Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

A Foodie Discussion: Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

Sep 27, 2011 05:43PM ● By Anonymous
Top excuses for the high consumption of quick, but unhealthy food include 1) I don't have time to cook. 2) I don't like to cook. 3) It's cheaper to buy fast food/convenience food than real, whole foods.

That last excuse, says Mark Bittman in a fascinating op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, is busted.

It's always been difficult for me to comprehend the first two excuses -- Clearly, I love to cook, and I always feel like if you making cooking food at home a priority, you can always find time. However, I've never really been able to argue with the idea that fast food is cheaper, particularly when I deal with rising food prices and a strict weekly grocery budget (that I nearly always go over, much to the chagrin of my husband). When you can get a burger for $1 at McDonald's (or any other fast-food establishment), it is more expensive to buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts. 

But here's what Bittman has to say:

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!)

He goes on to say that you can serve roasted chicken with vegetables, a salad, and milk for $14 or rice and beans with bacon, green peppers, and onions for $9. 

He also combats the arguments that people don't have time to cook (the average American watches 1.5 hours of television per day -- You could what I do and put Netflix on in the background while you cook and clean the kitchen! I'm currently on season 2 of "Parks and Recreation"), as well as the idea that people don't have access to healthy food or transportation. 

Bittman puts it better than I ever could:

Real cultural changes are needed to turn this around. Somehow, no-nonsense cooking and eating — roasting a chicken, making a grilled cheese sandwich, scrambling an egg, tossing a salad — must become popular again, and valued not just by hipsters in Brooklyn or locavores in Berkeley. The smart campaign is not to get McDonald’s to serve better food but to get people to see cooking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.

The comments section of the article is just as interesting as the article itself, particularly the person who says "I'm from the camp of 'pay your grocer, not your doctor,'" citing the real possibility that cheaper food now will lead to higher medical costs later.

Thoughts? Please share your opinion in the comments section.