Guest Post: Is Real Food Too Expensive?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

Is Real Food Too Expensive?

Please don't claim real food is "too expensive" to eat. What's "too expensive" is unhealthy processed and fast foods.

It is a truism that food is expensive in America. What if we ask, "is real food expensive in America?"
Let's define "real food" as unprocessed or minimally processed: raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed meat. Minimally processed would include rolled oats, 100% whole wheat bread, tofu, etc.
Exhibit #1: I recently bought this real food, here in America, for less than $5: 9 oranges, large bag of mustard cabbage, large bag of Shanghai bok choi and a large bag of malabar spinach. It was not in the "half off" bin; I paid the full retail price:
Exhibit #2: all of the above, plus 30 eggs and a hand of bananas: total less than $10:
Each of these vegetables makes 4 to 6 servings, and the 2.5 dozen eggs provides plenty of protein for multiple meals. I could have added some excellent frozen fish for under $2 a pound, and cooked a few ounces per serving--a typical serving in traditional Asian cuisine, where one piece of chicken is thinly sliced and added to vegetables to feed four people.
$10 in fast food might get you two "value meals" of saturated-fat burgers, fries and sugar-water drink. $10 in packaged food will buy an assortment of fake-food: frozen pizzas, snacks, sugar-bomb breakfast bars, etc.
Is real food expensive in America? As a percentage of median household income ($49,777), no. Is processed or fast food expensive? If the "value" is measured in nutrition and well-being, yes, the cost is very high indeed.
Apologists often cite four reasons why people (and more particularly, low-income people) tend to eat so poorly in America. One is the high cost of "real food." This is not quite true, as shown above: if you shop at Asian or Latin markets, you will find prices for fresh produce and other real food is typically much lower than in conventional supermarkets.
The second reason offered is that there are no grocery stores in low-income areas. This is also not quite true, as the aforementioned ethnic markets are typically only found in low-income immigrant-friendly areas.
The third excuse is that low-income people lack a proper stove/oven. The majority of Indian, Chinese and southeast Asian cuisine is prepared in one saucepan or wok that only needs one burner, a cutting board, one knife and a stirring/serving tool. The variety and healthy qualities of these cuisines are well-known. You only need one burner and a single saucepan/wok to make a huge range of healthy meals.
The fourth reason given is that people work long hours and have no time to cook, especially low-income workers with long commutes on public transport.
I routinely prepare a healthy meal with the above vegetables or equivalent (green beans, etc.) and a few ounces of meat in about a half hour. With a pressure cooker (widely available at garage sales, etc.), you can prepare a pot of beans or lentils (dal) in less than an hour.
Compare these modest investments of time with surveys that routinely find Americans of all incomes and ethnicities watch up to four hours of TV or equivalent "entertainment" (web-surfing, videogaming, etc.) a day. Some surveys put the total even higher than four hours.
So the apologists are claiming that people find four hours to watch TV, etc., but they have to stop at fast food outlets for dinner because they have no time to prepare a meal with real food.
None of these excuses hold water. Even more absurdly, some apologists claim that "people don't know how to cook." With dozens of cooking shows being broadcast and thousands of recipes available to anyone with a smartphone or Internet connection, this strains credulity. There are even these useful things called cookbooks that can be borrowed from a public library.
Let's also recall that up to 40% of all food in the U.S. is thrown in the garbage. Do you throw away what is costly? No, you throw away what is cheap.
What it boils down to is convenience, marketing and engineering: processed food and fast-food are engineered to "taste good" (i.e. salty, fatty and sweet), marketing hypes them 24/7 and Americans have been brainwashed to worship convenience above all else.
So please don't claim real food is "too expensive" to eat. What's "too expensive" is unhealthy processed and fast foods.

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BeansBulletsBandaids's picture

If the chicken's "ear lobes" are red then it'll lay brown eggs.

FeralSerf's picture

White chickens lay white eggs.  White chickens do not require as much feed per egg laid as other chickens do.  That's the reason most commercial chickens are white ($$$).  Non-white chickens normally lay non-white eggs.

Chickens that are penned up do not require as much feed either.  There is plenty of evidence, though, that pastured, free range chickens lay much healthier eggs for human consumption than their penned up cousins do.  But they cost a lot more, normally about three times as much.

AnAnonymous's picture

Priceless. Priceless.

'Americans' discussing the colour of eggs.

The big question: why do 'american' pour into theatre to see their failed 'american' comedies when they can produce this kind of stuff? It all comes for free.

pods's picture

Do they discuss whether HDPE or PP is the best plastic to use in rice around your water cooler?


AnAnonymous's picture

Do those plastic have the white and brown colour?

That is the involved colours that made the chit chat amusing.

White and brown eggs. Calling for an 'american' obsession.

Citxmech's picture

I personally don't give a shit what color eggs my chickens produce (we get a range between light cream to medium beige btw).  However, I do care that they are healthy for me and my family (lower in cholesterol w/no antibiotics, pesticides, etc), and aren't the product of mechanized serial torture.

Feel free to call that an obsession if you want.

DaveyJones's picture

and cereal torture. They're tropical animals who need inects.

mjcOH1's picture

"Priceless. Priceless.

'Americans' discussing the colour of eggs.

The big question: why do 'american' pour into theatre to see their failed 'american' comedies when they can produce this kind of stuff? It all comes for free."

Personally, I enjoy tuning into CNN and watching show trials for Chinese Communist Party officials.   Bo Xilai.   Gu Kailai.    Doesn't make much difference to me.   Now that's some funny shit.   And each time, I think to myself... "MJ...that crazy fucker there who's been screwing his own people for 20 years.   He might have a brat kid.   One who likes the internet.   And tomorrow ZH may be a better place....

nugjuice's picture

You put 'these' around weird words. Are you implying that people from America aren't Americans? I'm confused. Are you also implying that American comedies aren't American either?

And what do you have against comedies? Sometimes even 'intelligent' and 'worldly' (see what I did there?) people like yourself need to just shut their brains off and have a cheap laugh. And if renting a Will Ferrell flick for $5 accomplishes that it was worth every penny. You can only take so much doom and gloom, even if it is all true.

AnAnonymous's picture

The '' are here to distinguish between:
- americans, that is people who live in the Americas.

-'americans', who are proponents of set of beliefs known as 'americanism'

Most 'americans' living in the Americas are not Americans. They descend from land grabbers who mock the unalienable 'american' rights of Man and revel into recet.

As most 'americans' in North America are Indo Europeans who are Asians, when adding a continental qualifier, they should be qualified as Asians.

TBT or not TBT's picture

My 1/16 th of Cherokee DNA walked across the Bering strait from ASIA like 12K years ago, which is maybe 500 generations of selective pressures adding up over time.  

That's nothing to sneeze at but is also a blink of the eye, if we are talking about any tie between some race of people and the land they supposedly belong to.   To wit, it has been at least 150K generations since "Lucy" walked the earth in the great rift valley of Africa.   There's been some evolution since then, big time, but not a hole hell of a lot in the last 12K years.'s picture

You guys had it easy. My ancestors walked here from Ireland.

Ookspay's picture

Do tell oh foreign enlightened one, in which country do you reside. Post it, and within minutes we can beat the crap out of it and explain what sucks about you. Is that how you get your kicks? Let's play...

Diogenes's picture

Eggs have more flavor, and are more nutritious if the chickens are allowed to scratch around in the yard and eat bugs, worms and weeds along with a serving of grain each day from a farm wife's dish pan.

Nutritionally there is no difference between brown and white shell eggs. If you keep your chickens as above, you will get both.

1100-TACTICAL-12's picture

RIR roosters are meaner than hell @ least the ones I had were . used to run across the yard to flog my kids.. Pressure cook them and make some dumplings good shit. I now have light and dark bramahs awesome all around chickens big bodied and good layers pretty broodie also..

SilverDOG's picture



RIR roosters should be in house raised and handled until you put them outside. This is if you want social, not psycho. Secondly, you must show complete domination over them endlessly. When in doubt of, pick rooster up by feet, hold until RIR exhausted, lay on ground belly up, and allow all hens to witness. If you try, you can hold belly up in hand afterwards and chickens will stay horizontal in your one hand. Kids should hold too. Be a chicken whisperer. Or cook 'em.

Rhode Island Red Rooster ! YUMMMM !!  -red robin, yumm.

cheetahbaby's picture

Forget rooster, eat pigeon.

SilverDOG's picture



That is to be my next on property food source.

I should balance out with red meat, guinea pigs.

A delicacy in s. America.

Debt-Is-Not-Money's picture

Also we have Americacana's that lay blue and greenish eggs. Harder shell, darker yolks and tastier. As a bonus it's not necessary to dye eggs for Easter!

AnAnonymous's picture

Debt may not be money but for sure it is consumption.

akak's picture

Bigotry and hypocriticality may not be insanitation but for sure it is AnAnonymousitizenism.

RealFinney's picture

Which came first, the real chicken, or the real egg?

Sean7k's picture

Real, organic chicken eggs come in different colors- including white. We have been brainwashed into believing only brown eggs are good for you. However, 30 egg lots at asian markets are probably factory chickens.

By the way, free range chicken eggs are another marketing ploy. Producers merely have to provide a door and grass strip. They do not have to allow the chickens on it for the first five weeks of their lives. Unfortunately, by this time, chickens have been trained to stay indoors.

If you want a real egg- find a local, organic producer.

Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

Or if you can, get a couple of your own backyard chickens!

Remember to save your scraps for the girls!

Lore's picture



See the self-hugging 100-mile-diet-thumping Agenda 21 neurotics come out of the woodwork. 

It's a fact that real food is MUCH cheaper than junk food. There's a reason why those pre-cooked, pre-packaged meals are displayed so prominently near the entrance. Grocery stores charge 400-500% markup.  The margins for battered chicken nuggets and fish cakes are amazing.  Eat better and save money!


TBT or not TBT's picture

Lore, the distinction to be made is between COST of food and PRICE of food.

The material cost of a bag of chips is really really low.   Potatoes and industrial vegetable oils are low cost calories, for the producer who buys them in trucklaod quantities.   

On the other hand, the price per unit of carb calories or fat calories in the typical bag of chips is impressively high.

The damned bag of chip takes up a lot of retail space, is fragile, and mostly a bunch of air on that shelf and from A to B in the supply chain, so all of that costs something.   The chip maker wants to make a profit of course, and so they do.   They've been honing their processes, recipes and suppliers to get the costs minimized.   Dressing up a bunch of cheap carbs and cheap vegetable oils into addictive jolts of entertaining blood glucose is profitable business for the good reason that the raw materials are very very cheap compared to the average income of "poor" um 'americans'.

Lore's picture

 "The distinction to be made is between COST of food and PRICE of food."

Absolutely. I don't think I indicated otherwise. As another businessperson, you might be interested to hear that I have had academics argue vehemently that price is NOT whatever people will pay.  Instead, they insist that price is somehow dependent upon cost, as though one cannot rise without the other. It's clear that they don't get out much.

DaveyJones's picture

if you were to price "food" by its true nutritional value, it would indeed be new math.

GottaBKiddn's picture

Wrong, City Boy, Brown eggs don't come from chickens that "get to walk and forage", as you put it, they come from Rhode Island Reds. Don't even go there, pseudo-health nut. One thing obvious to me is that ZH'ers may know a lot about economics and investment, but they should hold their tongues when it comes to food. It won't be long though, till we all get the big ugly food lesson.

zerozulu's picture

I talked to a vet about egg shells and he told me ,he can give med to chicken and can get any color of eggs. He says even green, blue and purple, no problem.

ForTheWorld's picture

Those bananas aren't past their prime - even when the bananas are almost completely dark brown, they're perfect for making banana bread with.

nugjuice's picture

So you've proven to me two things which I already knew:

1) Foods are addictive

2) Low income people are generally lazy (not just 'unlucky' like we're supposed to believe)

Just how addictive is food?

You tell me: Less than 20% of people who try crack or heroine get addicted

34% of adults over 20 are obese

(and therefore can't control their food urges)

upWising's picture

"Low income people are lazy"

You paint with far too broad a brush.  Low income, middle income, high income:  they (we) come in all energy levels.  Some "well-to-do" folks are the laziest sons of bitches on the planet and many "poor" people I know are incredibly industrious.

The point has been alluded to here several times:  FOOD AVAILABILITY is a key factor to consider.  

• rural areas (there may be one, very shitty store in town with poor packaged offerings from a central warehouse and sad, limp "produce" at high prices).

• poor urban areas :: many ZH readers may be unaware of "Food Deserts" in inner cities where there simply aren't any stores.  Public transportation may well suck, as does lugging bags of food on two buses and waiting for transfer for 25 minutes on a corner.  Farmer's markets are great but are more of a suburban phenomenon in truth.

NUGjuice: you would behest to be less judgmental and more observant of facts on the ground (and IN the ground).  You are riding a little too smugly and far too high on your high horse.


Urban Redneck's picture

There is an ABUNDANCE of food and an amazing VARIETY of food in America, regardless of whether one live in a large city or small town.

The food in America is INEXPENSIVE- in nominal terms compared to other developed countries and in relative terms compared to developing and undeveloped countries.

Compare the US to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America - nowhere is there as much choice or as much supply at a reasonable cost per capita.

As long as the USD is the global reserve currency, this will be the case.  When the USD is no longer the worlds reserve currency, the 30%+ obesity problem in the USA will correct itself among the lower 80% on the wealth pyramid.


TBT or not TBT's picture

Nope Urban Redneck, when food becomes more expensive poorer people will substitute to cheaper(per calorie) foods, and cheaper foods are typically higher in carbohydrates, which are uniquely fattening.   Good quality fats and proteins are far more expensive per calorie than carbohydate sources like bread, pizza crust, noodles, potatoes, sugar, and such like foods that pour on the blood sugar, spiking insulin production, and laying down body fat.   

A collapse of the US dollar will make poor people even fatter.

DaveyJones's picture

second that along with the food desert

Urban Redneck's picture

I don't see 30%+ obesity in poor countries (granted I don't regularly visit all of them).

With a collapse of the dollar those who don't have obese wallets won't be able to afford to gorge on crappy calories.

What poor country is plagued with an obesity epidemic comparable to the US?

TBT or not TBT's picture

You are onto to something.  Thurston Howell the III and his wife so just sat around on Gilligan's islands, making Gilligan and the Captain and Mary Ann and the professor do real work.

upWising's picture

"Less than 20% of people who try crack or heroine get addicted"

I think that far more than 20% of try heroines (women heroes) get addicted.  Not so sure about crack....might be higher.

NUGjuice:  You might get off your high horse and learn how to spell, though your illiterate pun was pretty funny.  I would bet your head is obese, though size in your case obviously hasn't helped you a bit.

Hippocratic Oaf's picture

buy myself a $7 coffee and a GMO muffin and contemplate my life.


......don't forget that $12.50 pack of Kools at the corner NYC deli

SilverDOG's picture



When TPTB can no longer profit from ponzi loan shark loaning.

They will raise food prices in order to capture the remaining capital.

Get ready to pay the 25% - 35% of your income for low grade food.

Flakmeister's picture

You give them far too much credit...

It is more like an example of rats clawing their way over each other to escape...

SilverDOG's picture


TPTB may be rats, I consider them reptilian, but they play a game we are not even allowed to spectate, as we are just the pieces. History declares credit is well deserved. May it be different this cycle, hopium so. 

batterycharged's picture

Yeah, I don't see where people complain about the cost of food....what are these people eating?

Do they eat out a lot?

Then again I live in the midwest where I grow my own fruits and veggies. Broccolli grows like a weed here and tomatoes have to be fenced in.

When I was unemployed I could get by on $50-100 on food each month. And it's true real food is cheaper. A bag of rice (white or brown) is like $3 for 2 pounds. That is a meal forever. Or a 10 lbs bag of potatoes for $3.

Food is one thing I never cried about. It's so cheap, even poor people can't complain. And processed food is the WORST. It seems cheap but you eat and eat and eat it, because it never fills you up. Then it gets expensive.

CommunityStandard's picture

Rural Montana is even cheaper since you can grow stuff yourself.

exi1ed0ne's picture

Your definition of cheaper does not include the opportunity cost of your own labor.

oddjob's picture opposed to trading your one life for paper chits. Could you save me a spot on the red-line?...i'm off to walmart to mark to market the fruits of my labour.