree with: that junk food is cheaper than healthy food IN TERMS OF CALORIES (and addictive ingredients such as salt and fat). This is old news: junk food is calorie dense.

          The study doesn't refute your CH-reported experience--i.e., that you CAN eat healthy for little money.

          Now, if only you could send me some of that $0.49/lb turkey!

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Yes, I will concede that getting 1000 calories from cookies is less expensive than 1000 calories of lettuce.

            Junk food is cheap and it makes you fat.

            It took a study to determine that?

            How do I get a job like that? I'd like to do a study to find if it is less expensive to take a bus or drive a Jaguar.

            I guess it is some of the statements in that article projecting perceptions about poor people that could not possibly be in that study.

            Later on in the comments the writer says in response to us poor dense readers ...

            " think it’s important to understand why obesity seems to affect the poor disproportionately. As you see from many of the posts here, most readers believe that it doesn’t cost a lot of money to have a healthful diet. I think this data shows that money goes a lot farther when you spend it on junk than the good stuff. The solution that people live on lentils which are healthful and affordable is just ridiculous to me. Nobody wants to live like that. People want variety, they want food that tastes good and why should poor people be relegated to lentils when the rest of us can afford fresh fruits, vegetables and healthful foods?. "

            Which goes right back to my August experiment.

            1. re: rworange

              hmm. if nobody likes lentils, then how come every time i make lentil soup people are practically climbing into the pot so they can eat it faster? i personally can eat dal every. single. day. because i like it.

              1. re: rworange

                DH and I are on South Beach diet and buying lots of veg, proteins, whole grains, etc totaling up faster than when we were not necessarily UN healthy, but not AS healthy.

                That being said, he has lost 16 lbs and I have lost 10! So, it's worth it to us.

                One note - starting SB diet in the Winter in the Midwest is maybe not the best idea. The produce is kinda average, no farmer's markets and not as cheap. Looking forward to spring, summer!

                1. re: rworange

                  Sometimes research moves policy forward. Its not so much that it is demonstrating something new but that doing so provides policy makers with power to change something everybody already "knows".

              2. re: rworange

                Here's your chance, rec'd this call for proposals this morning.

                -----Original Message-----
                From: Ralph, Joseph R. (CDC/CCHP/NCCDPHP) (CTR) [mailto:cmq8@CDC.GOV]
                Sent: Monday, December 10, 2007 10:08 AM
                Subject: FW: RWJF Funding Alert: Healthy Eating Research Calls for Proposals Released

                RWJF Funding Alert: Healthy Eating Research Calls for Proposals Released

                The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has posted two separate calls for proposals (CFPs) in the Childhood Obesity program area.

                Healthy Eating Research is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program supports research on environmental and policy strategies to promote healthy eating among children to prevent childhood obesity, especially among low-income and racial/ethnic populations at highest risk for obesity. Findings will advance the Foundation’s efforts to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015.

                The CFPs described below focus on the following four targeted topic areas:

                1. Food pricing and economic approaches;

                2. Food and beverage marketing and promotion;

                3. Improving access to affordable healthy foods in low-income communities; and

                4. Evaluations of other promising food-related policy and environmental strategies.

                Healthy Eating Research Round 3

                Application Deadline: February 6, 2008 (3 p.m. ET)

                Approximately $3.5 million will be awarded for two types of research grants focused in the four areas listed above:

                Small- and large-scale studies:

                * 12- to 18-month awards up to $150,000 each.
                * 18- to 36-month awards up to $400,000 each.

                Macro-level analyses:

                * 12- to 18-month awards up to $100,000 each.

                Healthy Eating Research Special Solicitation Round 2

                Application Deadline: February 6, 2008 (3 p.m. ET)

                The Special Solicitation is a funding opportunity from RWJF for New Connections grants through the Healthy Eating Research program. New Connections grants are for junior investigators from historically disadvantaged and underrepresented communities who have completed their doctorate or terminal degree within the last seven years (after September 1, 2001). These grants are for individuals who are in the early stages of an independent research career.

                A total of up to three grants will be awarded. There are two categories of funding focused on the four areas listed above:

                Small-scale studies:

                * 12- to 24-month awards of up to $100,000.

                Macro-level analyses:

                * 12- to 24-month awards of up to $75,000.

                Visit the Healthy Eating Research Web site for more details about these CFPs and information on how to apply, at www.healthyeatingresearch.org

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  love that it is coming from a foundation that shares rw's initials! :-)

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    Maybe some extra points could be awarded by the grant-readers? (vbg)

                    In posting that grant info, I didn't mean to be flippant to rw. It was directed at the chowhound community-at-large, knowing that we have some very talented people here who might be able to take advantage of the funding and put their chowhound values to work.

                    Here's a workshop opportunity from the Chez Panisse Foundation for elementary, middle school, and high school teachers.

                    ------ Forwarded Message
                    From: "Yvonne Savio" <ydsavio@ucdavis.edu>Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2007 15:33:53 -0800
                    To: <ydsavio@ucdavis.edu>
                    Subject: Changes: School Gardening Workshop, Chez Panisse Foundation,
                    2/4-6/07, Berkeley

                    School gardening workshop is February 4-6, 2007, in Berkeley.


                    Delicious Education: Garden, Kitchen, and Community as Classroom
                    A three day seminar to support teachers who want to embed experiential
                    instruction into the academic program, using the kitchen, garden, and
                    community as the contexts for learning.

                    Delicious Education: Garden, Kitchen, and Community as Classroom
                    February 4-6, 2008
                    8:30am-4:00pm each day
                    Fee: $300 (see application fees for partial scholarship info)
                    Faculty: Eleanor Dougherty, Marilyn Crawford, Carolie Sly, Wendy Johnson
                    Location: Center for Ecoliteracy 2528 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley,

                    The Chez Panisse Foundation and the Center for Ecoliteracy have designed a three-day seminar to support teachers who want to embed hands-on
                    instruction into the academic classroom, using the kitchen, garden, and community as the context for learning. The seminar is designed to help teachers balance the
                    tensions between teaching to standards and creating robust experiential learning opportunities for students.

                    The first day will be facilitated by the Center for Ecoliteracy with a focus on the links between food, health, culture, and the environment on both personal and classroom levels. Participants will explore and discuss core ecological principles, then investigate how the principles come to life in the classroom and community.

                    Second and third days will be led by the Chez Panisse Foundation and will expand the focus on classroom instruction, curriculum development and design. We will build on day one and lead participants through the process of designing hands-on lessons that take into account academic standards and experiential learning. Day two will include a site visit to the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School.

                    The seminar is intended for classroom teachers at elementary, middle,
                    and high school levels. Academic, kitchen, and garden classroom teachers are
                    invited. Principals are welcome to attend with their teachers. We encourage
                    teachers to come in pairs or teams. Preference will be given to them in the
                    application process. Participants will be expected to complete assignments prior to the seminar.

                    We will only consider applicants who are able to attend the entire

                    What to Bring:
                    State Standards
                    Laptop Computer (if you have access to one)
                    Copies of Materials

                    Workshop Includes:
                    Breakfast and lunch each day
                    Copy of Delicious Education: Kitchen and Garden as Classroom
                    Copy of Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable

                    Apply for the delicious education workshop at www.ecoliteracy.org
                    Email questions to seminars@ecoliteracy.org

                    Kyle Cornforth
                    Program Associate
                    The Edible Schoolyard
                    Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School
                    510.558.1335 (p) 510.558.1334 (f

                    ------ Forwarded Message
                    From: "Yvonne Savio" <ydsavio@ucdavis.edu>
                    Date: Thu, 6 Dec 2007 11:34:21 -0800
                    To: <ydsavio@ucdavis.edu>
                    Subject: partial scholarships for Chez Panisse school gardening workshop

                    Hi, all-

                    I've just confirmed with the workshop people that partial scholarships
                    of up to $100 are available for the $300 fee. See the "fee" section on
                    the website.

                    Hopefully this will enable more of you to really consider joining us.

                    Ciao for now.

                    Yvonne Savio
                    Common Ground Garden Program Manager
                    University of California Cooperative Extension, Los Angeles County
                    PO Box 22255
                    4800 E. Cesar E. Chavez Avenue
                    Los Angeles CA 90022
                    Phone: 323-260-3407
                    Fax: 323-881-0067
                    Email: ydsavio@ucdavis.edu <mailto:ydsavio@ucdavis.edu>
                    Website: http://celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/Commo...
                    Master Gardener Email Gardening helpline:
                    Master Gardener Phone Gardening helpline: 323-260-3238
                    Ciao for now.

              3. I think one main point that the NY Times article overlooked was access to healthy food. In many areas, healthy food is not easily accessible to lower income people.

                In my city, I've seen people walking 10 or 12 blocks with groceries. The downtown grocery stores also seem to stock lower quality products (for awhile people were finding expired meat for sale).

                Food stamp laws also vary by state. In my state,the last time I checked, people can't buy canned beans with food stamps, only dried and they have to buy store brand milk, not whatever brand they want.

                It also doesn't talk about how low income housing also may not have working kitchens.

                1. Since their study only measured the cost per kcal of food, I think people are taking the wrong message from this article (or the media is simply interpreting it in a way that is giving the wrong message).

                  However, I have to admit that the figure of 18 dollars for 1000 kcal of "nutritional" food to be somewhat suspicious. Surely if I ate 18 dollars worth of apples, or drank 18 dollars worth of 2% milk or ate 18 dollars worth of ground beef or ate 18 dollars worth of rice I would get more than 1000 kcal (i.e. 1000 standard nutritional calories).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Blueicus

                    The sad fact is that most reporters are about as science literate -- including their ability to interpret the results of statistical studies -- as the average American: not at all. So they draw mistaken conclusions from studies they don't understand, and then report them as "news."

                    Let's do some actual math using Blueicus examples, shall we?

                    Apples have about 15 calories per ounce. So to get 1000 calories you'd need 67 ounces of apples, or about four pounds. Even organic apples don't cost $4.50 a pound, so it's clear that you could get 1000 calories from apples for less than $18.

                    Two percent milk has 488 calories a quart, so you only need a half gallon (plus an apple ) to get 1000 calories. A half gallon of organic milk costs about $3.50. Cheap supermarket milk costs a lot less when you buy a gallon. Sure, it's more expensive than a half gallon (aka 2 liters) of Coke, but it's nowhere near $18 for 1000 calories.

                    85% lean ground beef has 60 calories an ounce (raw weight), so 1000 calories is a little over a pound. Even the fancy-pants grass-fed ground beef at my local butcher is only about $5.99 a pound.

                    The rice calcuation is too ridiculous to even bother with.

                    Sure junk food is cheaper per calorie -- this is not news. But to say it costs a lot more to eat nutritious food is just ridiculous. Furthermore, although a lot of poor people unfortunately live in areas not well served by supermarkets, a lot of them live in "ethnic" neighborhoods that have markets where the prices are a lot lower than Safeway. Have you checked out the produce prices in Chinatown or your local Mercado recently?

                  2. One of the comments in the NYT linked to this article which is a more extensive article on this subject and includes quotes from the research article. Based on this article - I think the example of the $18/1000 kcal is for wild salmon. I think perhaps the most interesting point in this Grist article is that it is easily possible to be thrifty and healthy, but that often these approaches take a larger time commitment - and time is something working families are often lacking.


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LauraB

                      Some foods are expensive -- there's another news flash. But you can buy canned wild Alaskan salmon for $2-3 dollars for a 14 oz can.

                      I could just as easily say that junk food is expensive because the chocolate I bought today is over $20 for 1000 kcal. (nutritionally chocolate, even very expensive chocolate, is junk food).

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        It is?

                        (some things, one is better off not knowing)

                        but hey, the can of Pringles in my hotel mini-bar last week: unquestionably junk food, and unquestionably expensive.....:-)

                    2. Maybe this will help: WIC adds fruits, vegetables and whole grains to program.

                      1. Another thing to consider: Although I applaud efforts to "eat local" (for lack of better words) and to eat as much unprocessed food as possible, I don't think that one must eat all organic foods to eat healthy. My local supermarket does tell me where the fruits and vegetables come from, and I can select those that come from relatively close as opposed to New Zealand. And I do think that I can eat a healthy diet using produce that is not organically grown. I always look for fruits and vegetables on sale....and the prices can be very reasonable. There are California-grown oranges in my local supermarket for 50 cents a pound....sometimes I can find them for 3 pounds for a dollar. A big head of spinach was 69cents the other day. Onions and potatoes are cheap. Organic vegetables and meats ARE expensive, and I consider them a luxury. I don't consider them necessary for a healthy diet. Sorry.

                        Tonight I ate an chana masala and a rice pilaf that hubby cooked, with some oranges for desert. I doubt if the meal cost more than two bucks or three bucks for the two of us. It was healthy and nutritionally balanced....and vegan (not by design, we are not strict vegetarians or vegans; it just happens that certain meals we like ARE vegetarian....).

                        The real problem may well be FINDING and PREPARING the food. It is true that the inner cities often don't have big supermarkets with fancy produce sections. And you need time and a good, well-equipped kitchen to cook unprocessed food (not to mention a little education on how to do so). Someone with two jobs and kids to raise might not have that luxury.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: janetofreno

                          I agree that eatling locally and seasonally is much more important than organic -- in my little cost analysis I was just using organic because that's the upper end of the what food costs (and also mostly what I buy, so I know the price of off the top of my head). As you point out, you can eat healthy for a lot less.

                          The other thing I wanted to point out is that while junk foods may supply a lot of calories, they're usually not very satisfying. In fact, the article pointed out that one reason people who eat junk food are overweight is that they eat more than their calorie needs require. Fruits and vegetables are a lot more filling than potato chips, and a glass of milk instead of soda won't leave you craving more half an hour later. If you drink 20 ounces of soda when you would only have drunk 8 ounces of milk, the cost differential becomes even less significant.

                        2. I think the core problem with this analysis is that the true cost of the food is not considered. Sure, you can get a $1.00 cheeseburger at McD's, but that buck doesn't include the government subsidies to the corn megafarmers, which in turn is subsidizing the CAFO's that feed the cow for the meat, and the HFCS for every other component of that dollar burger (except the onion!).

                          Not to mention, the cross country shipping of agricultural commodities is supported by our gas taxes and other government programs which were SUPPOSED to help small farmers and ended up enriching ADM and Monsanto. And now the extra wear and tear on the roads from the semis, and the pollution from the trucks and the CAFOs that must be dealt with...and the small farmer gives up, sells his land to a developer and now the food has to come from even further away (and the developed farmland now causes more flooding, pollution, carbon dioxide formation, etc.)

                          So our dollar burger, if you add your share of tax $ that goes into it, costs ?

                          1. I don't think the results of the study are flawed, rather the focus.

                            rworange I agree with your premise. What you need to do, and what the focus of the news media should be, is to figure out a way to bottle up your knowledge and package it for the people who are becoming obese and unhealthy. We here at Chowhound are a privileged lot don't forget. Consider these statements from your post and that of janetofreno:

                            "This morning was a breakfast of Quaker Oats with fresh pomegranite seeds and chopped fresh fuyu persimmon."

                            "Lunch is African yellow lentil wot"

                            "Tonight I ate an chana masala and a rice pilaf that hubby cooked"

                            Were you born with the equipment and culinary acumen to create these meals? Leave economic class aside for a moment -- how many college students or non-Chowhound millionaires would know what to do with a fuyu persimmon or pomegranate if you handed it to them? How many could take raw/scratch ingredients and whip up a chana masala or yellow lentil wot while their one year-old scurried around their legs? Compared to the average American I have an extensive culinary knowledge base, but when I get my CSA box every week, my first thought when looking at half the stuff is "what the fuck am I supposed to do with this stuff???" Despite that, my success in eating those things, and eating right in general is that I have access to INFORMATION.

                            Forget dollars per calorie. It takes more KNOWLEDGE per calorie to eat "healthy".

                            I say toss out the dollar per calorie equation and figure out how to address the nutritional and culinary knowledge gap between those that are privileged to have access to technical cooking education and/or expertise and how to use kitchen equipment. Perhaps it's teaching children in public schools the effects of proteins, fiber, carbohydrates, whole foods, etc. on their bodies. Perhaps it's an effort to bring actionable culinary education to underserved and/or low-income communitites. Perhaps it's better access to simple recipes and or information on labels.

                            A persimmon or sunchoke doesn't have a label that says "I know you're not Daniel Bouloud...just cut off my skin, slice me up and eat me" but even the village idiot is born with the innate sense to microwave a Swanson Hungry Man, empty a can of Chef Boyardee or talk into a McDonald's drive through ordering board. Is it a wonder which one they choose?

                            It's not the people that can buy raw and scratch foods that have the advantage, it's the people that are privileged with the knowledge of how to use them. What can we do about THAT?

                            16 Replies
                            1. re: MSPD

                              Very valid statement, IMO and I think you hit the nail right on the head. I can just remember all the blank looks I get when people were asking me what a piece of celery root was or what sort of foods one can make with an eclectic set of leftover foods in the fridge. The knowledge to cook and/or of food products in general is a very important one if you're going to be eating with "scratch" ingredients. Also, I think the consequences of making a bad meal are such that some people won't even dare lift up a pan.

                              1. re: MSPD

                                I couldn't agree more....I tried to say that in my post, but not as eloquently as you...(of course, I also used "an" to describe chana masala, so my grammar is suspect as it is...).

                                One of the sad realities of today's life is that "extras" are being eliminated from school systems. When people started believing that it was sexist to have girls take home economics and boys take "shop" (whatever that was :-) the schools responded by gradually elminating classes in these areas. These subjects are joining music and art as victims of "no child left behind." OK, I realize I may be getting too political, but let's face it: the entire subject of food for the poor IS political. Maybe what we SHOULD do is require home economics for ALL students before graduation. We could teach them to shop and cook. I have tried to teach my children, and I think it is having a positive effect. Even better, my older son has met and fallen for a girl who is an even healthier cook/eater than I am. She has taught him a lot about how to eat well on a student budget, and I am grateful to her for that.

                                Even internet access plays a role. If I am given some unusual fruit or vegetable, or find one on sale, I can always come to chowhound or any number of recipe sites and find some way to prepare it. But what if I didn't have internet access or even basic cable? Very few cooking shows on broadcast TV, but lots of Mickey D's commercials.....

                                1. re: janetofreno

                                  "When people started believing that it was sexist to have girls take home economics and boys take "shop" (whatever that was :-) the schools responded by gradually elminating classes in these areas."

                                  Actually, at my school, they responded by making girls and boys take both home ec AND shop! Being forced to take home ec courses in the 7th and 8th grades was a huge part of what made me able to cook later in life. However, I still can't thread a sewing machine to save my life.

                                  "Very few cooking shows on broadcast TV, but lots of Mickey D's commercials....."

                                  Except on public TV, which just about everyone has no matter how hard the GOP tries to de-fund it. My town's local PBS station is nothing BUT cooking shows from noon to 4:30 every Saturday afternoon.

                                  I agree entirely with your basic premise, I'm just saying that you're throwing out a lot of statements as universally true even though there is at least anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

                                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                    Just speaking from experience where I live. Your mileage may vary. Actually, I think they used changing attitudes as an EXCUSE to eliminate home ec and shop around here...the REAL reason was decreasing dollars. And "No Child Left Behind" has also decimated a lot of "extras" classes....no room in the schedule with the extra "taught to the test" classes.

                                    I will say this: most people in MY community who fit the demographic we are talking about are not home to watch PBS between noon and 4:30 on Saturday. They are working second jobs.......or working first jobs. That demographic in this town works largely in the entertainment/hotel/restaurant industry....and Saturday is the peak day.

                                    1. re: janetofreno

                                      I had thought that would be a counter-argument, but given that VCRs are available for as little as $20, the technology is there even for the extremely poor.

                                      I'm saying all this as someone who has spent time on food stamps, incidentally.

                                2. re: MSPD

                                  Many, perhaps even most Americans (including well educated and/or intelligent Americans of every economic class) believe cooking to be a mysterious art. My own mother is frequently amazed at the things I know how to cook, and just doesn't believe me when I say I just plug ingredients into the various recipe sites and see what comes up. She thinks there has to be more to it than that, even though I learned all of my basic cooking skills from her and my older brother.

                                  Perhaps something as simple as a real and mandatory Home Ec class in high school? Not that joke of a class where girls who need an extra 2 credits learn to make rock-like bran muffins and sew a hem...badly.

                                  Perhaps there should be basic cooking classes offered for free along with WIC? Not 'nutrition classes' though they may be a good idea too, but actual hands on demo cooking classes.

                                  And for the record on my own experience - My fiance and I have put ourselves on a strict budget to save money for a house and the wedding. We have budgeted $70/week for food, which works out to $5/day per person and we eat very well...but as a direct consequence, we also eat very healthfully...because after buying staples there isn't any money leftover for junk! I guess it's also partly a mindset...we consider lean meat, some sort of leafy green, garlic, onions, beans, rice, potatoes, fruit, yogurt, and frozen mixed veggies to be our absolute essential pantry and freezer staples. When we have extra money we buy fresh veggies. And if we have lots of extra money we occasionally splurge on prepared foods for those days when we're both just beat from work. We also have the resources to absorb things like the yearly membership cost from costco without having to go hungry for a week.

                                  Though...I can imagine those priorities changing since cooking every day and preparing our packed lunches would be MUCH more work with less spare energy if we had kids.

                                  1. re: wawajb

                                    "Perhaps there should be basic cooking classes offered for free along with WIC? Not 'nutrition classes' though they may be a good idea too, but actual hands on demo cooking classes."

                                    The Food Pantry that's run through Boston Medical Center includes a demonstration kitchen, where people can learn how to cook from inexpensive raw ingredients. It's been a tremendous success.

                                  2. re: MSPD

                                    I'll more than concede two things ...

                                    - I have always had an interest in new foods and will buy a little of anything to try out
                                    - I have internet access which has made a WORLD of difference in the way I eat

                                    However, I don't really cook. It is torture for me. It took me about two weeks and five posts to learn how to make that wat. If, in the end, it hadn't been so darn easy and tasty, I would never bother with it again. I am shocked I like Ethiopean food. Who knew?

                                    When I was doing my August experiment, I learned that the food stamp program is putting out info about how to cook healthy meals.

                                    Unfortunately, they put it online ... and the very people who could most benefit probably don't have access to a computer.

                                    I'm not sure how food stamps ... or whatever it is called these days ... gets the money to people, But maybe mailing monthly seasonal recipes and food information would help some people ... as well as listing what is on special at local markets.

                                    Maybe there could be a bonus for people who attend cooking classes ... yeah, I know.

                                    BTW, the recipes that the food stamp people put online are pretty darn boring and not all that healthy or delicous.

                                    I'm enjoying the comments to that newspaper article. Obviously the writer never read Chowhound because she is surprised at the passion the article has generated from readers. I do agree with her that the blog is very cool. It is so great to see how people respond to an article. I like that more personal interaction rather than the old days of print.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      One thing that is interesting here where I live (manhattan) is that the greenmarkets now take EBT cards (the electronic food stamps). So it's been pretty eye-opening (and wonderful) to see people with EBT shopping at the greenmarket and asking the farmers how to cook something. I am always asking advice too, so I sometimes listen in on their conversations. This is one way to encourage more healthy eating.

                                    2. re: MSPD

                                      I strongly disagree. One can cook something nutritious without calling it something fancy...masala, persimmon or sunchoke...whatever. Pulleeezzz...people from villages all over the world have created foods from whatever is available without cookbooks, internet recipes or food network recs.

                                      Give me a break. If you want to cook...you will. Healthy usually requires cooking. I can understand someone not having time if they have 2 jobs... but guess what...it takes alot less dollars to throw together a great pot of vegetable stew/soup than to visit mcdonalds.

                                      1. re: donna5657

                                        "Pulleeezzz...people from villages all over the world have created foods from whatever is available without cookbooks, internet recipes or food network recs."

                                        That is born of NECESSITY not socioeconomic factors. We have lost that element of necessity in large part because of the availability of low-grade, fast food. Those villagers either created meals from scratch and made them nutritious enough to work a field or they died. If you learn about the North American origins of BBQ, soul food and southern cooking, much of that was born of the necessity of slaves and poor plantation workers as well -- they had nothing else to eat so they had to take foods/ingredients nobody else wanted and adapt them to nutrition to survive. The proliferation of heat-and-serve and fast food has eliminated that need for people to understand food and make it work for their body in a positive manner.

                                        The terminology point is trivial. I pointed out the marsala, persimmon and sunchoke to highlight that the people that were confirming you could live like a Chowhound on $3 are not the people primarily of concern in the rise of obesity prevalence. They are already savvy. They know what to do with scratch ingredients. Most of us regulars on Chowhound could do that but we aren't everyday people when it comes to food. We've somehow, at some point, received exposure and have born an interest. We're the privileged.

                                        Your second paragraph then supports my assertion. I challenge again -- how many apartment dwelling college kids, regardless of economic background, could take the raw ingredients and have the innate knowledge to make a desireable stew? I bet in decades past, it was the majority because that's what you had available. Nowadays, why would you need to know that? You can just go to the campus food court, get your McDonald's and pay for it with a swipe of your University ID card. Or, if you insist on stew, go to the convenience store and buy an $0.99 can of three-minute, no cleanup, sodium, calorie and fat-laden Dinty Moore. Who needs cooking from scratch? And do these kids know why 1500mg of sodium is a bad thing?

                                        You are exactly correct that it's cheaper per meal to eat a pot of stew than visit McDonald's. But that assumes you were raised to know how to make a stew and/or you gained the knowledge at some point in life, and that you have the facilities to do so.

                                        Again, I say it has little to do with the dollar per calorie and everything to do with making food knowledge and facilities more universally available to those that are currently underserved.

                                        1. re: donna5657

                                          There's a difference when someone is raised in a cooking culture. I think we've lost a lot of that here in the US. I never learned to cook from my parents and had to do so on my own. I only started to enjoy cooking (and to actually become pretty good at it) when I lived with someone in grad school who was an excellent cook. My parents's generation is the one for whom canned foods were an excellent idea (ugh)!

                                          1. re: LNG212

                                            Yeah, but I think also that cooking has acquired an unjustified mystique. Cooking dinner doesn't have to mean an elaborate meal, and following a simple recipe isn't any more difficult than following the directions on how to cook a frozen dinner. If you can make Kraft Mac and Cheese (which requires reading the directions, cooking the pasta, and measuring the ingredients for the "cheese" sauce), then you have the skills to cook a lot of things. Fruit doesn't have to be cooked at all, and most veggies you can stick in a steamer or a microwave -- again, not requiring any more skill than cooking a frozen dinner.

                                            I think the point was that cooking fresh food is not some kind of obscure "luxury" occupation. Around the world, most humans cook from raw ingredients, and most of them do it with a lot less equipment than a basic American kitchen. Frankly, the mindset being perpetuated in this thread that cooking "real" food is difficult and expensive is part of the problem!

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              I think the stigma also flows from the average person's perceptions of what an average home cooked meal is/should be. Perhaps they think it's a whole roast beef dinner with two sides with all the trimmings and a slice of pie but it shouldn't be. Perhaps (God forbid) The Food Network back when real chefs crawled the channel did intimidate a lot of people by cooking more elaborate dishes (and now we get Sandra Lee, yay...). Most peasant dishes were one or two pot meals that you could make without filling the sink with pots, pans and dishes and I think if the average person wants to eat well the first thing to do is to not make them feel like they have to cook everything the "French Laundry way".

                                              Also I think another hurdle to this is the fact that so many people live alone these days. In the past you'd have a big family and the cook of the family could make enough food for the meal and not have much in the way of leftovers. I mean, making stew for 5 doesn't require 5 times the effort of making stew for one and after making stew for 5 meals a lot of people would realize that their meals are pretty dreary. Doing something creative with leftovers, unfortunately isn't something a lot of people seem to want to take the effort to do and instead just buy meals out.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                You know, I am not kidding when I say that until this year, I would have to look up how to boil an egg in a cookbook or that it took me five years to finally make a decent turkey.

                                                Screw up enough dishes and suddenly that dollar menu sausage McMuffin looks good ... or the Banquet frozen dinner on sale for 99 cents. How easy is it to buy a loaf of white bread on sale for 99 cents, Bar-S bologna (also 99 cents) and mayo and put that together.

                                                I'm just trying to say there are reasons people gravitate to not cooking if they are not knowledgable or have made things that aren't as tasty as something cheap and easy.

                                                Which goes back to the whole business that eating on a dime healthily has nothing to do with intelligence, budget or opporutunity ... it has to do with knowledge.

                                                Even something so simple as shopping ... hey, anybody can do that ... right?


                                                The reason that study after study by highly-eductated politicians, journalists and scientists fails is these people have no clue how to shop. I'll exclude hidden agendas for the purpose of this.

                                                Even these highly intelligent people go into a market when doing these reports and have no clue what to buy ... going for the in-your-face products. And even if they knew what to buy they have no clue what to do with the less expensive options. That reporter in the above link thinks lentils have to be boring.

                                                It is about educating people who might even be educated

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  I don't think all of us are that far off in our opinions. You are absolutely right Ruth -- in truth, cooking from scratch needn't be expensive, nor elaborate and difficult. Again, most of us here can take SIMPLE techniques we have acquired and know to apply them to a number of foods. Once you buy and learn how to use a steaming basket, and/or which vegetables are best steamed vs. roasted, you can apply that to dozens of healthy foods -- you just, then, need to learn how to make them taste good....without wrecking the nutritional value.

                                                  To play devil's advocate (and it's necessary in this discussion), cost aside, it's still easier to microwave a Birdseye Broccoli with Cheese in ready-to-serve container than it is to prep and steam fresh broccoli. Add in the knowledge to make the broccoli taste "as good" (season the water, sprinkle some cheese on it, whatever). If you have kids (I have three under the age of 5) you know the challenge of inspiring culinary interest by keeping foods interesting.

                                                  I'm glad you bring up mac and cheese by the way because few people are even making Kraft Mac and Cheese (the original version) any more. Check the sales of Kraft Easy Mac, Bob Evans Heat and Serve Mac and Cheese (the stuff in the big margarine tub containers) or any number of products around the grocery store now. Oh...available in single servings.

                                                  You and I know the nutritional advantage to the fresh broccoli is far superior to the frozen stuff. But does a 23 year-old who never grew up around food and with no restaurant dining experience or nutritional savvy know? With the availability of instant broccoli (even though a head costs LESS PER UNIT), why would they want/need to find out? (Until they are wondering how they got obese or at the doctor with diabetes that is).

                                                  What's more, as people with advanced food knowledge we do have to be guarded against assuming the general public has the same ready access to months worth of interesting healthy recipes and/or ideas. You can only eat so many steamed vegetables and stews. I don't think that's perpetuating a mindset, just acknowledging that it exists in the world, we're privileged to know better, but that we need to help bring others into the fold.

                                                  To bring it back to the original post, I don't think attacking the economics of obesity using some irrelevant "dollar per calorie" number and debating the cost of healthy vs. unhealthy foods should be the focus of these studies. The fight against unhealthy foods is won by studying and figuring out how to compel/inspire people to PROACTIVELY understand food and make healthy food accessible and approachable. How to get the most NUTRITION from a dollar, not the most calories.

                                                  The only voices communicating out there in the communities of people that aren't privileged with access to recipes, knowledge on how simple cooking really is, and inspiration are the ones spewing slick marketing of "ready to eat", "no fuss", "you deserve a break today" and "why slave over a hot stove all day".

                                          2. Good healthy food costs more. Fine I'll spend the money on good healthy food and save money on medical bills. These studies are flawed in so many ways. You can buy a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of whole wheat bread for the price of a McDonald's value meal and get more out of it.

                                            1. I dunno if I'd call a diet of lentils, oatmeal, peanut butter and bread healthy. It's not as unhealthy as a diet of junk food, but it doesn't feature the essential antioxidants and phytonutrients of fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, fruits and vegetables can be relatively inexpensive, depending on where you live and what resources you have available. But when measuring Kcal/dollar, processed, corn-based foods will always be cheaper. This is entirely due to a lopsided federal agricultural subsidy system. The policy of our government is to maximize the number of calories than can be grown on an acre and purchased with a dollar, and this means drastically deflating the price of junk foods.

                                              Then there's the fact that fresh foods lose nutritient density over time, so that produce that is canned or "past its prime" is not as nutritious as, for example, farmers' market produce.

                                              1. "The survey found that higher-calorie, energy-dense foods are the better bargain for cash-strapped shoppers"
                                                As other have said this statement isn't rocket science and the $18/1,000 calories of "healthy" food is horribly off IMO.
                                                In my experience the price of healthy food isn't the issue in poor neighborhoods, the real problems are lack of availability and lack of education. I work in a very poor neighborhood in the South Bronx, (99% of my kids are below the poverty level and all qualify for free breakfast and lunch). On the rare occasion I have tried to pick up a tomato or cucumber for that night's salad, or a piece of fruit for lunch the selection at the one grocery store is disgusting. There is very little fresh anything other than garlic and plantains. My colleagues and I have discussed the issue, and we're not sure if the problem is lack of turnover on the consumer end or lack of availabilty. For example, did the grocery store once try to sell fresh fruits/veggies, but no one was buying them, so they stopped selling them?

                                                In these communities there are some examples where buying high fat junk food is a better financial option. I'll use McDonald's as an example, if money is an issue, and you take your kids to mcD's will you buy 5 $1 burgers, or spend $5 each on a salad? At one point our favorite deli closed and Mc'D's was the only place in the area to even buy a salad. While the salads never seemed incredibly fresh, we stopped trying to buy their salads when one friend brought one back to school, only to discover that the lettuce had mold on it! So, while there was always a line out the door at lunch time, obviously the turnover was pretty low on salads.

                                                My kids would come in with the most unhealthy snacks, usually a container of sugar water (not sure if you know what I'm talking about, there is no label and it's just colored water full of sugar, I usually see it in orange, blue or red) and a bag of chips these items are .25 cents each. Now, I actually think that pre-packaged goods are more expensive than produce/whole foods. I would think that spending .50 cents/day on snacks for each child adds up for a poor family and they could buy a box of granola bars/various fresh fruits for about the same price. Plus the kids are given milk and juice so they don't need soda or juice brought in from the store.
                                                I was so happy when I taught my kids to read nutrition labels. They would stand in line for lunch, read the label to me and ask if it was a good choice, a few even started bringing in healthier options!
                                                The saddest part was when I brought fresh fruit in as treats, my kids would tell me how much they love strawberries, blueberries, mango, etc but thet their parents don't buy them.
                                                Which brings me back to the original question. Do they not buy it because it's expensive? or because it's not even available at the grocery store?

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: SweetPea914

                                                  "I was so happy when I taught my kids to read nutrition labels. They would stand in line for lunch, read the label to me and ask if it was a good choice, a few even started bringing in healthier options!"

                                                  Thank you for doing this.

                                                  1. re: SweetPea914

                                                    Sweet Pea, you touched on something I read about years ago and it has a lot to do with lack of available fresh food in poor neighborhoods. When the wholesalers sell to the markets, the best, freshest, and highest-quality stuff is sold first to the big name subaruban markets, the ones with the most cash. Whole Foods has the money and the access to the best produce, so they have first pick. Inner city bodegas are left with the dregs.

                                                    Unless your neighborhood is near a farmer's market (and you have actual time to get to it) if you're poor and live in the inner city, you will have a hard time buying good produce.

                                                    1. re: Avalondaughter

                                                      It's not a matter of what's available, it's what they're willing to pay for. The bodegas are not looking for the biggest or best grade -- at least they aren't willing to pay for it. I happen to live adjacent to an affluent North suburb of Chicago and frequent a produce market there. Their prices are great because they're buying lower-grade produce. For example, their peppers are smaller and have a bruise or two, their artichokes are definitely smaller. It's not a matter of access, thses places know they have to compete on price and buy lower-priced grades of produce.

                                                  2. Ah what a discussion. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer here! It's all about personal choices!

                                                    Some of the most reputable organic/locally grown foods, etc. are sold at expensive markets but you can certainly eat healthily on less expensive produce, etc.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Chew on That

                                                      While I agree that there is no right or wrong answer, If you read what I worte right above your post. Buying healthy food is NOT always a matter of personal choice. But more a matter of geographical/socio-economic location.

                                                      1. re: SweetPea914

                                                        Absolutely, Sweetpea. Thanks for saying this.
                                                        Rworange's experiment is all well and good for a person with disposable time and ability to travel (how much does that factor into the cost?) but does little to recognise the realities of socioeconomic factors and location. (I recall a huge scandal in DC when produce from Safeways in suburbs was found to go to the urban (Mount Pleasant) safeway after the sell-by dates,) I'd also love to hear more about what sinister policies rworange sees coming from this study. As noted by another poster, studies tend to motor policy: I would hope such studies (not that I read this one, so maybe I don't fully follow) bear upon availability of produce and food education in low-income neighbourhoods. But perhaps I am missing something?
                                                        This subject deserves more than I can give it in effective and gentle language. Although some here talk about their foodie upbringings, I don't know that the full extent of general privilege in geographic, cultural, temporal, and economic capital is recognised.

                                                    2. I'm bumping this topic in the hopes that rworange and others explain what is so wrong with having policy that recognises the difficulty of procuring healthful foods-- difficulty for those without the means/luxury of money, travels means, or time.

                                                      rworange's adventures in eating were great to read and kudos to her for meeting with the challenge of eating well. However, as I recall, this challenge was met by spending a great deal of time traveling from one site to another. Also, the serving sizes were such that in the prior threads, others noted that feeding a family in this way would not necessarily be feasible.

                                                      This is not to question rworange's achievement, but to question the use of this anecdote in arguing against what is true: access to healthful foods is limited to people of a particular class. The capital in this economy is not simply one of money-- it is of time, location, access to travel, access to goods. (Does anyone remember the Safeway scandal whereby it was discovered that foods deemed unfit for suburban safeways were sent into DC for use? Seems that such a practice limits the taste of the food and its capacity to last more than a day.)

                                                      And again (after my thread killing question from before) I must ask: What horrible policies do you see coming from a basic awareness that eating well has all kinds of costs that limit access and make it more luxury than everyday reality? It could be that I'm missing the pernicious aspect of such findings here, and wouldn't mind learning. (BTW, I'm all for everyone learning how to manage basic nutrition, cooking and purchasing of food-- provided it is realistically imagined for those who don't have the luxury of time, travel, location, and money.)

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: Lizard

                                                        Would you explain, please, what you mean by "what horrible policies do you see coming from a basic awareness....?" I don't understand the term "horrible policies."

                                                        1. re: donna5657

                                                          This is my all too lazy reference to the discussions above regarding money spent on research and the suggestion that these influence policy. My question is what kind of horrible policy could ensue from recognising the challenge of procuring healthful foods. I say 'horrible' because that seems on par with the enthusiasm rworange directs to proving these findings wrong.

                                                          1. re: Lizard

                                                            Well, this just surfaced to the top of my "my chow" page ... so almost a year and a half later.

                                                            I guess what bothered me about this study was it seemed both a waste of time and defeatist. Is there any surprise junk food is cheaper. What's new there.

                                                            However it bypasses choice and education which could involve action rather than throwing up one's hands and saying that's the reality.

                                                            As to portion size and running around a lot of places, I re-did the experiment by shopping EXCLUSIVELY at one store. Granted it is the gold standard of discount food stores, but by knowing enough to make the correct choices, you don't have to eat low cost, high-calorie junk

                                                            Dining deliciously at the dollar store – OR - Going gourmet at Grocery Outlet for $3 a day

                                                            I learned something in that last experiment. It was not to look at cost for an item, but rather cost per serving. That was way more important to know.

                                                            A frozen dinner might be 99 cents and seem a bargain, but living on $3 a day, that ate up a third of my budget and cut down on being able to afford items like fruit and veggies. As to portion size, those frozen dinner portions are small ... but you know, if watching your diet those are about the size that people should be eating.

                                                            One of the wonderful things that seems to be happening in the Berkeley area is urban farm stands. Organizations setting up tables and selling organic food sometimes at cost.

                                                        2. re: Lizard

                                                          "access to healthful foods is limited to people of a particular class"

                                                          Too true - but does it have to be this way, or is it a direct product of lopsided federal policy? Our government invests an enormous amount of farm subsidies into corn and soy production, and a minuscule amount into fruit and vegetable production. The deflated cost of corn and soy make it possible for food manufacturers to process the raw materials into junk foods such as HFCS and hydrogenated soy oil, and sell those junk foods at a lower price/kcal than fresh fruits and vegetables while still yielding a tidy profit. If federal ag policy was more sensible, fresh fruits and vegetables would be subsidized and junk foods would be taxed. Such a change in pricing systems would inevitably result in stores in low-income neighborhoods carrying the low-priced fruits and veggies, and low-income individuals learning to cook with them.

                                                          Small, regional programs have clearly demonstrated that low-income individuals will eat and enjoy fresh fruits and veggies if they have access to affordable versions. At this point, the most important force in making healthy food cost less is revising the federal farm bill. Unfortunately, enough congressmen are in the pocket of big-ag lobbyists that genuine reform is highly unlikely.

                                                        3. Just heard on a local radio news station that in NYC supermarkets the price of fresh fruits and vegetables has gone up 20% in the past year while the price of packaged food has gone up less than 3%. For those on a fixed income, that's a pretty significant increase.

                                                          1. I am a single male who spend at most 30 dollars a week for healthy food. I really mean healthy. Here are tricks that i do not have to spend too much on healthy food:
                                                            1. Choose a grocery store that always has good price. Mine is HEB and asian super markets. Asian super markets offer the BEST DEALs for my money.
                                                            2. Choose things that are in season. I can get a 18 lb bag of oranges for 5 bucks at HEB.
                                                            3. Buy your herbs at asian markets. I get a big bunch of mint from asian grocer for 59 cent.
                                                            4. Buy a wide variety of fish. I find out that salmon and tuna are always over priced at american grocery like Krogers or Safe way. I find them cheaper at asian market and also more variety: milk fish, mackerels, etc.
                                                            5. I tend not to buy processed food.They are too expensive and also unhealthy. I do not want all those preservative chemicals to build up in my system.

                                                            1. This post brought to mind a "dream" I've had, and was just discussing with Mr. Popkin.

                                                              My school too had both boys and girls take shop and home ec. My grandmother was horrified at the "class" lol. We were given an apple pie recipe to bake (grandma would not "let" me use it, instead handing me the fannie farmer book to follow, she did not think the recipe up to par. she was the cutest, smartest, feistiest damn woman), and learned how to make this horrendous tasting smoothie.

                                                              I was no real cook in highschool. I wished for a great cooking class (that I didn't have to pay for because we were broke lol). See, while I was no cook, I grew up watching cooking shows with mom and grandma (my first celebrity crush was Martin Yan), and so wished to learn from one of those cooks who loved what they did, and would explain all the twists and turns behind the food (somewhat ala Alton Brown).

                                                              I have a dream of doing a practical cooking class for students (I have no education myself, so I doubt I'd really qualify to do one, but hey maybe someday I can impress someone with my applicable knowledge and enthusiasm....). I would love to have students taught not just to make a bechamel, but all the applications of a bechamel, the ways to tweek a bechamel as a base for many meals. I want them to learn, as I did, that you can substitute what's on hand (even milk for cream in sauces... learned because I'm cheap and lazy at times), and while the result won't be the same, it will still be good. I want them to learn how to use simple cooked chicken in 20 different applications. I want them to learn that those cheapie cans of tomatoes are the basis for many a plate of vittles. I want them to learn that if nothing else, you can chop a couple of cloves of garlic and toss with buttered pasta and the meat from that straggling chicken thigh from the other night.

                                                              I have a dream, to create/run/see created a free (meaning not under a school district's thumb, thriving on volunteerism) REAL home ec class.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Popkin

                                                                Follow your dream, Popkin. And you have as much education as the next person - or more.

                                                              2. The problem is they're equating calories to cost and since 60% of Americans are obese/overweight, getting the most calories per buck isn't the biggest concern. It's trying to get in the most nutrients per dollar that makes sense and in that case, junk food doesn't cut it. What is the cost for nutrients in broccoli vs. Cheetos? The study is like saying it's cheaper to make cars without seatbelts. Short term, sure.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                  This shouldn't really come as any surprise