Why we are all too poor to buy cheap food



The recently published Global Nutrition Report, From Promise To Impact, Ending Global Malnutrition By 2030, makes for sobering reading.

As it points out, few challenges facing the global community today match the scale of malnutrition, a condition that directly affects a staggering one in three people. Of course malnourishment manifests itself in various ways: poor child growth and development; people who are skin and bone or prone to infection; those who are carrying too much weight or whose blood contains too much sugar, salt, fat or cholesterol; or those who are deficient in important vitamins or minerals. But the fact remains malnutrition and diet are the biggest risk factors for the global burden of disease with every country facing a serious public health challenge.

New estimates of the costs of obesity and diabetes have also emerged. In the United States, for example, a household with one obese person incurs additional annual health care costs equivalent to 8 percent of its annual income. In China, people diagnosed with diabetes face an annual 16.3 percent loss of income.

Malnutrition results from the interaction of poor-quality diets and poor-quality health as well as care environments and behaviours which are shaped in part by a host of underlying factors. Yet the overweight and underweight have one thing in common: eating too little of the right food, whether it be through choice or circumstance. However it’s the obese that seem to be eating too much of the wrong food, which leads me to conclude we are all too poor to buy ‘cheap food’.

What’s wrong with ‘cheap food’?

It’s expensive. Highly processed food or fast food may seem cheap, but it turns out to be expensive, even for what it is. I’m not even alluding to the fact that it may prove to be very expensive longer term in terms of healthcare, thinking of the US & Chinese cost experiences mentioned above. I’m thinking in terms of genuine value for money.

Think about it. When you buy real food, things that don’t have a bar code, you are buying food that has in most cases been produced by farmers, often subsidised by taxpayers, with a margin taken by the wholesalers and retailers along the supply chain, before it ends up in your kitchen. But you have bought real food which probably hasn’t been advertised or packaged in a particularly fancy way.

Compare this to highly processed foods manufactured by Big Food. What are we all paying for? Big marketing budgets, fancy packaging, ‘sophisticated’ taste engineering? Where do they shave costs to boost profits? The ingredients. It’s the composition of ‘cheap’ processed food that’s the problem – quite simply it’s obesogenic and can cause longer term health issues. Eating good fresh food might seem more expensive, but we are getting a whole lot more nutrition for our money rather than just boosting Big Food profits.

Choose good food

Consuming fresh fruit, vegetables and whole foods are known to prevent obesity and related illnesses, so will help deliver the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. So spend money wisely. Making choices that might seem small or even unimportant in themselves can make huge differences.

The amounts spent on a ready meal or a takeaway (whether it be from McDonald’s or via any of a multitude of apps) never mind a latte can come to a tidy sum, yet the damage to our nutritional profile is immense. This is even sadder if we are budget constrained, as we are penalising ourselves by missing out on great food.

Am I really rich enough to buy ‘expensive food’?

I’m not recommending you splash out on caviar, but you just might be surprised how some better quality ingredients can help both revolutionise the tastes of whole food as well as turn out to be great value, as you need so little. Check out the Pantry Supplies page for some good examples of what I’m talking about. My own experience has been that I now find it hard to go to many restaurants in London, particularly the chains, as the quality of the food and its preparation is so poor versus the cost.

Some small local restaurants can still provide great meals (Mare I Terre a wonderful Tapas bar in Southwark is a great example) but by and large I’d rather buy good ingredients and enjoy great food at home rather than pay for poor quality food camouflaged by sauces or fried in uncertain oils or fats.

How much do we really pay for convenience?

We are all time constrained, and don’t the supermarkets like to remind us (of course if you consider their incredible margins in selling us much higher cost items, it’s no wonder) but sometimes I think ‘busy’ can also be a cover for ‘lazy’. Sending the kids off to school with a bag of crisps and an energy drink – or enough money to buy them in a corner shop – is just appalling in both care and cost when a nutritious bowl of porridge with honey can cost as little as 10 pence (15 cents). Add a handful of berries or half a banana for just another 12 pence (18cents).

Spend better, eat better, feel better

It’s just possible we can afford much better food that we believe or imagine. All we then need do is cook and eat it. Don’t be seduced by cheap food – you really can’t afford it.

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          About the author
Iris is the driving force behind No Targets and a dedicated campaigner for real foods. Having spent years reading research on food she believes what we eat is more important than the calories we consume or burn. “It's about calculating nutrition, not counting calories.”

Iris is the driving force behind No Targets and a dedicated campaigner for real foods. Having spent years reading research on food she believes what we eat is more important than the calories we consume or burn. “It’s about calculating nutrition, not counting calories.”

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