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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Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

Remember to add some cabbage to the steamed onions. 

francis_sawyer's picture

Not sure... Does that INCREASE or DECREASE the stinkyness of your farts?...

Zap Powerz's picture

When I am buying groceries I notice what other people are buying.  Frequently (because there are so fucking many of them) I am in line behind an EBT user.  I have notice that EBT users eat the worst possible food the grocery store sells.  And, not surprising, they are fat.

My cart is full of fresh veggies and fruit.  No bread. No sweets. No pop.  Lean meat.   Dairy products.  Nothing is canned.  Nothing is packaged.

Those fat fuckers on EBT cards are buying the exact opposite of what I buy.

And the money used to fund those EBT cards?  Mine.  I work my ass off so those lazy fucks can make their asses fatter.

What an unbelievably fucked up world we live in huh?  I cant wait until it breaks and we return to reality.

francis_sawyer's picture

Nice story... But when TS really hits TF, what you'll REALLY want is some lard & bacon grease... Fat is 9 calories per gram... You're not going to make it very long doing real work for 12 hours a day by eating grass...

Louie the Dog's picture

No bread


I'm eating bread whether it trims 3 months off my life or not.  And there is some good stuff in cans.  Eat a candy bar once in a while and enjoy life.

spooz's picture

I asked the two grocery store cashiers that I know personally if they notice any difference between purchases by SNAP card users and other customers.  They tell me they see no difference.  But I guess you think we should set up a food police bureau to make sure they only buy the healthiest of foods. As it is, they aren't able to use SNAP to buy hot food or food that will be eaten in the store.

You sound like a stoopid fuck.  As if the McJobs employees that don't earn a living wage and need to use SNAP to survive don't work their asses off in their mindnumbingly dull jobs.

Zap Powerz's picture

This problem would be easily solved if people had to buy their own food.  In other words, I wouldnt give a shit what people put in their pie holes if it was their own money buying it.

What I do care about is poor people using my money to buy shitty food which makes them very unhealthy so they then use even more of my money via medicaid to treat all the health issues that arise from making stupid food choices and stupid life style choices.

Since poor people with McJobs have such a tender spot in your heart, why dont we get together and you can reimburse me for all the money I am forced to spend on them, since I dont want my money wasted on them, and you love them?

spooz's picture

Who was it that said its better to give than receive?  Too bad you'll never know the depth of that.

Umh's picture

It's obvious to me they buy a lot of junk food. I have eyes can see for myself. Don't you go shopping. I'm also old enough to remember food stamps and they were also used to buy way to much junk food.

Taint Boil's picture



Wife just bought some "orange juice" - Tropicana 50 .... 1/2 the calories, same price as the regular. Its just juice with water added and it tastes like crap. It is about the dumbest (or the smartest) thing I ever saw.




Funny part is I told her that it is just juice with water added and don’t buy it again. What did she do? She bought it again for the second time; if she does it again I’m filing for a divorce.

duo's picture

That means the dumbing down of America is almost complete.  When no one can figure out that adding equal amounts of orange juice and water does the same!

BigJim's picture

They've been doing it with skim milk for years

SmallerGovNow2's picture

they actually remove fat from the milk and use that fat for other dairy products...

pods's picture

You can use that 50/50 OJ to wash down a "100 calorie" pack snack.


Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

It's not just water. They add sucralose (splenda) to make it sweet, so it's even worse. I suggest just punching her in the liver several times, for the same effect. I drink the 50/50 to wash down some SWEET SWEET candy corn Oreo's, right before I jump on my Rascal.

Incubus's picture the fuck does it work?!

chistletoe's picture

All of the grocery outlets near me do the same thing with pricing:


They price essential basic foods at cost, but they mark up the frills and unnecessary things

and make their profit off of them....

with care, I can still buy turkey for $0.70 per pound, or $10.00 for enough to feed a family of 6 ....

while rice or noodles are also still less than $1/pound.

But then they think I'm going to pay $5.00 or more for a few ground-up sprigs of Oregano, when I can grow them in my garden?????

Potatoe chips are off the charts, and paper towels cost more than washing my rags every week,

Kleenex cost far more than buying and reusing cloth handkerchiefs which are a lot more stylish,

Any kind of food which has been prepared, premixed, precooked, is priced outrageously.

and so forth and so on .....

of course, most poor folk also flunked math, and so they pay dearly for their ignorance ....

Temporalist's picture

How stylish is a used handkerchief after toting it around all day?

Blankman's picture

always know where your towel is.

Temporalist's picture

While a towel "is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have" a handkercheif is no towel.  One cannot wrap it around their body or lay on it beneath the stars or on a sandy beach.

If you can make it through these times and still know where your towel is though that says enough about you.

duo's picture

use it for a pocket square, like the old days.

francis_sawyer's picture

I never understood why a 'pocket square', looked like a triangle...

Dingleberry's picture

The paper towles I buy have shrunk by half but are supposedly "more absorbent"....yeah right.  Also, a turkey today shrinks like hell post-oven.  That's becuase all the meat we use is fake-growthed to artificially fatten up and get to slaughter asap.


Our food supply is putrid.  All about the $$$.  

viahj's picture

then it's injected with saline to keep it juicy and add weight/thickness to the cuts.

groundedkiwi's picture

there is nothing more revolting than seeing someone pull a used hankerchief out of their pocket to blow their nose.You either have to carry a dozen if you have a cold, or use disposable kleenex for health reasons.

astoriajoe's picture

I agree with much of what was written, but this paragraph made me laugh.

"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."

Just because the information is out there, doesn't mean that anyone uses it. You can also get books on quantum physics and differential equations at the library, but...

Tortfeasor's picture

Cause making a goddamn ham sandwich takes a fucking scientific calculator?

astoriajoe's picture

no agrument from me, but have you looked at kids today?

I suspect that if a public school offered a home economics class they'd be sued by the aclu for enforcing a suppressive patriarchal paradigm.

q99x2's picture

The only marathon that I'd be running with that food is back and forth to the grocery store.

Kreditanstalt's picture

Most Americans spend every cent they have on mortgages, cars, gas, cable bill, iPhone bill, IPad bill, IPod bill, video-on-demand movies, restaurants, vacations, alcohol, the motor home, medical and college, credit card payments and taxes.

And then they borrow more that they don't have.

After that, they think food is expensive.

blunderdog's picture

I dunno where you live, but "most Americans" don't have the income for a lot of that stuff.

Cars and cable, for sure.  The rest?  Not so much.  We earn about $27K a year--houses and motorhomes are fantasies.

Kreditanstalt's picture

Agreed...change it to "MANY Americans..."

msjimmied's picture

Looks good, but most peeps wouldn't know how to cook it. I doubt you would find a recipe in a Betty Crocker cook book. Asians are wizards with greens, Indians with lentils...every culture has gems in it.  If you're shopping in an ethnic store, ask the other shoppers for suggestions as to which brand to buy etc etc. Learn to cook, otherwise you are going to be eating burgers, cos you don't know what else to do.


Join a CSA next summer. I will really change your life.


astoriajoe's picture

you're quite confident Utica:)

" I will really change your life."

The Master's picture

"Everything in moderation"

It's perfectly fine to occasionally indulge in buffalo wings, cheesecake and beer.  Just go to the gym for fuck's sake.

Manthong's picture

A diet balanced across the five major food groups; pizza, cheeseburgers, fries, beer, and Viagra is essential for maintaining good health..

905ozs's picture

I happily (err) work for for walmart in africa...At senior level, I feel like a counterrevolutionary :)

i could tell you guys what is going on here supply chain wise, but it would be thesis u wouldnt read. Rothschild inc facilitated the purchase of Massmart by Walmart last year...enough said.

Just stack & prep people, look after those u love

Urban Redneck's picture

Massmart's HQ is in RSA but they have been expanding into West Africa inrecent years

SmittyinLA's picture

artful instruction, the state thanks you

A Lunatic's picture

9 oranges, large bag of mustard cabbage, large bag of Shanghai bok choi and a large bag of malabar spinach.


Maybe Hedgeless Horseman can fix up something delightful with that shit but the rest of us.......not so much.

exartizo's picture

Bottom line:

Americans are too fat and lazy to cook real food.

If they cooked real food they wouldn't be fat and lazy.

Yes, that is a Catch-22.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Why, with so many out of work , area people not cooking at home more? What are they doing with that time? We cook nearly all our food and both work full time. I don't get it.


Whoa Dammit's picture

To me the problem is that the fruits and veggies sold in the groceries are generally so tasteless--picked under ripe then gassed and put in cold storage for days. Costco seems to be the only mainstream source for decent fresh produce.

rosethorn's picture

Excellent analysis.