Cheap food

January 26, 2014 Edited by  
Filed under Dietary Patterns, General

Last week Jamie wrote a great piece about the relative cost of healthy vs. unhealthy food. It’s sad indeed that healthy food costs more – potentially thousands of dollars per year more – than less healthy processed food. Misguided government subsidies are certainly at the root of the issue in the United States. Designed to spur economic growth and provide cheap calories for the masses, current subsidies do perhaps more harm than good. Particularly when it comes to the absolute cost and relative value of food.

To put things in perspective, here’s an interesting question for you: how much money do Americans spend on food – a lot or a little? Responses will vary from person to person, but on average Americans spend just 10% of disposable income on food (USDA). Ten percent! That’s less than any other country in the world.

Which brings me to the next question: how much do Americans value food? Again, responses will vary, but the general consensus seems to be “not much”. Consider, for instance, that when finances get tight many folks resort to eating Top Ramen® or frozen pizza to make ends meet. We are too quick to sacrifice healthy foods. Some expenses, like rent and basic utilities, we can’t or shouldn’t cut,  but what about “luxury” items like fancy clothes, cable television, smartphones, or cars? To be sure some people need a smartphone or car to survive in today’s society, but others not so much.

Do you think that the relatively small amount that Americans spend on food affects how much we value it?

Food for thought

Activist and author Michael Pollan once wrote that the only quality that Americans look for in food is quantity. Meaning that we place more emphasis on how much a food costs than on how it affects our health, our society, or the environment. Do you agree or disagree? Do you think food, particularly healthy food, is expensive? If a person opts to buy “cheap” processed food today, what do you think the long term health (and financial) consequences are? Do you think that government subsidies should be restructured to better address American health issues? Lastly, how much do you spend on and value food?


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service (ERS). Food CPI, Prices and Expenditures: Food Expenditures by Families and Individuals as a Share of Disposable Personal Income.  Accessed January 26, 2014:

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