Investing in Health
Paying more for less food
A core benefit of modernization is the ability to get more for less. This is generally a thoroughly helpful development – who wouldn’t want to get more for their money? Efficiency gains in the economy have allowed more and more people access to a higher quality of life.
The production of food has equally participated in this trend. Between 1970 and 2014, per capita calorie consumption in the United States has increased by nearly 20%. During the same time, household spending on food decreased from 14% of total spending to less than 10%. In terms of their food, Americans really are getting more for less.
But here we must ask ourselves: Is it the quantity of food that I value, or is it the quality? Do I want to buy food for its calories, or for its nutrients? Most people would likely prefer the latter, but those values are at odds with the ‘eat more, pay less’ food economy that we live in.
Cheap food requires tradeoffs. The first tradeoff happens on the farm. In order to increase yields and streamline the food system, the modern industrial farming system has become one of monocultures. Corn, soy and wheat dominate our diets, and are grown with synthetic fertilizers and insecticides that eliminate important micronutrients while introducing harmful toxins.
The second tradeoff happens in food processing facilities. In order to allow refined foods to travel long distances and have a long shelf life, they must be rid of their components that are prone to rotting. Unfortunately, it is often these parts that provide the most nutrition. In processing wheat, the germ is removed so the starches of the endosperm can be ground separately. In doing so, the protein, B vitamins, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids that are present in the germ are discarded. This mindset has created two interesting problems: people now have to eat more calories in order to get the same amount of nutrients as a result of farming and processing practices. They also now have to eat more calories in order to feel full, since the fiber that previously made us feel full has been processed out.
Gladly, there are an increasing number of options out there that allow consumers to avoid eating purely from this industrialized system. In your local grocery store, you can always find the fresh produce so long as you bypass the ready-made frozen meals and the hundreds of snack food options. Many people have access to a local farmer’s market, where they can buy seasonal ingredients from local producers who farm responsibly.
Yes, eating and cooking in this way can be expensive – both in money and in time. But the consequences of ignoring these problems with our food can be even more costly. According to the USDA, about half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic disease. Health care spending has soared in treating these diseases, and they are the leading cause of premature death – approximately 678 thousand die annually.
With our food, we’ve been tricked into believing that we can get more for less. But in reality, we’re getting more of the bad and less of the good, with disastrous consequences for our collective health. We should instead be eating less in caloric terms, and paying more for quality, nutritious ingredients.
Following this mindset of cooking at home with nutritious ingredients that are carefully selected, we make a powerful statement of values. It shows that we value producers who prize the final quality of their product, and it shows that we value our own health and the health of those we feed.
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