We all know that junk food provides cheap calories, in almost every sense of the word. The US government subsidizes, or pays farmers extra money for raising certain kinds of food; primarily ones that are insanely high in calories but not necessarily high in nutrition, like corn and corn fed beef. This makes these products cheap to produce, cheap to buy in bulk, cheap to render down into food-like products such as high fructose corn syrup, mechanically separated meat, and cheaper to process into friendly fast food products. And because of this, marketers can shout from the rooftops about how affordable their products are. Talk, as we know, is also cheap, but this campaign has been so effective that many people just accept that the only money-wise way to eat is with fast, calorie-rich, processed foods, which also cheapens our health.
Perhaps one of the only ways fast food isn’t cheap is in the most obvious and the only good sense; its effect on your family budget. Doctor Tim Harlan points out that for 14 dollars, the cost of four meals at McDonalds, you can buy enough lean beef, whole wheat buns, tomatoes and lettuce for eight burgers, with money enough to make your own oven baked fries and provide fresh fruit, salad and a healthy, antioxidant-rich iced tea for everyone. For the cost of four “5 dollar meals” at KFC, which amounts to two pieces of chicken, refined carbohydrates and some deep fried potatoes, you could buy an entire chicken to cook, as well as an ear of corn, a fruit and a salad for everyone.
The only argument left in fast food’s defense is that technically, their food has more calories, and if you bought enough healthy food to match, it would cost more. For the moment, let’s ignore that a whole corn cob, a salad, another piece of fruit and two pieces of chicken is enough food to get most people to their next meal without any problems, even if the chicken isn’t enhanced with a thick crust of processed flour, frying oil and leftover grease. Let’s apply their logic in the other direction. How much would it cost to improve the health of that fast food meal so that it was equivalent to a home cooked meal?
· Well, with the fast food plan you aren’t eating enough fresh fruits or vegetables, if you’re eating any at all, and there are loads of vitamins and minerals you can’t get from processed flour and grain-fed meats, so you’ll need a few supplements to keep up with them.
· That also means you’re low on fiber, which makes you feel full and keeps you feeling full as the day goes by so that you don’t spend extra money on more food that you don’t need. It keeps you regular and reduces the risk of colon cancer. One more supplement to add to the list.
· The sodium will almost certainly be too high, so you’ll need regular medications to keep your blood pressure in check.
· Omega-6, or bad cholesterol, is also through the roof with these kinds of foods, which means buying fish oil or lots of walnuts to balance it out. With all of these extra measures, which are still not quite as good as eating right in the first place, is that fast food still the least expensive?
And these are only the most absolute, quantifiable factors. How should we measure, for example;
· The cost of bland, mediocre taste?
· The time, energy, and money that parents, non-profit organizations, and the government spends trying to break the unhealthy eating habits that we teach our children?
· The time spent trying to burn off unnecessary calories, or wasted feeling tired, ill, uncomfortable, or just not our best?
· The impact of irresponsible environmental practices on a massive scale?
· The human cost of poor nutrition and cultural obesity? At today’s rate more Americans die every four years of obesity-related illness than Americans died in all of World War II.
Healthy, home cooked food isn’t more expensive than junk food. It costs just as much up front, and makes for a better investment in every respect.
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