As anyone who has ever shopped at Whole Foods will suspect, a healthy diet of quality whole foods is more expensive than a diet laden with simple carbs and processed junk. But how much more expensive, exactly? The true price gap may surprise you; a recent study undertaken by Harvard University showed that, in high-income nations such as the United States, a healthy diet costs on average $1.50 more per person, per day.
“For 60 to 70 percent of Americans, $1.50 a day is not a big deal,” notes the study author. Of course, that leaves 30-40% of the population for whom the extra $547 per year is at least a deterrent, if not a prohibitive expense, even though the long-term cost of poor health is likely to be greater. How can we, as individuals and as a nation, take steps to bridge this gap?
One key idea suggested by the Harvard study is legislation making junk food less cheap and healthy food less expensive-thus putting better options on the table for those for whom cost is a top priority. One way to achieve this would be to tax ‘junk’ or processed foods, a measure which could then fund subsidies on fresh fruits and vegetables. A similar initiative has been used in several countries to encourage citizens to quit or cut back on smoking, with impressive results.
Restructuring of Industry
Part of the problem, noted in Harvard Magazine, is that our global food production systems have been designed for the mass production of a few key food staples like wheat, rice and soy. These ingredients are very cheap and have a long shelf life when processed. Although this system has served us well in the past by providing cheap calories that are safe from spoilage and contamination, with increasing obesity rates and diet-related health concerns continually on the rise, it may be time to re-gear the system towards the mass-production of whole, fresh foods.
Individual Cost-Cutting Measures
While we lobby for such changes, there are a few simple measures that individuals and families can take to bridge the cost gap between a highly processed and healthy diet. If you have a local farmer’s market or produce co-op, cutting out the middleman (retail food stores) can save considerable money on the average grocery bill. For pantry items, avail yourself of discount online health food stores, coupon code offers, and bulk co-operatives. Those with space for an urban garden-even if it’s just a few pots-can save hundreds by growing highly productive plants like herbs, lettuce, chard, and tomatoes. Small measures such as these are growing in popularity, as informed consumers seek to take health back into their own hands.