I’ve been meaning to dissect this bit about the affordability of fast food vs healthy food. (Thanks, John, for the link.) This “$20 Food Showdown” is a comparison of fast food to “healthy”* food. They take a fast food or frozen “junk food” meal for a certain price, then compare it to a random pile of “healthy” food for the same price.
First up, a Big Mac value meal for four people, as compared to a random assortment that includes a package of meatless burgers, a pound of ground beef, cashews, strawberries, 10 pounds of potatoes, orange juice, frozen veggies, and dried pinto beans.
The major difference that jumps out at me between the two is that, yes, the “healthy” pile contains a lot more food. But the “junk food” is an actual meal for four people. You have entrees, sides, and beverages that generally go together. I mean, I like my OJ as much as the next girl, but I don’t think it goes with burgers. The food items don’t seem to go together either. We have burgers but no buns or condiments, then some random veggies and legumes.
Other piles are even more bizarre. The “substitution” for a large Domino’s pizza and breadsticks is a package of tilapia, one and a quarter pounds of Italian sausage, some ground turkey, peanut butter, green tea, and Kashi crackers. Really, guys? Really? What am I supposed to do with that?
Okay, I probably *could* make a meal out of that weird assortment of food. But that’s because I have reasonably stocked cupboards, including dry goods, cooking oil, and every spice you could ever want plus some I never use. I also watch entirely too much Chopped, where the whole challenge is “here’s a random bunch of ingredients and 30 minutes, go make something with it.”
This article tries to suggest that everyone can eat “healthy” on any budget, but it sets up a laughably false comparison. Not only is the “junk” side of the comparison mostly restaurant and convenience food (of course they cost more, you’re paying someone else to cook it!) but the “healthy” side doesn’t even include the things you’d need to cook them. Even assuming you have all the kitchen gear you need, there are no herbs and spices, no salt or pepper, no butter or oil or cooking spray. Add those in, and the cost goes up.
Also, if they want to beat the “everyone should cook more” drum, it should be acknowledged that their target audience contains a lot of inexperienced cooks. (The people who cook all the time aren’t the ones they’re railing against for ordering bad, evil takeout, right?) An experienced cook can experiment with random things and usually turn out something decent. But a novice cook, particularly one who isn’t all that confident in their cooking skills, needs recipes, which they often have to follow exactly. If you’re cooking strictly by the book, the fact that you can buy a large quantity of food if you grab whatever assorted mishmash is on sale–Not. Helpful.
This is the thing that irritates me every time people get preachy about how cheap and easy it is to cook nutritious meals for yourself all the time. There’s lots of assumptions made that conveniently ignore the time, effort, and money these things really take. I’m all for helping people who want to cook more do so, and tips for food-shopping on a budget are great, but I’m not in favor of being sanctimonious about it (which the opening two paragraphs really are). I also think that if you need to set up heavily skewed “comparisons” to prove your point, then you may need to re-evaluate your premise.
I would’ve loved to see a cost comparison of like to like. Homemade pizza or burgers and fries, versus their fast food counterparts. I know a couple friends have given up on making pizza because ordering it is cheaper, at least for them. (It’s probably heavily dependent on where you shop and whether the pizza places near you have good deals going.)
I know, this is a little fluff article on a diet site. I shouldn’t expect evenhanded, rigorous analysis. But I would kind of like to see comparisons that have some basis in realism. In Kelly’s Perfect Universe, writers would be made to read If Only Poor People Understood Nutrition before going on about how easy it is to eat healthy on a budget.
*Yes, I will be putting “healthy” in scare quotes throughout this entry. They presumably use healthy to mean low in calories, fat, sugar and/or salt. This being a weight-loss site, presumably they also mean “conducive to weight loss” (which, for many people, might mean “made with real unicorn”). Based on their selections, they might also mean whole or minimally processed foods. I’m not a fan of demonizing or glorifying specific foods, so those quotes are a reminder that SparkPeople’s definition of healthy food is not some universal rule handed down from on high. Same thing for “junk food.” Chocolate, broccoli, pizza, and brown rice are all part of a balanced diet–and depending on your own food tolerances, allergies, or other health quirks, any of them could be great for you or terrible for you.