Are we getting what we pay for?

Americans love cheap food. We spend less of our incomes on food now than ever before. In 1949, we allotted 22% of our incomes to food. In 2009, that figure dropped to only 10% (about half of what the Japanese and French spend). Seems good until you correlate another set of statistics. Back in 1959, only 4% of children were overweight. Today that figure has climbed to 19%. In 1979, 28% of adults were overweight. Now it’s a shocking 64%.

While we’re paying less for our food, we are paying a steep price for our healthcare – more than 15% of our incomes – which works out to over $140 per week per person. To put it even more in perspective, we are spending over 16% of the market value of all final goods and services made in America in a year (our Gross Domestic Product) on healthcare. That’s greater than any other country. Yet we are by no means the world’s healthiest people.
Our love affair with cheap food has brought us highly processed food and a very low ratio of nutrients per calorie. Here’s how wild this can get. Denny’s restaurants (with over 1,500 locations) promote their “Grand Slamwich” served with hash browns, which has 1,530 calories (by any measure, a lot of calories for one meal), 90 grams of fat, 44.5 grams of saturated fat (federal guidelines advise 20 grams per day), 550 mg of cholesterol (American Heart Association recommends less than 300 mg per day), and a whopping 3,720 mg of sodium (well above the recommended less than 2,300 mg per day – 1,500 mg if you’re middle-aged or older). And all that “food” runs just over $7.50. Let’s not even get into the hash browns with onions, cheese and gravy! Perhaps this is fitting from a chain that ran the ad campaign “I’m going to eat too much, but I’m never going to pay too much.” Of course, we don’t need to single out Denny’s. There are plenty of such extreme examples from other popular restaurant chains.
So we’ve industrialized and consolidated our farms into giant factories that use pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic modification and other untested and even inhumane practices, all in the name of low price. The high price comes when we pay the doctor, the drugstore and the hospital. Perhaps it’s time we as a country rethink all this. Wouldn’t it make sense to pay more for nutritious, non-toxic food and less for illness and disease?
Reprinted from Ken Whitman, publisher of Organic Connections, March/April 2010

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