So is real food really that expensive?

Seems the debate over Real Food versus Processed Food gets a lot of air time these days. Naturally, I read most posts, news feeds, articles and blogs on the matter. What strikes me as really odd is whenever the awful foods, (I mean the really awful junk that make up the ingredient list of the highly processed foods) are exposed, many people start bitching and complaining about how much it costs to eat healthy. Really???? Like, has anyone done the math? So let’s say you would start by eliminating from your grocery cart all the cookies, granola & cereal bars, Jell-O puddings, chips, canned soups, frozen entrée, bottled salad dressing and any other food item that has a super attractive label (most shouldn’t be confused with real food). We have been conditioned to add these well marketed items to our carts as «fun» foods, snacking foods and convenience foods. Unfortunately, most of them fail to meet the «necessity to feed oneself’s»  profile. Should you scratch all of these items from your cart, I am willing to bet that you would suddenly feel quite rich! And pushing around an empty cart!

One particular comment I read today expressed the following:” if real food was affordable, the poor wouldn’t have to feed themselves $1 burgers”. Ok, well where I live, there is no such thing as a $1 burger! And I am pretty sure that in the States (where I am assuming you can get a $1 burger), you can still buy a dozen eggs for $1, so don’t even go there… For the fun of it, let’s say we compare apples with apples (these are Ontario apples thus at Ontario prices). What I mean is that instead of trying to compare a Big Mac meal deal with an organic chicken dinner, why not exchange the fast food meal cost for some real food of similar «fill me up» power. Dinner for 2 at McDo on average is about $18-22. My husband is never satisfied with only one sandwich. With my 2 sons, it is well over $40. But we will compare a meal for 2. Nutritious pasta will run you between $3 and $5 for roughly 400g, a package large enough for a family of 4. One container of cherry tomatoes ($4), 100g of parmesan cheese ($2-3), 3-4 slices of bacon ($1-2), 1 head of lettuce ($2) and 1 cucumber ($2). Pantry items (they are still in your pantry when you go eat out so I am not adding the cost in here: oil, garlic, salt, pepper, Dijon mustard, vinegar. Yes, I grant you that you will have to cook the meal yourself. This meal will cost you about $18 and will easily feed a family of 4. Still too expensive? Let’s throw in grocery store convenience foods to make the meal quick and easy: 2 frozen pizza which you bought on sale at $4 each and add 2 bags of salad kits at $3 each. The grand total is $14. You still had to wait 18-20 minutes for the pizza to cook… Now before you start huffing and puffing about the time factor of eating fast food instead of cooking, please keep in mind that this rant is strictly addressing those who complain that nutritious, healthy (even organic food) is too expensive to buy, not too “time consuming” to make.

In the «old» days, when I was growing up, food budgets were tight and junk food rarely made it in the pantry. Going out for dinner, even at McDonald’s, was a treat not a regular occurrence. Yeah, yeah, I get it: most moms were stay-at-home moms and they had all the time in the world to make dinner right? But that precious time was offset by a much smaller and very strict grocery budget. There was no wiggle room and no double income to stretch the month… It was not unusual to have a dinner of pancakes or grilled cheese (hmmm, maybe we should talk about quick and convenient here as well…). Nutrition value? Ok maybe not so great but compared to any fast food meal, it beats it by a landslide! Dinner does not have to include the most expensive cuts of meat at each sitting. Or any meat at all for that matter! Last night, I made a caramelized onion and Swiss Cheese frittata with 10 organic eggs ($5), 250g organic Swiss cheese ($3.50), 2 local (and large) Spanish onions ($2), fresh pasta ($4), parmesan ($3) and a huge salad of organic greens ($3). We could have easily left the pasta out of the equation but I had some left over from the weekend I was afraid to waste. There was enough to feed the 4 of us. I tend to reach for local and/or organic as much as I can which is why I quoted the prices with the organic cost of things.

I flinch when people shun a cauliflower selling for $3 but dive into the bags of Doritos at $4. Not because I judge their choice; it really is none of my business at all. But it does bother me to constantly hear the complaining over the cost of good, solid and nutritious food. As far as I am concerned, if you can afford to shop the middle aisle of a grocery store, you can definitely afford the cost of the outer aisles… If Captain Crunch, Pillsbury, Nabisco and Frito-Lays can fit in a food budget, then  local fresh produce should  have as prominent a spot in that cart as the rest! There, ranting done… Eat well! You are worth it!!!

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