Has anyone who has ever written about this topic ever shopped in a grocery store for more than one person? I think I am going to randomly post our family meals up here for all to see, then tell me what you think about the meme, “the poor can only afford calorie dense, fatty, unhealthy, fast food because it is cheap.” Well, let’s go to the video tape as Warner Wolf used to say.
The other night, our family of four had a dinner of braised pork chops (maple glazed, but for health reasons you can simply roast them plain or in a little non-fat vegetable broth), mashed white sweet potatoes and pan-seared brussel sprouts. This is “fancy” as far as my cooking abilities go, and I can never get it quite right. But as my memory serves me, here is what I spent at Wegmans (which is more expensive than many local groceries and certainly more expensive than if you had to go to the local Walmart):
I’d note before continuing that this meal left us with enough pork and mashed sweet potatoes to feed one or two people for another evening, let’s completely ignore those costs. Putting these together, you can see that the major ingredients for our dinner cost $12.50. And that was more food than our family of four can eat in one sitting (one of our kids does not each much, another eats like an adult most of the time). Now, we made the sweet potatoes with a bit more butter, apple cider and cinnamon and cream than you might want to if you made them really healthy – like baking them, and we also used some good olive oil, parmesan cheese and pine nuts on the brussels sprouts, but they are easy to cook tastily and healthily with a slight coat of olive oil in the pan or even a little vegetable stock, salt and pepper (a little) and steam them for 10 minutes or so. We drink water with our dinner, but let’s assume that we all drank a half-gallon of freshly squeeze apple cider (pick your own healthy drink if you wish). That cider costs about $3.00 per half gallon, which gets us up to $15.50. Suppose we brought whole grain bread, the good kind, fresh from Wegmans’ bakery? A really fancy loaf is $4.00. That gets us to $19.50.
If you wish, you can try to price out the small amounts of salt, pepper, olive oil, cheese, maple syrup, stock, butter, and a few other ingredients that made their way into our food. But we used something like $2.00 of this stuff in total. To cook healthier versions of our meal you can do without most of this. So this gets us to $21.50.
TWENTY-ONE FIFTY. I mean, this was a pretty “fancy” dinner for us, and we shopped at the hoity-toitiest store in all of Rochester to do it. In other words, we fed our family of four, with whole grain bread and apple cider to book, for less than $5.50 per person. And remember, we had that as leftovers two nights later (along with half of another cheaper meal). Now, you might say that it took time to cook this. We spent money on electricity for our stoves. We had to invest in cookware and utensils. We can go that route if you want, but you’ll bored with the next blog post I put up as a rejoinder.
What does it cost to get 4 extra value meals from McDonalds? A quarter-pounder with cheese meal will run you over $6.00. And you still have to get into your car to go get it. So to feed a family of four the unhealthy, calorie dense food at McDonalds in many regards costs more than the healthy and somewhat luxuriant meal we prepared from Wegmans.
Now, when you have a few minutes, ask yourself a different question. If your sole goal was to feed yourself very healthy foods and to do so on a shoestring, what would it cost to feed a family of four (btw, it would be cheaper to feed larger families, of which the poor themselves have at greater incidence than the non-poor).
PS: I can predict two responses to this. First is that the poor don’t have the time to cook, or aren’t as knowledgeable about these issues as the non poor. To which I say tut!
Second, I am sure someone will talk about how poor neighborhoods do not have groceries which sell healthy foods – so called healthy food “deserts.” Remind me of this argument the next time some inner city decides it does not want to have a Walmart open within its borders. And I happened to grow up in one of those places. And even the smallest little corner groceries had a reasonable array of fruits, vegetables and healthy meats, in addition to the usual bad stuff. Finally, suppose the claim is true – isn’t that one of the understood costs of living in certain areas. As an illustration, would it be viewed as catastrophically bad if all the folks living in the North Woods of Michigan don’t have easy access to fresh veggies every day?