There is more to nutrition than just choices


As you will read this issue in a submission from our local health unit, March is designated as “nutrition month”. Focusing on nutrition is great, not just in March, but year-round. However, one looming problem stands in the way – eating healthy isn’t just about making better choices… eating healthy is expensive. 

Many readers will be familiar with documentaries such “Supersize Me” and “Food, Inc.” In the former, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock challenges himself to eat nothing but McDonalds for an entire month in order to measure the resulting health effects. Of course, the stunt has huge negative impacts on his health, although the same could be said for any consistent diet of junk, not just a consistent McDonalds diet. In “Food, Inc.”, the realities of food production as a multi-billion dollar industry are explored. 

These types of documentaries play on people’s interest in hard-hitting, “doom and gloom” stories. What always interested me the most about them, however, is the way these documentaries explore social and economic factors. I can’t remember which of the two aforementioned documentaries it was in, but one of them contained a brief segment in which a mother and father explained that they didn’t want to feed their two children McDonalds, but it’s all they can afford. Bear in mind that this would have been in the USA about 20 years ago, when a cheeseburger was going for $0.99 USD. I imagine that a modern cost comparison would show that the benefits of eating unhealthy can be advantageous even at today’s prices, considering that inflation has driven the cost of everything up.

Is a cheeseburger nutritious? Absolutely not. But for parents who are struggling financially, the only thing better than putting your kids to bed with full bellies, is doing it for just 99 cents. A comparable number of calories from fruits and veggies would cost much, much more. Mass marketed cheap calories exist because there is a demand for them from people who need to feed themselves and their families without breaking the bank. Take Kraft Dinner for example – the most widely sold packaged dry food in Canada. A prepared box of Kraft Dinner packs a punch of about 1,200 calories and can fit comfortably in an average size serving bowl. That’s the same number of calories found in 24 apples. Yikes! But at $1-2 per box, requiring only a few spoons of margarine and a splash of milk to prepare, it’s no wonder that people reach for this box of fatty, processed calories. Split that box in half and you have 600 calories each for two kids, all for that magic number of 99 cents (or less) per serving. 

So what can we do about this global nutrition problem? Probably not much! Perhaps with economic hardship constantly looming for a lot of families, governments should consider subsidizing healthy foods, instead of making plans to tax unhealthy ones. After all, many people choose unhealthy options because it’s all they can afford, so taxing these foods just seems cruel. What about a tax break? Save the receipts for those fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, and get a deduction at tax time. It’s one of many crazy ideas, but would any government ever implement it? A guy can dream. 


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