Sunday, October 3, 2010

You're Fat Because You're Poor

A family-sized box of Kraft Mac n Cheese in my local grocery store is 89 cents. A bunch of organic carrots costs $2.76.

When families are faced with making dinner on a budget (and honestly, how many families aren't?), often times the Blue Box wins out over vegetables.

And who can blame them? I wouldn't just serve carrots to my (non-existent, future) children.And if I had to choose how to best stretch my dollar, 89 cents to feed three people sounds a whole lot better than nearly $3 for a side dish.

Saving Money, Losing Health
However, saving money on cheap, processed meals means costly health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that in our obese nation, our poorest citizens are also our fattest. Obesity isn't just coupled with low self esteem or poor body image -- it also brings diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer to the dinner table. In Texas alone, the high availability of nutrient-poor, high-calorie processed food is costing the state $15.6 billion in health care costs.

The problem, again, goes back to the subsidization of corn. Corn is able to add calories to just about any and all processed foods. Calories are cheap -- nutrients are not.

Nutrients are also sometimes difficult to keep shelf-stable. In many urban areas, which are also referred to as 'food deserts', the only place to buy groceries is at the convenience store on the corner. The lack of space and inability to keep fresh products means no fruits, vegetables, or sometimes even milk. Minorities are especially hard hit: besides predominately inhabiting urban areas, the food seems to have more detrimental effects. African-Americans are 1.8 times more likely than whites to be diabetic, and a whopping 25% of African-Americans between 65 and 74 are diabetic. Diabetics, especially, need constant access to real food -- those that have to survive in a food desert have five times as many visits to the doctor as diabetics with access to adequate food.

Some states have proposed 'fat taxes', taxing foods that are calorie-dense and fat laden. This could potentially even the playing field in the supermarket -- coupled with education, consumers on a budget may choose carrots over chips.

Legislators are hesitant to promote a 'fat tax', however, because it suggests that overweight people are being penalized. This isn't the case -- it's making food that has no redeeming value less attractive in terms of price.

Another idea is to offer a 'thin subsidy', which would reward healthy food choices. Of course, no one is going to be calling your house to see if you've eaten your fruits and veggies every day -- the subsidy would be based on your grocery bill. This too isn't gaining much political ground, since offering incentives to better the lives of Americans isn't popular among some members of Congress.

More importantly, I think, is making it known that in most states, EBT cards (formerly known as food stamps) can be used in farmers markets. It may be easier to push legislation allowing the use of EBT cards at the farmers market than implementing fat taxes or thin subsidies.

In the meantime, please keep in mind that the only people who are profiting from your thrifty attitudes toward food are the food corporations and the insurance companies.

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