Good Food Is Not (Only) a Class Issue

If current trends continue, 1 out of 3 Americans will get type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. This includes 1 out of 2 African Americans and Latinos. The facts are compelling and clear:

* People in poor areas often do not have access to fresh food.
* Good food often costs more money.
* Fast food restaurants target minority groups with their advertising dollars.

But what about the rest of us? What about those who can afford good food but choose not to buy it? Why do we overwhelmingly, consistently make poor food choices for ourselves and our kids, even when we know better? Here are a few ideas:

Good food costs more.

On the surface, we tend to accept this as a truism, a simple fact: local and organic food costs more than industrial food. Want evidence? There's loads:

* Grass fed beef costs $1 - $5 more than industrially raised beef per pound.
* Organic apples cost between $0.50 and $1.50 more than industrially grown apples per pound.
* Organic, fair-trade bananas often cost double what industrially grown bananas cost.

But why do families who can afford good food choose not to buy it? Joel Salatin says:

When it comes to most things, we believe we get what we pay for. Shoes, clothes, cars... but when it comes to food, we don't believe that. Most of us have a more intimate relationship with our hair cutter than we do with our farmer.

We've come to think of cheap food as our right, and the idea of paying more when we could pay less seems silly, almost un-American. We're saving our money for the things we think are really important, like cable TV and betting on football games.

But cheap food is a fallacy: it does not exist. When we choose to purchase industrially grown vegetables laden with pesticides, corn fed beef devoid of its nutritional value, and pork raised near manure lagoons, we pay the price. Health care costs skyrocket (the system is overwhelmed with type-2 diabetics and other obesity-related patients) as does the cost of cleaning up the environmental messes we make.

Simply put: we can pay a fair price for our food now, or we can pay a lot more for our health and environmental safety later.

Bad food tastes great.

Most Americans think a Big Mac tastes better than a turkey sandwich, and the fat, sugar, salt, and infused flavors in that Big Mac are meant to keep it that way.

Why do we feed our kids soda with their lunch? Why do we choose a Whopper instead of a salad? Why do we knowingly feed ourselves and our families food that is not good for us? Why do we cling to the bold health claims on the sides of cereal boxes that we know to be untrue? Because it tastes good! And also because...

Good food takes time.

This is true on multiple levels. Good food -- pasture-raised, pesticide-free, grass-fed food -- often grows more slowly than industrially raised food. Grass fed cattle need extra months to put on weight, for example.

And good food takes time to prepare: It takes time to wash and cut carrots, to season and grill fish, to find a recipe, buy ingredients, and cook a good meal. It takes time to eat with a knife and fork.

Many of us have decided that this is time we don't have. We've prioritized our life activities, and food didn't made the cut. We've decided that food is what we eat in the car between work and soccer practice, rather than something for which we make time.

We hate to deprive ourselves.

We work hard, and we deserve a treat. Many of us have been told what to do all day at work. We've been deprived of sunlight, of a flexible schedule, of meaningful work, of exercise, of all sorts of things that make us feel good and human.

Bad food gives us the illusion of control, and it makes us feel good right away. Guilt and health concerns may come later, but right now we need a treat.

We hate to deprive our kids.

When the marketing teams hit their mark, our kids want sugar cereal, chocolate milk, ice cream, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets. But why do we give it to them when we can afford better food choices?

Time-pressed, stressed-out parents know the answer: it's hard to say no to our kids. There are all sorts of reasons for this, including:

* We don't like to fight
* We don't want to disappoint our kids
* Negotiating with kids is irritating and time-consuming

So, despite the fact that we know the food lacks nutrients -- and that we can afford much, much better -- we continue to feed our kids the junk they demand.

This doesn't make us bad parents, does it? It's not like our kids are asking for cigarettes or coffee, right? We'd definitely draw the line there. We're not feeding them things that are unsafe, are we?

Bad food is just as safe as good food.

Okay, I'll admit it: I don't believe this at all. When we consume animals raised in feedlots, we consume the antibiotics that they consumed, increasing our own resistance to antibodies. When we eat apples grown with pesticides, we consume the pesticides they are covered in. When we eat beef that has been contaminated with feces, we consume feces.

Although conclusive results are hard to come by, several studies have shown that organic food grown in rich soil contains more nutrients than food raised on industrial farms. This makes intuitive sense: good soil begets good food. And eating organic produce means we can eat the peel without ingesting bonus pesticides.

In this context, we must also consider the health and safety of our communities and our environment. Good food is produced for a fair price, and does not take more from the earth than it gives back. Good food nourishes our bodies, our minds, our communities, and our planet. Good food doesn't pretend to cost less in the short-term, and then extract its toll on our health and our land over time. Isn't it worth a couple of extra bucks?

Summing Things Up

The issues of racism and classism in our food system are compelling and infuriating. These issues need to be addressed on a daily basis by our communities and our government. But there are many other issues affecting our country's ability to promote the health of our bodies and our planet as well. Understanding why those of us who can afford good food choose not to buy and prepare it can help us understand the cultural and social roots of the problem. And then, maybe, we can start to fix it.