It’s very comforting to think we’ll be able to solve America’s nutrition crisis by building more grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods and educating low-income families on how to cook healthy, nutritious meals.
But the unfortunate truth is that more grocery stores and nutrition education (while helpful to some people) doesn’t address the larger problem — which is that eating is expensive.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of low-income families is increasing. The report defines low-income working families as “those earning less than twice the federal poverty line.”
In 2011, the low-income threshold for a family of four with two children was $45,622. If you estimate rent at $1000/month, which is quite low for a family of four, that leaves about $33,000 for health care, transportation costs, clothing, and groceries for four people. That’s $687.50 per person per month for every single expense except rent.
Let’s do some more math.
Gala apples are among the cheapest fruit nationally. The USDA lists them at $1.16 a pound at the time I’m writing this article. There are about three apples to a pound, so if you wanted to buy your two kids an apple for each day of the week, you would spend $5.80 just on an afternoon snack for your kids. And let’s keep in mind that apples are relatively low-calorie, which means they aren’t very filling.
Six bucks doesn’t seem like much to someone with a middle class salary, but when you’re working with a weekly budget of under $700 per week for everything you need, including car repairs, gas money, winter clothing for constantly growing children, toilet paper, laundry detergent, electric bills… $5.80 starts to look pretty hefty for a snack that won’t even satisfy.
“I look at this list and can’t help but wonder how she’s supposed to do it. If $11 of apples equals two snacks, but $3 in Ramen will feed her entire family for dinner, how can she possibly pick apples with her limited food stamp budget?” McClay wonders.“And how will she ever afford to fill half of every mealtime plate with fruits and veggies, the amount recommended by the same government that issued her food stamps?”
It’s a good question.
The US government heavily subsidizes some foods, such as corn and soybeans. The result is that processed foods that are heavy in these ingredients end up being cheaper than fresh produce, which is not as heavily subsidized, if it is at all.
There is a serious disconnect between what we should be eating to stay healthy, and what the economic reality is.