A while back, I was asked the following on twitter:

“Why is eating healthy so time consuming and expensive?”

To which I replied,

“You’d like me to answer that in 140 characters or less? LOL”

If anything, I was trying to spare ol’ girl from a rant consisting of 324,356,316 tweets back to back trying to explain. It’s just not a question answered easily. I’m still gonna give it a shot today, though.

For starters, let’s talk about capitalism. Yes, capitalism.

We are a country driven by capitalist principles. Um, in short – “No money, mo’ problems.” The goal is to be driven by the dollar – the more of ’em you have, the more opportunities granted to you. The less of ’em you have, the more inspired you should be to innovate in order to get more dollars. Your drive to have more money is supposed to compel you to create and contribute to not only the growth of your community, but your wallet.

Say you start a business. Things are going well, but you’re not making as much of a net profit (defined as the amount of money made after all of the company’s bills are paid) as you’d like. So, you start figuring out where the money is leaking… and you begin plugging the holes. Sure enough, you’ve increased your net profits by decreasing how much it costs you to make your product.

Let’s apply this principle to a dish. How ’bout scalloped potatoes?

If I decide to make scalloped potatoes – assuming I don’t already have any of the ingredients in my home – I have to purchase potatoes, cheese, heavy cream, butter, salt. That looks like a $10 dish. If I just hit the aisle of my grocery and grab a box.. it might be three dollars. Depending on the brand, that’s a big might.

On the part of the company, though, it’s a different story. Sure, I have to purchase the food products necessary to create the dish. Sure, I have to buy the factory and its equipment. Yeah, there’s the salaries of the workers who staff my factory. I have to pay someone to ship my products to their locations. Depending on the brand, I also have to pay for research and development, marketing and on top of all of this.. I have to sell it to the grocery stores at a respectable price so that they can make their profit. Right?

Going back to that example with your business from earlier, how can they decrease their expenses and increase their net profit?

Well, instead of using actual cheese, I can find a company who creates powdered “natural flavors” to give my food that cheesy flavor. Instead of cream, I can use some kind of water and cheap enriched flour combination to give the potatoes that kind of creamy allure. I’ll add some salt – hell, salt is super cheap – to still give it that “yum factor.” I’ll use the cheapest packaging possible – a cardboard box and a couple plastic bags. I’ll make a deal to only get my potatoes from one place, so I’ll ensure that they’ll always be cheap. I’ll pay my workers as little as possible – “Hey, I wonder if we can find some of those illegals everyone’s ranting and raving about!” – and before you know it? I’m making my product for a dollar and a nickel, selling it for $2.50 and you’re buying it for $3.25. Money is made. Everyone is happy. Capitalism succeeds.

That’s the price. Let’s talk about cost.

Taking out the cheese and the cream from the dish removes most-if-not-all the nutritional offerings the dish might have for its eater. The enriched flour used to thicken the mixture has had all of its naturally occurring nutrients removed from it as an unfortunate result of the bleaching process and the effort to extend the shelf life of the flour. This means that everything that was once linked together to offer your system nutrition has been broken apart, regardless of whether or not they “fortified” or “enriched” it with some of the stuff they originally removed from it. Don’t give science so much credit – they’re not putting it back in the same way they took it out, because then it’d negate the point of taking the nutrients out in the first place, right?

So… let’s talk about you using either of these options. If I spend $10 on the ingredients to make my own scalloped potatoes I’m buying a 5lb bag of potatoes, a two cup bag of shredded sharp cheddar, a pint of heavy cream, a couple sticks of butter,and maybe some tarragon and parsley. Unless I’m making one monstrous dish, I’m clearly not about to use all of this at once. The benefit of spending my $10 is that I’m buying ingredients… not spending $3 on one item as a part of my dinner. I may only use 3 of my 15 potatoes that came in my bag. I may only use 2/3 of a cup of cheese. Half a cup of butter (half a stick in a 4-stick pack), half a cup of cream. See how much I have left over?

Three dollars for the box of everything. Freeze-dried potatoes. Cheese-flavored powder and… well, just add milk.

For someone who’s primary focus is time, this is the great option. You can have “big ticket dishes” for minimal time. Making scalloped potatoes from scratch means I’ve got to cut potatoes. Ugh. This stuff sells because, as a driving factor in capitalism, someone was able to make money off of making it easier for you to enjoy the dish with less time and effort involved. It will continue to sell for as long as it serves that purpose. That will never change.

For someone who’s primary focus is money, this seems like the better option but I’m not so sure. Spending $3 for a single item seems like too much for me especially when for$7 more, I can get enough ingredients to accommodate mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, scalloped potatoes, potato pancakes, hash browns, french fries aaaaand potato chips. If I play my cards right, I can make a 4lb bag of potatoes last a month. I can’t do anything with a box of freeze-dried potatoes and cheese powder but pray to Almighty Food Jesus that it tastes good.

For someone who’s primary focus is nutrition, though? You already know. You’re not going to find it in a box.

As you can see, though, this also explains why you are more likely to find obesity in areas without lots of money. Those areas consist of people with very little time and money to “waste” on something like food. But, since it’s nice to have a “big ticket dish” every now and again, they’ll indulge. Or… they like the fact that they can “eat like the rich folk.” Ironically, the “rich folk” aren’t even eating anymore. They’re going out of their way to avoid looking like the folks eating the processed food and suffering from it. Interesting cycle, that is.

The cost to your health… vs the price you pay. Which is more important? In these times, your wallet speaks an awful lot louder than anything else, so can anyone blame you for choosing the processed foods? Of course not! That’s what they’re there for. They’re there to fulfill that need. But realistically speaking, where you save today is where it costs you tomorrow.

Having said that, let’s spend the week talking about how to save money eating healthier. Shall we? 🙂

  1. Saving Money On Groceries: Go Weekly!
  2. Saving Money On Groceries: Buy It In Season