Thursday, September 29, 2011

SOLE on SNAP: Some background reading.


I mentioned in my first SOLE on SNAP post, that I had had enough when I read about a new study that found that meeting the recommendations of would be more expensive. For the past couple years, I just get disappointed when I hear people say the food revolution is elitist. Or that eating healthy is just too expensive. Such statements conjure up images of an urbanite trolling around town in a Range Rover to the specialty butcher shop to get some grass fed organic lamb meat for a bazillion dollars per pound. From where I sit, that just isn't accurate.

I was doing some searches about the topic of eating healthier being more expensive. I think those are the exact words I used in the search, and I got a ton of hits.

This one is just fraught with contractions in its message:
First, the headline proclaims "Healthy eating adds $380 to yearly grocery bill"!!!! (Exclamations are mine...) However, buried down at the bottom, the article does talk about the nutrient that will cost this $380 to bring up to the recommendations is potassium. And that the cost is likely so high because people assume the only way to get more potassium is to eat a lot of fruits and veggies. This is true. Fruits and veggies are extremely high in potassium, and just about everyone could benefit from adding more fuits and veggies to their diet. The article does point out that there could be more cost effective ways to get potassium in one's diet, but doesn't mention what those sources might be.

I have one for ya. Coffee.

When I got the idea to do this project after I read about the study, I started tracking my own potassium intake. I was surprised to find out that two cups of coffee, which is what I drink on an average day, has 261 grams. This is like eating half a piece of fruit. Apparently the government's guidelines recommend hitting 3,500 grams of potassium every day. This is no doubt a challenge for some. But my point is that there are some unexpected ways to get potassium. I'm not advocating drinking a whole pot of coffee just to hit the 3,500, but you don't need to be eating fruit salad at every meal either. If you load up on one kind of food just to get a specific nutrient, you'll be lacking in another. The idea is to eat a balanced diet that gives you adequate amounts of all the necessary nutriets.

And, what risk does a potassium deficiency pose anyway? It's not like a huge crisis you are hearing about on the news: The Great American Potassium Deficiency. I suspect its not terribly threatening, or more food would be fortified with potassium, like so many other nutrients. Bing tells me that more often than not, there are no symptoms. A potassium deficiency can contribute to high blood pressure, however, but so can stress and excessive sodium. Also, symptoms can include cramps, constipation, fatigue and irritability. In most cases, these aren't life threatening.

My search for news articles about the study seems to give me hits of the same AP story over and over again, which ran on August 4, 2011. However, the topic goes back a few years.

Here is a story from 2008 that points out that eating healthier is more expensive than eating junk food.

Here is a story from 2007, that cites a University of Washington study that tracked the prices of food and found that healthy food is more expensive than junk food:

The point I'm trying to drive home here is that, yes, SOME healthy food is more expensive than junk food. I am not even quantifing the hidden costs or indirect costs (I'll get into that some other time) of health care costs associated with a poor diet and environmental costs associated with the commercial production of subsidy crops that eventually become most junk food products. I'm talking straight price verses price. But I speculate that the flaw in the studies is that they are simply looking at the prices of these foods in the grocery store at any given time.

Sure, if you go to the grocery store in August and compare the cost of fresh asparagus (flown from Argentina) and a package of snack cakes ounce for ounce, obviously, the asparagus is going to be substantially more. But what if you went to a farmers market in September and bought a box of bushel cucumbers for $5 (like I did) and compared it to the cost of a bag of chips ounce for ounce? I think there's no question the cucumbers are cheaper and you get A LOT more traction out of those than you do a bag of chips. If you eat a suggested serving size of the chips everyday, how long does that bag of chips last? A week, maybe? But you could eat a fresh cucumber every day for a week as a snack instead, and STILL have more than enough left over to make a batch of pickles, that would last you months. You could literally eat on those cucumbers for the next six months.

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