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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percolator's picture

Sheepdog, you're getting ripped off!

johnQpublic's picture

bok choi

mustard cabbage

malabar spinach

all of it is nasty tasting AND not available at my grocery store(which is an overpriced shithole)

i have to drive 22 miles to get to a wegmans(real quality store)

for real veggies i have to leave the burbs and head to wegmans or into the scary neighborhood to the meximart

caveat: that is after the garden is done for the season

Ident 7777 economy's picture

"  i have to drive 22 miles to get to a ..

Move; I don't want to hear about it ....

francis_sawyer's picture

NO FUCKING SHIT... Wegmans?... WegFUCKINGMans?... I'd rather you fucking STARVE than to give your goddamned pompous ass some useful advice...

overbet's picture

I go to an organic store in my area, a half price Whole Foods. I calculated what I was spending eating convenient food versus strictly organic vegtables and it was slightly cheaper eating the organic vegtables. If I had to go to Whole Foods though it would have been twice as much. One very key note is however that the difference in how I feel and the energy I have, I would spend 10 times as much now if I had to.

Just a simple change of dropping Starbucks every morning to a green tea with local honey makes a big difference.

Processed foods are made to be taste, look and smell good and lack all nutritional value. If they had more nutritional value you would eat less of them because you wouldnt be hungry shortly after a meal. People eating less is not a good thing if your goal is to sell as much as possible.

lostintheflood's picture

to quote joel salatin, "if you think organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?"


Random_Robert's picture

Your point is hollow and ineffectual unless you define where "here" is.... 


In my neck of the woods (Southwestern US), fresh food prices are inline with CHS's observations

At some local farmer's markets- price are even cheaper.

francis_sawyer's picture

It's worth the money to pay EXTRA for Frito Lay products because this woman here personally inspects every single chip that comes off the line...


imaginalis's picture

Whole Frauds is over priced but my local farmers market sells a fair prices

Whoa Dammit's picture

Local "farmers" markets in Atlanta are sky high. The state farmers market used to be amazingly cheap, until a bunch of sellers out of FL got busted for running drugs in the veggie semis.

NotApplicable's picture

One here started accepting food stamps (with a dollar for dollar matching credit from some gov org). Now only the rich and the poor can afford to shop there.


Jason T's picture

"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."

that is so true.

Whoa Dammit's picture

Where I live, you are taking your life in your own hands to go to an Asian market. Rough crowds in rough areas. One of the larger ones had to put a mini prison tower type security booth  in the parking lot due to shoppers being robbed.

LMAOLORI's picture



There's a lot of complaining right now about how poorly people who get food stamps eat (in other words they want more of YOUR money). 


Here's what Cory Booker bought for $29

Sacerdote says. "You can find specials on fruit at the end of a week. Also, if you go to ethnic stores, you can get better deals. Chinese markets, for instance, will generally have better deals on bags of rice.


Bangin7GramRocks's picture

I recommend getting real food at Trader Joe's and Wegmans if you are on the east coast. Wegmans is the tits!

johnQpublic's picture

true that

wegmans is the bomb

great local produce, and the prices are really fair and mostly the lowest outside of an ethnic market

closest oriental market here has 50lb bags of rice for 15 bucks


get the yellow watermellon at trader joes(which is seriously overpriced)

NotApplicable's picture

I was looking at dried fruit last night at Natural Grocers. It went anywhere from $7-$16 /lb.

Going to both an Asian and a Halal store today.

Investor Wizard's picture

I used to compromise with a spinach wrapped twinkie but Hostess and its union screwed that up

francis_sawyer's picture

Another way to stretch your food dollar is by by going to 'All You Can Eat TACE Bars'


You'll find them in all 57 states...

Dr. Engali's picture

Eating healthy actually requires people to do something for themselves when it is so much easier tossing a pot pie in the microwave. That's the American way baby for a country on the go!

Temporalist's picture

Chicken pot pies are the recyling bin of chicken part remnants...but a fresh made pie....mmmmm


NotApplicable's picture

We did that on Monday. My wife still protests the whole chicken experience, but I'm not buying any more of that toxic Tyson crap.

hedgeless_horseman's picture



Chicken pot pie is so much better when you hate that particular chicken for always shitting on your saddle rack.  Who says revenge is a dish best served cold?

SheepDog-One's picture

Just drink a couple '5 Hour Energy's' the new leading food for americans working 5 part time jobs and we're all set!

francis_sawyer's picture

Drink enough of that shit & you'll soon be losin' it like this motherf*****...


cougar_w's picture

Can't have meal preparation or a sit-down dinner get in the way of hanging out in the 'hood trash talking the freaks across the street.

francis_sawyer's picture

Theyz be waitin for deir free ObamaStove...

Umh's picture

One of the reasons that many people are poor is that they make bad decisions. I've watched friends, family and strangers make some really bad choices over the years, but it is their choices. I may give advice, but I don't push it on the unwilling. They frequently even know what they are doing is silly. So I don't see any reason they would make smarter  decisions about food.

BigJim's picture

Exactly. 50% of Americans, by definition, have below average intelligence.

They do few things well. Why would we expect them to eat well?

AnAnonymous's picture

Made me laugh. Ah, 'americans'...

Maybe because eating well might not rely on high IQ?

What next? Why people cant no walk well?

Terminus C's picture

because the put melamine in their milk products?

CunnyFunt's picture

Get a deep freezer or build a smoke house and take up hunting.

exi1ed0ne's picture

Gun, gear, license is bad enough entry cost, but you are obviously not paying property tax on that "recreational use" land.  It would take a lot of punds of meat to break even on the cost + taxes of a 40 here in the middle of cropland.

SilverDOG's picture

Cabela's; Marlin 795 .22 rifle $148.

#1 round bought and fired during the Great Depression... .22.

.22 rifle deadly @ 400yrds, not particularly accurate however.

Buy 2 and 3300 rounds for $390... TODAY.

francis_sawyer's picture

or you could just go the bait & tackle route...

exi1ed0ne's picture

40 acres of hunting land = $92,000*, cash purchase to make the math easier.

Average deer = 50 lbs meat, $75 per to process, freeze and wrap

30 year payback and 2 deer a year with bonus tags = approx $32 per pound


* source:

Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

Learn to process yourself. You'll get more meat, and better quality for less price.

CunnyFunt's picture

You don't need to buy land to hunt

exi1ed0ne's picture

No, you don't.  Good luck getting a spot on county/state/federal land that doesn't completely suck or get you shot.  If you are using a buddy's land remember those costs are still being paid, just not by you.  County land here is blaze orange as far as the eye can see during gun season.

A Lunatic's picture

Ever heard of a place called the West?

exi1ed0ne's picture

Well, then add in the cost of a plane ticket and out of state license, hotel, etc. 

CunnyFunt's picture

I'm glad I don't live where you live. It sounds lame, with scrawny deer.

PUD's picture

Online..Bobs Red Mill...25lbs of the best tasting multi grain organic cereal for pennies per serving...Nuts dot com...25lbs of organic trail mix for snacks...etc etc...I eat a nearly perfect diet that tastes great, is sugar and corn syrup free, low cal, low fat, high protein and sets the atomic clock in Greenwich when I take a shit. All for cheap. I make a weeks worth of breakfast on Sunday night and two dinners at a time so I only cook every other day. Fat fuck America has no excuses. None.

Bohm Squad's picture

"Atomic Clock..."  I'm going to use that line...I don't know when, or where, but I'm gonna use it.


My anecdotal two cents is that people are lazy and buy boxed meals to save on prep time in the kitchen.  Happily, my wife and I have been moving away from that.

SilverDOG's picture

Look on

blunderdog's picture

Yeah, but apparently it made you into a CAPITAL LETTER dick.

The Axe's picture

I am Brained washed   White Castle  has 0 nutrional value and usually results in a painful shit later.....but I love them!!!!      And this guy is way off on his prices  BS


flattrader's picture

Man, you have exposed my dirty little secret.  I am a White Castle lover.  Nothing like their bacon cheeseburgers.

I justify it by giving White Castle its own food group.

I miss the old style restaurants.  Nothing better than dining in the Aluminum Room at the Porcelain Palace.