The Risks of the Dollar Menu

People who receive lower income are more likely to consume cheaper, processed foods, and have a higher chance of undergoing or receiving obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related health problems. Also, low-income families, who disburse a larger percentage of their salary on food, have been greatly impacted by the proliferation of cheap, unhealthy food. However, no matter the amount of income received, everyone should have the right to access healthy food to maintain a good lifestyle.

Funds from the federal government were given to U.S. farms to assist the wide instability of crop prices during the Great Depression. On the other hand, the federal government now spends about $35 billion every year funding crops in a complex system of endowment. Throughout the years, the prices of certain crops, including corn and soy, have decreased due to this contribution of money.

Low-income families, who spend most of their earnings on purchasing foods, have been greatly impacted by the rapid increase in numbers of cheap, but unhealthy foods. Due to their tight budget, the difference in the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables and foods funded by the government forces them to ingest more processed foods than people would normally consume. An unfortunate outcome is that income has become the most accurate predictor of the two conditions linked to diet – Type 2 diabetes and obesity.  As a matter of fact, diet-related chronic diseases are one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Many people believe that food choices are a personal responsibility, where what we eat and buy is a choice; however, others disagree and believe that healthy food choices should be available to everyone and not just to people who can afford it. As I stated before, expensive healthy foods have caused low-income families to resort to purchasing inexpensive unhealthy food and increased the risk of receiving diet-related chronic problems. Because of this, many people have started to question if something should be done about it.

The author, Michael Pollan states in the 2008 New York Times issue, “That’s what we’ve been heavily subsidizing, encouraging farmers to grow more of, and that’s what makes fast food so cheap. Meanwhile over in the produce section, the head of broccoli costs more than a fast-food hamburger. Why is that? We do very little to encourage farmers to grow what are called specialty crops, which is actual food you can eat,” extremely concerned that national policies are subsidizing the least healthful calories that we eat. He also questions, “What if we had a definition of food that said a food is something that doesn’t just have calories but has a certain amount of nutrients and micronutrients?” Farm subsidies have resulted in significantly lowering costs of the food industry and has caused them to be overproduced and more inexpensive than other crops, when the farm subsidy system should be organized differently to provide foods for everyone.

Not being able to eat healthy foods because it cannot be afforded is awfully unjust. Everyone should have the privilege to access food to sustain a good lifestyle.

~Rebecca Chang


  1. “How U.S. Agricultural Subsidies Harm the Environment, Taxpayers and The Poor.” National Center for Policy Analysis. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
  2. “Oz, Daphne. “Why Are Processed Foods Cheaper than Fresh Foods? – Eating and Society.” Sharecare. N.p., n.d. Web.
  3. Schlosser, Eric. “Access to Good, Healthy Food Should Be a Basic Human Right.” The Atlantic.    Atlantic Media Company, 22 Feb. 2012. Web.

Picture Credit: https://www.google.com/search?q=healthy+food&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiy6O-P7szTAhWGRyYKHUkMB1wQ_AUIBigB&biw=1256&bih=699#imgrc=OZD13MYHUSNaaM:

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The True Cost of Subsidized Foods

 

      As of 2012, “U.S health care costs now eat up 17.6 percent of GDP”1. Why do these costs comprise such an astronomical number? On the surface, our epidemics of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity seem to be mainly the products of overeating, fast food and junk food. While this is true, there is a diet that would do even more good than simply reducing food portions and eliminating fast food and junk food. Unrefined plant foods are excellent for the health and a whole foods plant based diet can even reverse diabetes and heart disease 2. However, the US government indirectly subsidizes meat, dairy and processed foods. Consequently, those who are poor, uninclined or unknowledgeable about how to eat an economical, healthy diet have a tendency to eat fast food and junk food instead of whole, unprocessed foods.  

        Diabetes is ravaging America. It is the seventh leading cause of death in this country 3. Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes. Fast food, junk food, meat, dairy and heavily processed foods all tend to promote weight gain 4. Unfortunately, these are the very foods that many Americans consume on a regular basis.  

         Another disease for which the above mentioned diet is a clear risk factor is heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women”. Some of the risk factors for this disease are “diabetes, overweight and obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity”5. Indeed, heart disease and the issues that cause it are very visible problems in America. In light of this state of ill health, partly caused by poor diet, the question should be asked; “Whyis unhealthy food so inexpensive and popular in America?” The unfortunate answer to this question is that these foods are made with subsidized ingredients. For example, the United States heavily subsidizes corn and soy crops which food companies process into junk food ingredients 6. The majority of this corn and soy is Genetically Modified to start with and is not entirely natural. In contrast, apples are the only fruit or vegetable that are significantly subsidized in America 6.

          A low fat whole foods plant based diet has been to produce wonders in improving and maintaining people’s health. Besides good health, another bonus to this diet is that it can be more cost effective than a meat based diet. “Dr. John McDougall has shown that you can eat a starch rich, plant based, whole foods diet for about 3 dollars a day ” 7.  What’s more, the average hospital stay costs $4,293. This is significantly more money than what a person on a whole foods plant based diet would spend on “extras” in one year! 7. 

    Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn is a physician who has discovered the wonders of a whole foods, plant based diet. He found that a low fat, whole foods plant based diet reversed coronary artery disease in his patients.. A 65 year old man, scheduled for open heart surgery, opted out of it and chose Dr. Esselstyn’s diet instead. Six months later, he was back to jogging at full strength and continued to do so until, at age 78, he decided to work out in a gym instead 8.

      With the dramatic health and economic benefits a whole food plant based diet already provides, it is a pity that few Americans are knowledgeable and/or willing to follow it. If the United States would subsidize more whole plant foods, more people would likely eat healthier diets. With better health, there would be fewer medical expenses, and America would be have not only better health, but less of a health care cost crises.

                                                                                                                         ~Naomi Olivier


  1. Health Costs: How the US Compares with Other Countries.( Kane, Jason) Accessed on 30 March 2017 at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/health-costs-how-the-us-compares-with-other-countries/

2.  Healthy Living ( Kaiser Permanente)Accessed on 25 April 2017 at  https://share.kaiserpermanente.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/The-Plant-Based-Diet-booklet.pdf

3.  Statistics About Diabetes (American Diabetes Association). Accessed on 5 April   2017 at http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics

4. Food and Diet :Beyond Willpower: Diet Quality and Quantity Matter (Harvard: T.C Chan School of Public Health) Accessed on 25 April 2017 at https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/diet-and-weight/

Sorry Dr Atkins, eating LESS meat is the way to lose weight, results of five-year study show (Bentley, Paul) Accessed on 25 April 2017 at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1296727/Sorry-Dr-Atkins-eating-LESS-meat-way-lose-weight-results-year-study-show.html

5. Heart Disease (Healthline) Accessed on 5 April 2017 at  http://www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease-infographic

6. U.S. Junk Food Subsidies Since 1995 Equal To Cost Of Nearly 52 Billion Twinkies: Study ( Fairchild, Caroline) Accessed on 4 April 2017 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/16/government-subsidies-junk-food_n_3600046.html

How Billions In Tax Dollars Subsidize The Junk Food Industry (Pianin, Eric) Accessed on 14 April 2017 at http://www.businessinsider.com/billions-in-tax-dollars-subsidize-the-junk-food-industry-2012-7

7. Top 7 Genetically Modified Crops  (Margie, Kelly) Accessed on 14 April 2017 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margie-kelly/genetically-modified-food_b_2039455.html

8..Cheap or Expensive? The REAL Truth About Plant-Based Diets (Oliviera, Rozanne) Accessed on 28 March 2017 at  http://ucdintegrativemedicine.com/2015/03/cheap-or-expensive-the-real-truth-about-plant-based-diets/#gs.08b_oXE

9.. Success Stories Accessed on 7 April 2017 at http://www.dresselstyn.com/site/success-stories/

Figure of whole foods https://lifetidesblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/xlviii-why-i-stopped-eating-animals/

 

 

   

 

Escaping the Dollar Menu

My latest English assignment was to write an essay on the topic of sustainability in response to a chapter from the film Food Inc.,. The chapter that I chose was titled “The Dollar Menu”, which discussed the concept of subsidized crops- the food industry’s newest, cheapest, jewel. Subsidized crops, which don’t hold all of the nutrients that people need, are mass produced in such a way that allows the products they’re transformed into to be cheaper than ever. Subsidized crops are often the main ingredient in unhealthy options such as fast food, sodas, and snacks. While they’ve become the virtual “dollar menu” of today, fresh, organic, produce is priced much higher in comparison.

In addition, recent developments in genetic modifications have also allowed food industry giants to mass produce white meat. Chickens now develop in nearly half the time that they would some years ago, and can barely stand because of the weight of their own breasts. Faster mass production enabled by subsidized crops and genetic modification helps drive down the price of these unhealthy products, selling more at a cheaper rate. The same industry giants seem to care much more about slaughtering and selling as fast as possible than any idea of sustainability. The same companies also do not seem to be concerned that their products lead to diet-related illnesses, such as the diabetes in the father of the family that Food Inc. interviewed.

The greed of these food companies has destroyed the bodily sustainability of low income families who have only enough money to partake in the “gift of ‘The Dollar Menu’” everyday. The gap between fresh produce of the organics store and America’s famous dollar menu came as quite a shock to me when I first arrived at Southern in August. Being from a sub-tropical island where things such as aloe and avocados have never held a price to me, I was quite surprised to witness my roommate purchase both of these items at the grocery store for more than the cost of a McDonalds cheeseburger. In my home country, although these things are sold in grocery stores, everyone has the choice to instead go outdoors and pick them for free. At first, I thought it a shame that low income Americans have no choice but to partake of the unhealthy quick-meals. As I continued to watch the interview with the diabetic dad, I realized that, though it is more difficult, Americans do have a choice. An article by StraightHealth[1] states,

“Part of the problem with healthy foods being so “expensive” is the definition of price. Healthy foods are higher in nutrients and satisfy you for a much longer period of time. A better way to measure the price of food is to look at price/nutrient or price/satiety ratios. If you look at these comparisons, the price is not so different”.

While the sacrifice to purchase these organics may be expensive- is it any more expensive than future diabetes medication? Each of us must make this decision- before “The Dollar Menu” proceeds to make it for us.

-Mish Hughes

1.  Bendor, Ken. “Why are healthy foods expensive?” Straight Health.        http://straighthealth.com/pages/qna/healthyfoodexpensive.html.

2. Fig 1: Fast Food vs Healthy Produce. https://www.dherbs.com/articles/featured-articles/unk-food-makes-our-brains-less-adaptable/

The Dollar Menu and Its Risks

Homemade Burger

Fast foods and processed foods are a big part of American lifestyles today. Fast and processed foods are easily accessible and affordable which is why they maintain their popularity. However, only a few consumers are fully aware of the contents that are in those foods. Because fast food and processed foods are cheaper than healthy foods, they are more affordable for low-income Americans. However, they are negatively affected by the processed foods over time. Every American should have the right to know what exactly is in their food and have the right to access healthy food without worrying about costs in order to avoid health issues such as obesity and diabetes.

Many nutritional professionals believe that all Americans, regardless of income, have equal access to a nutritious diet of whole grains, lean meats, and fresh vegetables and fruit. In reality, food prices pose a significant barrier for many consumers who are trying to balance good nutrition with affordability. “When incomes drop and family budgets shrink, food choices shift toward cheaper but more energy-dense foods. The first items dropped are usually healthier foods – high-quality proteins, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Low cost energy-rich starches, added sugars, and vegetable fats represent the cheapest way to fill hungry stomachs.”¹

A consequence of regular and habitual consumption of these types of food is potential of chronic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. In fact, diet-related chronic diseases are one of the leading causes of death in the United States and they tend to greater affect those having low income. “Low-income [Americans] tend to have diets that promote obesity, morbidity, and premature mortality, are low in fruits and vegetables, and are high in processed and fast foods.”²

Sustainability is the capacity to endure or continue. According to the Weisser essay on sustainability, “if a thing or an activity is sustainable, it can be reused, recycled, or repeated in some way because it has not exhausted all of the resources or energy required to create it.” Based on this definition of sustainability, fast and processed foods are not sustainable at all. All ingredients that are put into fast and processed foods are not used appropriately to increase the nutritional value of the foods. Instead, they are used to increase the energy put into the food but at the same time are used to decrease its nutritional value because of all the negative counter-effects such as higher risk of diet-related chronic diseases.

In order to increase sustainability related to the issue of food, which is a necessity in maintaining life, each and every American should know exactly what is in their food and should have the access to healthier food choices that they can afford. A way to solve this problem is nutrition profiling. “Nutrient profiling involves systematically ranking or classifying foods on the basis of nutrient content, through calculation of key nutrient content, relative to dietary energy. Nutrient-rich foods provide relatively more nutrients than calories.”¹

When every American gain access and the right of way to healthy foods, there will be an increase in sustainability.

Hyunji Park


1. Drewnowski, Adam, and Petra Eichelsdoerfer. “Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet?” Nutrition today. November 2010. Accessed April 20, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2847733/.

2. Lucan, Sean C., Frances K. Barg, and Judith A. Long. “Promoters and Barriers to Fruit, Vegetable, and Fast-Food Consumption Among Urban, Low-Income African Americans—A Qualitative Approach.” American Journal of Public Health. April 2010. Accessed April 20, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2836356/.

Picture credits: http://topreviewtracking.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Dollarphotoclub_61600915.jpg

 

Quality over Quantity

In terms of producing food, the focus has shifted towards having the mindset of quantity over quality. This mindset is what drives mass production companies. It seems as the quantity of food goes up, quality has gone down within these companies. Mass production companies have its advantages, but the negative aspects of this type of producing greatly outweighs the benefits.

Mass production has been beneficial in this busy life. Food that has been processed last longer and does not spoil as easily as natural foods. Storing, packing, and transporting becomes easier after it has been modified to be less perishable (“The Benefits and Drawbacks of Food Manufacturing”). A premade or packaged meal is quicker and more convenient than spending an abundant amount of time prepping and cooking a meal (Thorne).

Small farms are being run out of business because of the FASM Act that was passed. This places a burden on small farmers who can’t afford the costs (Collins). Eventually they will struggle with payments and will run out of business. Small local farms are essential in healthy food production because they increase the availability of locally grown food that has been minimally processed (Collins). Quality of labor is also significantly better in small farms since small farms are usually owned by families.

The main focus of large companies is to produce large amounts of food efficiently and to keep the costs of production low. The problem with this is that because they have a certain mindset, they will go about whatever ways to fulfill their goal. After all, the food company industry is a business and businesses are all about profit. This causes them to take shortcuts which potentially could include using lower quality product, paying lower wages to increase profit, and even using more chemicals (Food, Inc). For example, animals raised in factory farms are fed the cheapest possible feeds and grains to keep the production cost low (Lipman). When an individual consumes processed animal meat, the individual is also receiving a serving of the animal’s questionable diet.

Mass production puts food that is produced at risk of being contaminated with chemicals or even bacteria. One reason why chemicals are often utilized is to make sure all the food tastes the same. Sick animals are given chemical additives and antibiotics which in turn enters the system of a consumer (Lipman). Although measures are taken to reduce the number of bacteria found in meat, there can still be some traces of bacteria found.

Mass production has changed the way our world functions. In today’s society, people are always busy. Having food that has been processed to last longer and having ready-made meals has been very helpful. With the positive benefits, there is also always a negative aspect. Local small farms are being run out of business, the quality of food is not at its highest, and traces of bacteria and chemicals being found in the processed foods are just a few of the numerous negative aspects of mass production. It is important for us to know where our food comes from and to know that the quality of our food is more important than the quantity of food. Despite all the positive aspects of mass production, the negative greatly outweigh the positive.

Stephanie Trinidad


Lipman, Dr. Frank. “FOOD FOR NAUGHT: 5 Reasons To Kick Mass-Produced Meats Off Your Plate.” Be Well. July 23, 2013. Accessed April 20, 2017.