Of unicorns and calories. Or perpetrating myths.

1 12 2011

It seems to me that lately there is a new wave of paranoid articles about how poor people are forced to eat fast food because healthy food is so expensive. I find it really disturbing on many levels, especially the one that perpetrates the myth that people are forced to eat junk food, making people of lower incomes believe that they have no alternative.

Unicorn stock by RadioPooh

When I moved to US, I would hang around a lot with the people at the lab and they would often suggest to go have lunch at McDonald’s, I would tag along and soon I realized that I was going broke. It didn’t take long to see that eating out regularly was damaging my budget and that no matter how hard I tried there was no way I could keep up with their outings (besides how sick I was constantly feeling). I made a push for cooking at home, busy as I was in grad school, and keep things simple: some chicken, rice or noodles, some veggies and fruits. And it became very clear to me that there really was no way I could spend that much money cooking at home!

One of the things that I find very interesting about a lot of these articles is that they talk about “price per calorie”, as if the only thing you need in life was your calories, and packing up calories was a good thing. What about nutrients? What about vitamins and minerals? Who has determined that the unit of measurement for food has to be the calorie?

Because, you know, if what you want is to eat a bunch of cheap calories you can go buy a bag of sugar and eat it through the week. Empty calories are not a good choice, sure you can eat ~1,000 calories (or more!) in one meal at a fast food chain and feel satisfied…. for how long? a couple of hours? You will have to go back and eat some more sooner than you would if you would have eaten some whole grains and some meat with a serving of veggies (because complex carbohydrates and protein take longer to digest and make you feel fuller longer). That would make you come back for another purchase before the day is over, and again.

When you have eaten in two meals more calories than what you should have eaten in your whole day, you are going to start suffering health problems. These health problems will lead to spending money, more money you can imagine spending on food.

You can probably take a couple of hours a week and cook healthy meals in the weekend and mid-week, have the fridge stored and ready to go and eat well, feel satisfied for longer, and all this for much less than what it costs to eat fast food. Oh, yes, the calories will be less too… but that is a good thing in my book. The average American consumes more calories than what (s)he should, partially because there is a lack of understanding on how many calories a person with a certain level of activity should consume. I keep hearing 2000 per day. A woman my age, my size, with my level of activity should consume 1300-1500 calories per day to maintain her weight. That puts me 500 calories below the ‘standard’. And a lot of people are consuming much more than that! Especially because the serving sizes of a lot of our snack food are ridiculous (10 chips! really?)

Chicken thighs go for about $1 a pound where I live (it was awesome in Louisiana, with sales for $1 a pound of chicken breast!), a bag of rice is a bit more than $1 and will feed you several meals, add some frozen vegetables for $1 a bag when they are on special, and really, you cannot tell me that you would be better off eating at Wendy’s. It does take some extra work… no, wait… it doesn’t, I’m lying. It is faster to shove the chicken in the oven and let it sit there for two hours than driving to a fast food place, stand in line and order your meal. It just takes some planning. Give it a try. Your body will thank you.




4 responses

1 12 2011

I totally agree Coty! You are right on. We spend so much less when we bring our lunch and its so much healthier. Great post!

8 12 2011

Thank you Julia! And home made food tastes so good too! I always loved the way Steve and Laura would fill the fridge at the break room and eat all those freshly made salads with delicious vinaigrettes!

1 12 2011
Fire Oak Studio

I agree with you, Coty. My thought is that people (poor or not) eat junk food for comfort. It is loaded with sodium enhancing any flavor it has, so people think it tastes good. It really has nothing to do with money, unless we are fooling ourselves.

8 12 2011

We are fooling ourselves. 🙂

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