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Comparing Calories

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By Brother Merriweather

Here at the Spovangelist we’ve devoted a lot of attention to the food consciousness emerging in our community, from flourishing neighborhood gardens to the delicious products of Spokane area farmers. Many of us would agree that learning about the path of our food from seed to stomach is a satisfying experience. Yet with new revelations about the true cost of manufactured food, Spokanites have even more to gain from local production and consumption than we might realize.

A University of Washington study published in July shows that nutrient-dense foods are growing ever more expensive per calorie than refined grains, sweets, and fats. Basically, this means that fresh produce and whole foods are increasing in price much faster than Doritos, Hot Pockets, soda, Pop Tarts, and other “foods” chemically engineered to intrigue our taste buds.

This price disparity has a disproportionate impact on people who live on fixed incomes from sources like Social Security, Food Stamps (EBT), or Women, Infants and Children’s supplements (WIC). If the study’s forecast about escalating price disparity is accurate, people with fixed food budgets will continue to see their dollars being incapable of purchasing enough healthy food to feed themselves and their families.

Why should budget-constrained families be consistently forced to make unhealthy food choices? Even those of us who are not living at the poverty level often choose processed foods to make ends meet. Healthy food might seem unreasonably pricey, but consumers are actually shielded from the hidden costs of processed food. 30 billion dollars are spent every year supporting corn and soybean production, which makes foods containing high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soybean oil (trans fats) much cheaper. The actual cost of processed food is higher than it appears on the supermarket shelf.

 

Obesity in Washington and elsewhere is most prevalent in low-income families, which really drives home the point that empty calories from cheap food aren’t worth it. When people try and sustain themselves on high-calorie, low-nutrient food, we end up with paradoxically overweight and malnourished families. If we focused efforts on making healthful foods available to people at all income levels, costs related to obesity and health would also drop dramatically. After all, fresh fruits and vegetables are nature’s medicine; these foods are actually health protective, reducing the likelihood of obesity and subsequent medical expenses.

Of course, the first step to a national push for universal access to healthy, nutritious food starts here at home. Within Spokane, I have been inspired by the movement for affordable nutrition being spearheaded by organizations like p.e.a.c.h., Plant a Row For the Hungry, and One World Spokane Cafe. Second Harvest also plays a crucial role, offering “Food $ense” classes to educate families about healthy eating on a limited budget.

 

Sun People Dry Goods Garlic and Cover Crop Workshop in East Central

Sourcing food locally is an huge step in the right direction in battling the price disparity between healthy and unhealthy foods. Keeping food production close to where we live cuts down on delivery and storage costs, and when direct relationships with farmers are formed, can even cut out costs associated with food brokers and packaging materials. When we support local producers by shifting our dollars to our local food system, we expand the local economy, increase our access to affordable, healthy food, and help to relieve the unfair burden of ill health on vulnerable members of our community.

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