Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Joy of Not Eating Crap

Mark Bittman penned an interesting Op-Ed piece in the New York Times this weekend about how junk food really isn't cheaper than "real food."
In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four -- for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas -- costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28...
In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. 
I'm not saying that the way we eat in our house is cheap. But as Bittman points out, it's not a zero-sum game. Just because your budget might not allow you to splurge on organic everything at Whole Paycheck doesn't mean you're stuck with Pop Tarts and Dr. Pepper. After all, "the alternative to soda is water, and the alternative to junk food is not grass-fed beef and greens from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than junk food." 

So why are people still gorging on junk food? Well, for one, it's engineered to be tasty as hell. The hyper-palatability of highly processed foods is likely a key reason we've become a society of blobby junk food addicts.

But there's another reason we eat this crap: It's incredibly convenient. Instant gratification can be achieved in the time it takes to place an order for pizza on the phone, or to nuke a TV dinner. In a way, "real food" can seem more expensive because it requires an investment of time to buy ingredients and ACTUALLY COOK SOMETHING.

Still, grocery shopping and kitchen time is deemed a "cost" because cooking itself is seen as a chore.
The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch. “People really are stressed out with all that they have to do, and they don’t want to cook,” says Julie Guthman, associate professor of community studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of the forthcoming “Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitalism.” “Their reaction is, ‘Let me enjoy what I want to eat, and stop telling me what to do.’ 
So what can be done to change this? Bittman offers suggestions, but here's my recommended starting point:

Instead of turning on Two & A Half Men or updating your Facebook status, spend some quality time in your kitchen. Make cooking a passion, not a chore. Take pleasure out of making food. Teach others to do the same. And definitely make someone else wash the dishes.