By now, many of you have no doubt heard about the boycott of Whole Foods, launched by Single Payer Action in response to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Whole Food CEO John Mackey. I do agree that there are parts of this article that are aggravating (I made a smart-assed remark on Facebook about him saying “let them eat arugula”). His argument about preventing disease through good eating habits has some merit, but it overlooks a major reason why folks on low incomes don’t eat nutritious foods — they’re too expensive.
The recent film, Food, Inc., has an excellent segment about a low-income Hispanic family who find it cheaper to buy dollar meals at McDonalds than to buy fruits and vegetables at the local supermarket. Not surprisingly, two family members have diabetes. Since they lack health insurance, they have to choose between medication and food (and other necessities). So, the cycle worsens. The film also nicely explains how agricultural policies have ensured that fattening foods are cheaper than healthy ones.
Yet the film doesn’t offer many solutions as to how to make healthy, locally grown foods more affordable (okay it does talk about Walmart selling organic foods, but that doesn’t really tackle the issue at hand). Neither does the Whole Foods boycott site. They offer alternative places to shop, but they don’t address the issue of cost.
I don’t shop at Whole Foods because it’s too expensive (hence the epithet “Whole Paycheck”) and a lot of their stuff is trucked in from large organic megafarms, not local producers. I’m happy to support local farmers — many are literally my neighbors — but the price is significantly higher than the supermarket. I’m fortunate to have a well-paying, tenured job, but what about those on fixed incomes? Yes, low income people need affordable health insurance, but they also need the ability to buy wholesome food.
I shop at Trader Joe’s. They have nutritious food for much less than other places. I usually go every week or two and it only costs me $20-30 for one or two weeks worth of groceries. Imho? It’s possible to spend as little money on nutritious food as on junk. Fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, etc–it’s possible to buy these cheaper than other items and to get many more meals out of them than junk. In the summer, my parents eat only exclusively from things they find at the local farmer’s market. By the end of the summer, I was sick to death of eating the exact same things day after day growing up, but it’s cheap. I think one of the bigger problems with this entire situation is the lack of knowledge about options and the inability to cook. It amazes me how many people around my age can’t cook–thus, they live off of fast food and tv dinners, even after I’ve offered to teach them how to cook. If they don’t realize how bad these foods are for them or that they can make their own meals even cheaper, they’re never going to change because the way they’re living right now is easier.
You should watch “King Corn.” It’s a documentary about these two men who travel to Iowa to grow an acre of corn and follow it into the food system. It’s very informative, and you can stream it on netflix.