High cost of healthy eating hurts poor, workers

Prices of nutrient-dense foods increase faster

August 25, 2011
While the price of all food has gone up, the price of healthy, nutrient-dense foods has gone up faster.

As data continues to point towards a decline in the health of people in the United States, it has become clear that a healthy diet and consistent physical activity has a positive impact on health.

Many organizations, politicians and even First Lady Michelle Obama have come out in support of a healthier diet, consisting of more fruits and vegetables on people's plates, instead of the fatty foods many are used to. However, as many poor and working families have found out, eating healthier is not as easy as just putting more vegetables on your plate, because the price of vegetables, especially organic vegetables, is higher than less nutrient-filled foods.

While all food prices rose substantially since 2004, the price of the most nutrient-dense foods has risen the fastest according to Pablo Monsivais, research scientist at the University of Washington's Center for Public Health Nutrition. Nutrient-dense foods are those that deliver more nutrients per calorie, includingwhole grains, lean meats, low fat dairy products, vegetables and fruits.

The study focused on supermarkets in the Seattle area. They tracked the cost of roughly 380 food items over the course of four years. They visited Safeway, QFC and Albertsons stores to document how the prices fluctuated, finding a 30 percent hike in the price of nutrient-dense foods while less nutritious foods increased 16 percent.

That the price of the healthiest foods increased the fastest makes a bad situation even worse. In addition to the higher cost of healthier foods in supermarkets, fast food restaurants, which many poor working families resort to in their quest to ‘stretch a dollar,’ offer few or no healthier options. This attack on poor working communities needs to be confronted.

Obesity-linked illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes are rampant in the United States and are especially prevalent in poor, working-class communities. Many of these diseases previously only found in adults are now common in children. Promoting a healthier lifestyle is a must, but we also need to demand that the focus of government subsidies be nutrient-filled foods in order to make them accessible to all communities, not just the more affluent ones.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributes between $10 billion and $30 billion in cash subsidies to farmers and owners of farmland each year. The particular amount depends on market prices for crops, the level of disaster payments and other factors. More than 90 percent of agriculture subsidies go to farmers of five crops—wheat, corn, soybeans, rice and cotton. More than 800,000 farmers and landowners receive subsidies, but the payments are heavily tilted toward the largest producers.

In addition to routine cash subsidies, the USDA provides subsidized crop insurance, marketing support and other services to farm businesses. The USDA also performs extensive agricultural research and collects statistical data for the industry. These indirect subsidies and services cost taxpayers about $5 billion each year, putting total farm support at between $15 and $35 billion annually.

However, this money—workers’ tax dollars—is going into the pockets of big farm business, giving them an advantage over small farmers who produce vegetables and other crops that are not among the favored five crops.

Farm subsidies transfer the earnings of taxpayers to a small group of well-off farm businesses and landowners. Although policymakers love to discuss the plight of the small farmer, the bulk of federal farm subsidies go to the largest farms. For example, the largest 10 percent of recipients have received 72 percent of all subsidy payments in recent years.

Numerous large corporations and even wealthy celebrities receive farm subsidies because they are the owners of farmland. It is landowners, not tenant farmers or farm workers, who benefit from subsidies. And one does not even have to be the owner of farmland to receive subsidies: Since 2000 the USDA has paid $1.3 billion in farm subsidies to people who own land that is no longer used for farming.

For this reason, we must demand that our tax dollars be spent on supporting healthy foods and not the health of agribusiness. We must fight for a rational planned economy that prioritizes peoples’ health, making nutritient-dense foods a norm for all, not an option for the few. We must fight for socialism!

Content may be reprinted with credit to LiberationNews.org.

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