One of the most common reasons I’ve heard about why people can’t eat real food is that they can’t afford it. I hear all the time that “eating healthy is more expensive.” And I just wanted to take some time to address that today.
I loved the documentary Food, Inc, but one part that bothered me was the family who ate out and ate junk food all the time because they thought they couldn’t afford to eat better foods. It bothers me even more that in order to make political points, we keep beating people down and telling them they are right and they can’t afford it, and that just usually isn’t the case.
Real food isn’t always more expensive
This is a bold statement, contrary to what everyone else is saying, but the absolute truth is that real food is not always more expensive.
Remember, you’ll be cutting out all the processed junk foods, and most eating out at restaurants, which frees up money in your budget.
I once went to the grocery store with a friend. She bought a case of Pepsi, a case of Dr. Pepper, a couple bags of chips, Little Debbie’s, fruit-flavored gummis, and some candy. I’m not judging her, or you, or anyone else. My point is that she spent more than $25 and didn’t buy a single bit of nourishment. In the Food, Inc. documentary, Joel Salatin mentions this as well, he says people will come to his stand drinking a $.75 soda and complain that a dozen organic free-range eggs are $3.
We are so set in our habits that we don’t even realize what we are doing. But, when we cut out those things, we can free up extra money in our food budget to spend on real food instead.
Another thing to remember is that the big food companies are making lots of money. The profit level on processed foods is much higher than that on real, whole foods. Convenience foods are notoriously high cost.
The family from documentary spent $9-10 for their family of 4 to eat from the dollar menu at a restaurant, each getting 1-2 food items plus a soda. They then went to the supermarket to “prove” that they couldn’t feed everyone on that budget with real food. But that just isn’t the case. Here is one quick, on-the-go alternative menu:
- 1 box of triscuits, $3
- 1 bag baby carrots, $1.50
- 1 pkg. string cheese, $3.50
- 1 banana each, $1.50
- water to drink, free
This is just one example of many. They could have bought cans of tuna, a jar of peanut butter–there are so many options! They could have spent the same money, had healthier foods, and had food leftover. They may not like those foods, and I understand that, but then it becomes a separate issue–personal preference and not inability to afford it.
It doesn’t have to be more expensive. We just have to think outside our habits.
Lisa Leake did her 100 days of real food challenge on a budget, allowing herself $125 per week. This budget is more than what we spend for our family of 4, but might be helpful in getting started. Read about her tips and experiences.
You can also see how I make the most of our grocery budget and save on groceries.
I know this is always a tough thing to hear, but the reality is that life is about priorities and choices.
In past years (and it’s still the case in many other countries), people spent much higher percentages of their income on food, and much less on luxuries. We have so many luxuries these days that we treat as needs, that we cut into our food budgets in order to pay for them.
- junk food, candy and treats;
- eating out at restaurants;
- expensive outings (a night of 2 games of bowling costs our family $40–that’s almost a week’s worth of groceries!)
- cable & satellite TV;
- new, name-brand clothing instead of used;
- tons of different sports and activities for our children;
- expensive toys and gifts for our children and ourselves
The list goes on.
Again, I am not saying these things are bad. Only that we have our priorities mixed up if we are buying those things, yet scrimping on buying good, wholesome, nourishing food for our families.
We need to remember the difference between wants and needs.
Count the (long term) cost.
I know, better than most, that sometimes you literally just can’t afford things, regardless of how important it is.
However, I keep going back to this idea that “if something is not important to you, you’ll find an excuse, if it is important to you, you’ll find a way.” I’ve seen it over and over again.
How we nourish our bodies is important.
Michael Pollan makes a very convincing case for this in his book, In Defense of Food, and references several compelling stories. As our spending on food has decreased, our need for and spending on healthcare has dramatically increased. I’ve seen the argument over and over that doctors cost much more than buying good food. It sounds trite, but it’s true.
More importantly, you simply cannot put a price tag on health and the quality of life it can afford. I say this to you as someone who has always struggled with various health problems.
Again, please know that I am not judging anyone. My purpose today is to encourage you. You can do it. You can find a way if you commit to it. Your body and family will thank you.
Maybe you legitimately cannot afford to buy 100% local and organic, but you can take baby steps to get there. Free up money in your budget here and there. And, you can certainly afford to cut out the convenience foods and buy real food instead of processed.
P.S. One of my favorite resources to recommend for this is Stephanie Langford’s Real Food on a Real Budget. You can get that resource along with 80+ others this week at a 98% discount–less than the cost of a meal out with your family. This collection is all about helping your family become healthier.