Friday, June 13, 2014

Cheap Food

Now we get to the real cause of the obesity epidemic in America, cheap food.  “According to the researchers, in the 1930s, Americans spent one-quarter of their disposable income on food. By the 1950s, that had dropped to about one-fifth. The most recent research finds Americans now spend less than one-tenth of their money on food.”  They draw a direct relationship between this availability and convenience of cheap food and eating more.  The sedentary lifestyle from office jobs to television watching to videogames has less of an influence than fast food, microwavable meals and government farm subsidies.

This seems to contradict the big news from earlier in the year:  “Prices are rising for a range of food staples, from meat and pork to fruits and vegetables, squeezing consumers still struggling with modest wage gains.”  (It’s not really a contradiction, just more evidence that our media will paint any angle of a story as a crisis.)

Although it may look like just another excuse – this time blaming the price of food – it’s impossible to deny the affect of behavior.  The food does not jump off the shelves or out of the drive-thru window demanding that we buy it and eat it.  Popcorn may be more tempting when it’s only two minutes away in a microwave bag without the prospect of a messy clean up, but it’s still a free choice.  No matter the price or the convenience, we still have a choice between nourishing food and junk food, and between eating more or not.  It’s behavior:  discipline, responsibility and critical thinking.  After all, Amazon made buying books cheaper and more convenient, but we weren’t overwhelmed by a reading epidemic!

One could also ask what we were doing with the income saved as the price of food dropped from 25% to 10% of disposable income.  What choices were we making?  Were we saving at least some of it for a comfortable retirement or education; or were we spending it on bigger houses (for smaller families), more toys (for both children and adults), travel, entertainment, designer clothing and generally trying to keep up with/impress the neighbors?  The answer to that question is easy and obvious to everyone.

We were given an opportunity to make sound choices, but were driven, instead by price and convenience and an inability to delay gratification.  Now the majority of Americans are overweight with little or no savings.  We don’t need more research into the cause of the obesity epidemic.  Lay the blame where it belongs – on behavior.

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