Food Divide

The main story in a recent Newseek issue was about the food divide that is currently growing in the United States. “Foodie culture” has exploded with shows like “Top Chef’” and everything on the Food Network. Chefs across the country are promoting “slow food” and the use of local ingredients. Farmers markets seem to be popping up everywhere.

That’s only half the story. The article argues that quality food is only available to a small portion of American households because of its cost. How are people with low incomes expected to purchase more expensive organic foods? Can we really expect low-income households, particularly those using food stamps, to shop at places like Whole Foods? Without a doubt, healthy foods like fruit and vegetables are more expensive than chips, candy and other processed food. Whole grains and organic produce are simply out of range for many low-income neighborhoods.

People often talk about how fast food is horrible and that Americans eat too much of it. Yes, Americans probably do eat too much of it. But I would argue that more often than not, people eat fast food because they cannot afford much else. I’ve seen numerous “experiments” where some nutritionist or chef is able to make only healthy meals on $20 per day or some absurdly low figure. Such experiments are supposed to indicate that eating healthy can be cheap. But this seems to easy to me. Not everyone has the time and effort to consistently plan out their meals…people have jobs, kids, second jobs, family members, etc. Does a single parent with two children working two jobs really have time to make meals? More and more families involve only one parent with one or more children.

New York City wants to prohibit food stamps from being used to purchase soda. This seems to be a well-meaning proposal, and at first glance this seems like a good idea because the expectation is that people will purchase healthier products instead. But will food stamp recipients really stop drinking soda? Is it fair to punish and, I would argue, almost humiliate them by forbidding them from purchasing soda? Most people don’t even believe that soda is unhealthy. Plenty of wealthy people consume excessive amounts of soda: just look at your nearest food court, cafeteria, restaurant, etc. (free refills anyone?).

This growing food divide is a problem that we can’t ignore. Somehow we’ve got to make food healthier and more affordable whether it means providing discounts when food stamps are used to purchase produce, creating more quality food outlets in low-income neighborhoods, education campaigns and similar initiatives.