The number one excuse people give for not buying healthy food is that it’s expensive. After all, why wouldn’t you opt for more nutritious and higher quality food otherwise? For many people, Whole Foods, and similar health food stores, seem like a golf clubs that are only accessible to the wealthy. Over and over again, the public outcry is: why is healthy food so expensive? However, not only is healthy food not as expensive as you think, you are also asking the wrong question. Here’s why.
Let’s imagine that you are buying a house. You see listings for two houses, one is house A and the other one is house B. House A costs $75,000, while house B is a whopping $275,000. They are in the same exact location, so you’re asking yourself, who in the world would buy house B? Well you see, house B was built by professional contractors that have been in the business for well over 50 years. They have used top grade materials which will last over a century. The house also comes with a pool, hot tub and a playground for the kids. So what about house A? House A was built by contractors from Craigslist, with the goal in mind to build as many houses as possible for as little as possible. The materials used will start eroding home structure away little by little, until the home is in critical shape within a few years. And of course, no amenities like the pool are included. They both serve the function of a home, but they are totally different. House A offers immediate savings but only while sacrificing crucial components, and in the long run, it will end up costing you more.
The same exact dilemma faces people in the supermarket every day. Should you buy cereal A or B? Should you buy bread A or B? They are technically both the same kind of product and the cheaper version may even have more calories. So who in their right mind would pay $2 extra for organic bread? But just as the house example, the makers of the cheaper bread may have used lower quality ingredients, have cut corners for the sake our animals and environment, bought cheaper packaging and more. Of course, this is not true in every case and a more expensive product doesn’t always mean higher quality. But a lot of the time it does.
Previous studies done in the past would probably immediately contradict our point and show that cheaper foods can feed people better for less. But “better” is where a lot of the past studies went wrong. They used price per calorie, which doesn’t accurately reflect the “better” concept. It’s the same as using price per square foot in our house example. It doesn’t accurately reflect in what you’re actually getting for your money. Using these false results, mainstream media drilled it into our heads that healthy food was just too expensive and that it created barriers for typical people who wanted to eat healthy. And it wasn’t hard, as anyone who walks into Whole Foods or just a regular store and sees a healthier option, can see prices that are much higher than that of their counterparts.
Why Consider Nutritional Economy
But not everyone was so naive. Two fellas – Atwater and Milner – came along and showed that there are more important things than just calories and price to consider. They both considered the nutritional economy of food. Essentially, that a cheap source of calories may actually be a more expensive source of other nutrients. On the other hand, a high-priced food item may be a cheap source of those same nutrients. Seems like a simple concept, but even today, people fail to consider the nutritional value of the items that they buy.
When USDA conducted a study of more than 4,400 food items, they found no evidence that healthy foods are more expensive than less healthy foods. They also found that “when measured on the basis of edible weight or average portion size, vegetables and fruit are less expensive than most dairy, protein, and moderation foods”. Which shatters the myth that veggies and fruits are too expensive.
Cheap Food Is Always Attractive
Another fact that many fail to consider when talking about food prices is inflation. You keep hearing “gas used to be a quarter and a loaf of bread 5 cents! These new prices are insane!”. But there’s very little to that logic when people also weren’t making $54,000 a year (according to 2014 census) back then. The value of the dollar has dropped due to inflation nearly every year, which have made the prices for all the products rise. This rise in price has left a big gap between healthy and unhealthy foods.
Think about it. Let’s say a box of crappy cereal used to cost 50 cents at some point, while a box of higher quality cereal was $2.50. Due to the inflation, production and ingredient costs have increased for both. However, the cheaper product has cut every corner to get to the already low price of 50 cents. They use mass production, cheapest ingredients, low-grade packaging and they have deals with big companies. Basically, their motto is quantity over quality. While their costs might jump, it won’t be as significant. But let’s say it does jump and they also want to take advantage of the global price increase and they price their cereal at 65 cents now. Let’s take the healthier option now. Maybe they have deals with local farms to support the local economy, they already use the best quality ingredients and packaging costs are high as they use good quality plastic. Once inflation hits, that type of business will tend to be affected much more. But for argument’s sake, let’s say they managed to somewhat deal with it and they increased their product price to just $3.00.
A customer walks into Walmart to buy cereal for their kids. They see that everything in the store has gotten more expensive. They see that the crappy cereal is 65 cents now, which is still pretty darn cheap. However, the good quality cereal is now $3! The company essentially shot itself in the leg. Of course the customer will grab the cheaper cereal as it’s only 65 cents. “Clearly” that company wants to help them in hard times, while the other company is trying to rip them off.
But let’s take a look at the numbers again.
Crappy cereal $0.50 – > $0.65 = 30% increase in price.
Healthier cereal $2.50 -> $3.00 = 20% increase in price.
So, the healthier cereal had an actually smaller increase in price, however, the perceived cost to an average customer seems higher as it jumped from the number 2 to 3. Meanwhile, anything under a dollar and an increase of just a few cents seems lower. After all, 15 cents is less than 50. This is why those cheap quality products seem even more attractive during inflationary times. It becomes increasingly harder to justify paying more for healthier products.
However, if you keep in mind the nutritional economy mentioned above, the decision should be easier.
Ask The Right Question
This brings us to our third and final point. When you ask “why is the price of healthy food so damn high?” you are asking the wrong question. Instead, ask “why is the price of unhealthy food so damn cheap?”. Not only it isn’t cheap as shown in the examples above, it also harms your body in the long run. Sources of cheap calories such as white bread can be made with refined ingredients and contain harmful additives. They can rob your body of crucial nutrients and over time – harm your health. Don’t assume that more expensive or organic items are immediately better in every way, but also don’t assume that healthy products are actually more expensive. Your body is an incredibly powerful sports car, treat it like one and it will drive like one.