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Junk Food vs. Fruit

Here in Maine, our governor has been trying for two years to ban the use of food stamps to buy junk food. His reason? Because of the rise in obesity and diabetes “resulting from the consumption of foods with high sugar content.”

I question a lot of things in that assumption. After all, people who are thin and don’t eat junk food can get diabetes, just as people can be overweight without eating junk food – and without getting diabetes. Or vice versa. Some people who do eat junk food don’t always get diabetes or become obese.

So I was glad to see the proposal fail, in large part because the FDA doesn’t want to “choose winners and losers in the food industry” or to create different choices between allowed and excluded foods.

I’m glad they made that decision, since I don’t think people need any encouragement about judging food or those who eat certain things. It annoys me enough that the governor promotes that “good” vs. “bad” food approach.

But his stance also frustrates me because it ignores the fact that if you have a limited amount of money, and you’re trying to maximize the calories you get per dollar, it’s harder to do if you want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

As noted in this article from Huffington Post: “The most comprehensive study of its kind indicates that yes, unhealthy food is about $1.50 cheaper per day, or about $550 per year, than healthy food.” The article does go on to note that the “conclusion is based on comparing a very healthy diet — such as one replete with fruits, vegetables and fish — with a diet full of processed foods, meats and grains.”

With that in mind, I have to wonder, if people are given a choice between junk food and, say, fruit, with no price difference, which would they choose?

In an interesting coincidence, about the same time the proposed ban came up again, new types of food became available in my office.

For the past two weeks, on Monday morning, our office admin has brought in fresh fruit, granola, and Greek yogurt.

Considering that we’ve mostly had bagels, sugary muffins, and chips available for breakfast and snack foods, this is a welcome change.

And clearly I’m not the only one to feel this way. The fruit has disappeared quickly, faster than the chips and muffins, with the yogurt and granola not far behind.

I have no doubt that these options are more expensive than the bagels, muffins, and chips. Admittedly, my coworkers and I can afford this on our own if we want it, but sadly, this is not true for some people.

All of which leads me to think that if our governor is serious about supporting choices for more nutrient-dense foods, he would do better to make those food more available to all economic sectors. That way, people can have options. And I suspect that, as in my office, people would welcome the change.

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