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Food, Inc.

Watching Food, Inc. reminded me of things that I’ve learned in the process of losing weight but don’t always think about so much anymore. The primary one being that it’s expensive to eat well, particularly to eat the sorts of foods recommended for weight loss.

When I graduated college, I swore that I wasn’t going to eat any more fast food – a promise I’ve largely kept except for once in an airport where the only option was McDonald’s. (Although considering how I felt after eating it, I wondered if going hungry might have been the better option, and it’s part of the reason why I now carry ridiculous amounts of food with me when flying.) At the time, I didn’t make this decision out of any ethical or moral beliefs. It was simply that I was sick of eating it, since many times in college I had no choice but to eat fast food.

Instead, I reverted to how I ate when growing up, which involved cooking my own meals. Additionally, as part of my efforts to lose weight, I bought more fresh fruits and vegetables. And I watched with astonishment as my food bill shot up. Even now, I’m rather shocked at how much I spend on food, considering I’m just one person. Given the way our food system works, though, it’s not actually that surprising. As they pointed out in the movie, you can buy a hamburger at some fast food places for $1, but you can’t buy a head of broccoli for that. You’d be lucky to get a single decent-sized apple for that price. Of course if you go the canned/frozen route, you’re in better shape, but from a calorie/cost perspective, you definitely get a better bargain at the fast food places.

Or at least, you do if you don’t factor in all the hidden costs, and realize all the subsidies that farmers get for growing corn and soy, but not other vegetables. They’ve also been put into a position where many need to use pesticides and artificial fertilizers, all of which has a hidden cost in the amount of fuel needed to transport it and the impact on the human body.

It’s not just the produce, though. I’ve also made a decision, this time for ethical reasons, not to eat commercially-raised meat. But buying meat that’s been raised locally, where the animals are treated well, costs so much more up front than buying commercial meats. It’s one of the reasons that I don’t eat much meat these days, but even so, I was shocked to learn that the average American consumes 200 pounds of meat every year. That essentially assumes that you’re eating a 3 oz. portion of meat with every meal of the day. (And most people eat much more than the serving size of 3 oz.)

What angers me about this is that many people are put into a position where they believe they simply cannot afford to eat well. Partly it’s the cost, but it’s also a matter of time. Many of the people directly impacted work multiple jobs, may get home late, or not be home much at all, and don’t feel they have the time or the energy to make something nutritious but inexpensive, such as beans and rice, or a big pot of soup or stew.

The irony is that if they ate more healthily, they might actually have more energy to be able to eat healthily. Getting out of that catch-22 is the hard part, particularly given the nature of the food industry. They don’t want people to be like me, to have gotten to the point where they crave fruits and vegetables as much or more than they do sweets and fats.

I am therefore grateful, yet again, that my upbringing was such that I had knowledge of and interest in cooking, and that I make enough money on my single income to be able to afford eating in ways that support my ethics. I’m encouraged that more people are thinking this way these days, and I hope that someday things will be different, but I suspect it will be a long road.

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