This article from the Wonkblog (the Vox folks’ old stomping grounds) argues that America has a growing food inequality problem.
Let’s not dispute that claim. With growing income inequality it would not at all be surprising to see consumption inequality follow-suit, even if you expect it to be less dramatic.
But awkwardly, the article vaguely references food prices. They claim that healthful foods have always cost more than unhealthful foods. But that does not in any way make their point. If they have always cost more than unhealthful foods, then why is inequality increasing? Are they getting relatively MORE expensive today? Certainly for all foods this is not true even in an absolute sense. The question for the author and our dear TUW readers: what has actually happened to real food prices over the last XX years? Here’s a hint: they’ve fallen. Sharply.
A further question comes from a rather startling admission in the piece,
“But it’s likely knowledge-driven, too. People from lower socioeconomic tiers may have limited opportunity to learn about the effects of unhealthy foods and the consequences resultant from unhealthy diets. The study found a strong correlation between education level and performance in the health index. “
I find this to be entirely unbelievable. I’d like any of you to go out in the street and ask anyone, regardless of their apparent SES, what they understand about what they eat and how they eat. Furthermore, don’t we have compulsory schooling up to about age 16 in “free” government schools, most with reduced price or free lunch service and certainly every one of them offering all kids of education on healthy living. To be honest, I think the sentiment in the quote above is rather demeaning,
And here, I don’t understand the point that is trying to be made:
America’s growing food inequality isn’t merely affecting the poor. Diet-driven diseases like obesity and diabetes now cost the country hundred of billions of dollars every year.
Does this mean that food inequality makes those at the upper end fat? Maybe, I don’t know. I’d like to see data on the distribution of BMI by education and income group – my hunch is that there is no relationship, or certainly not one that would confirm the point above. And the piece closes with another statement that quite frankly I don’t understand and certainly see no evidence provided for:
No matter the cause, the gap is marginalizing a significant portion of the population. “In America, food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say—social class. It used to be clothing and fashion, but no longer, now that ‘luxury’ has become affordable and available to all
How is it marginalizing? After all, aren’t people in different classes now living farther and farther apart from one another? Would such inequality even be recognizable? And of course, while I am sure the real price of clothing and apparel has fallen, does it follow that status and luxury clothing is more accessible than food, even high quality food, over this time period?
Elsewhere: why on Earth would anyone be “worried” about this? Prices adjust. Entrepreneurs respond. Unless of course one can’t help but think that everything good in the world comes as a result of conscious policy choices. Drive around Rochester and there are already quite a few communities and developments popping up to satisfy those needs. Imagine this author writing in 1900: “today 40% of America lives and works on a farm but researchers estimate that by the end of the century less than 3% of Americans will live in this way. Today’s farm buildings are designed and built for a rough, rugged and hearty rural population – far from towns, with questionable plumbing and long rutted driveways, little closet space and nary an internet connection. How can tomorrow’s generation of connected, hip, “I want it now” people ever manage to survive in a country that was not built precisely for them, 40 years before they needed it? One can only imagine. But hopefully we can enact smart policies to ensure adequate housing for these future urbanites and figure out what to do with the enormous amount of silos, farm outbuildings and quaint farmhouses that just won’t suit the millions of new urban dwellers a 100 years from now. In addition to having to worry about the onset of a world war, a flu pandemic and the rapid deforestation of the American wilderness, add this menace to your list!”