Yesterday’s New York Times carried an article on the relative cost of fast food and fresh, home-prepared food. The article challenges the notion that junk food is cheaper than fresh, using fast food as its comparison.
This is just plain wrong. 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. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)
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. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)
This is cheating a little bit, given that the actual poor don’t really go out that often, even to McDonald’s. A better comparison would have been prepared and unprepared grocery food. The numbers would have been closer as well, though I’m not sure which food would have come out ahead on average.
When Jennifer Ouellette linked to the article, someone (with time to comment but not to read, apparently) asked whether the article addressed time poverty. Another person noted that she can make healthy food for her kids in 20 minutes. She also keeps fresh fruit around for snacking and pushes the most perishable fruit on the kids first so it doesn’t go bad.
I’ll get to the problem with applying that perspective to poverty shortly, but I’d also like to point out that the Times made a similar mistake in the article.