Every time the obesity epidemic (media’s words, not mine) comes up, there will be at least one person claiming fast food is the real, ultimate villain, making everyone’s BMI shoot sky-high. “Why, if it weren’t for the fact that fast food is just so much cheaper than fresh produce, poor/middle-class people would be so much healthier!” This seems to be a popular way to rationalize higher average weights in lower-income social brackets. Terms like “food deserts” get tossed around in a bunch of high horse bloviating that financially comfortable people seem to excel at. (On a side note, “food desert” makes me lol. I think of the Family Guy episode where Stewie and Brian are in the desert and they see the soda machine mirage. Also makes me think of a Tiny Tim-esque little kid on the corner in New York City screaming, “HELP! HELP! I CAN’T FIND ANY BANANAS!”)
So, this attitude has always bothered me. For the past two and a half years, I lived on a very tight budget. My income was under nine grand a year, and a shocking portion of that went to my monthly rent. My food budget was very low, so I was forced to be mindful of prices on everything I bought. What did I find during my time of highly controlled spending? I found that produce is far and away cheaper than meals at McDonald’s. That’s right, getting a burger at Wendy’s was a treat for me. I can tell you the prices on foods I liked to have when I went to these places: a Mcdonald’s 10-piece nugget combo is 5.79, before meal tax and/or sales tax. A 1/4 lb. single combo at Wendy’s is 5.69. At Burger King, I’d get a two cheeseburger value meal (no cheese, please), and after tax and student discount, that was 5.24. I would finagle the people to give me my boyfriend at the time’s 10% student discount. Fifty cent actually made a difference for me. Even value menu ordering is somewhat expensive. True, a McD’s 10-piece nuggets is 3.69 while three 4-piece orders is just three bucks, but once you factor in a soda and some fries (or the admittedly delicious apple dippers), it’s still going to run you quite a bit. 5.50 for one meal is quite expensive.
To further my point, I pulled up this week’s Wegmans (a Western NY-based upscale supermarket) flyer for my area. Let’s see what’s on special!
- 8 lb. (!) Club Pack Navel Oranges, 4.99
- 5 lb. bag Florida Grapefruit, 2.99
- 8 lb. (!) Club Pack Apples, 5.99
- 3-pk. Cucumbers, 3.99
- 6 pk. Wegmans-brand whole wheat english muffins, 2.69
- Club Packs 80/20 Ground Beef, 2.49/lb.
- Club Packs 90/10 (ooh, lean!) Ground Beef, 1.99/lb.
- Wegmans-brand in-pkg steamable frozen veggies, 16 oz., .99
- Wegmans-brand fruit on the bottom low-fat yogurts, .40/ea
Some of those prices may seem high at first glance, but when you think about how many apples eight pounds actually is, it’s dirt cheap. “Club Pack” is basically a family pack– I believe 3+ pounds. Ground beef is excellent for freezing in small packages. My mom, my boyfriend and I will sometimes brown two pounds of beef for tacos, and we almost always have enough left after taco night for a complete second meal. We buy the 90/10, so at 1.99/lb., that’s about 67 cents per person. I abosolutely love the steam-in-package veggies, too. We’re big vegetable eaters, so we’ll go through a pound package in a meal, but that’s only 33 cents per person. So even with the beef and the veg, the tally’s only at a buck per person.
I enjoy the occasional fast food meal, but one cannot deny that what I just described beats the pants off of McD’s in both price and flavor. So why is it, then, that people constantly claim fast food is a cheaper alternative? I will admit that I don’t know what other parts of the nation pay for their groceries. I know that, at times, in Maine, it could get pretty pricey (especially the meat and milk). Even at the highest price point, though, it was still noticeably cheaper than grabbing a burger somewhere.
And through all my delicious (and oft low-fat/carb) meals, I am still fat. When I moved from Western New York to Maine, my eating habits drastically improved, due to my limited income, and yet I lost no noticeable poundage. So, media, chew on THAT. I had less money, so I ate better, AND I lost no weight for doing it.
For a myriad of reasons, the family sitting down to a meal together is mostly a thing of the past in the States. People don’t buy McDonald’s for their kids because it’s cheaper, they buy it because it’s all they have the time or energy to do after their longer-than-average work day, or in between jobs. Maybe they don’t care about their kids. Maybe they care immensely about their kids, and their kids are begging them for a Big Mac. There is no one answer as to why people give their kids fast food. I don’t even really find it to be all that much of a travesty that people feed their offspring fast food. I do think that we should be honest, though, when we complain about all of this stuff.
Cooking at home is cheaper than fast food. Sitting down to a meal as a unit can have positive effects (not talking about weight here at all). If people are going to complain, can’t they at least complain about it in the right way?