No Wealth, No Health
A recent study in the United Kingdom, investigating the habits of the youth, showed that three quarters of them identify cost as a barrier between them and a healthier diet. With illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension affecting much of the developed world, you would think measures would be in place to encourage healthier lifestyles. This is not the case as fresh produce, organic foods and other healthier food choices remain way more expensive than the processed alternatives.
On average, organic foods cost ten to thirty percent more than non-organic alternatives as organic farms are much smaller than industrial farms. For this reason, they have a smaller output, but still require more human labor, while also adhering to stricter regulations. In the United States it is cheaper to buy ten doughnuts than it is to buy five apples. Doughnuts taste better plus they provide double the calorie intake that apples do. So if you’re trying to avoid starvation, you’re better off going with the doughnuts. A dilemma we are faced with is trying to stretch their dollars along with their life span simultaneously.
To make sense of why something is expensive, a good starting point will be to look at what it costs to produce. Farmers have to hire real human beings to plant, pick and sort items before they go on sale. These workers are paid living wages regularly, creating an extra expense for farmers. Processed foods can be farmed using machines and fewer human beings.
Industrialization doesn’t only affect crops; it affects the price of meat that is considered healthier as well. Grass-fed beef is a lot healthier than beef from cows held in overcrowded farms that are given antibiotics or low-grade artificial feed. Add to this how effective chicken farming is at increasing the cost per unit of chicken, making free-range eggs extremely expensive. The space needed to raise animals healthily or ethically leads to inflated expenses for farmers, meaning they have to charge more to make a profit.
Fresh produce is subject to stricter quality control. Imperfections on fruits or vegetables are overlooked. If farmers can avoid wastage by picking up overripe crops and those that are not esthetically pleasing, then they save on production costs. A good illustration of this being the price of apricot jam being lower than that of individual apricots.
Beyond the production costs, supermarkets have to charge more for fresh produce as it has a shorter shelf life. You can only keep fruit and vegetables on shelves for a few weeks at best while processed foods have preservatives that allow them to last for years. A shorter shelf life means a bigger risk, resulting in more costs.
Government subsidies have a huge effect on the varying prices of foods as certain crops receive higher subsidies than others. In the United States, the government grants much bigger subsidies to aid the farming of soy, wheat and corn than they grant to the farming of leafy crops. Processed foods contain corn starch syrup and other ingredients made from the subsidized plants. Higher prices for leafier crops can be attributed directly to a lack of government funding.
The Washington Post brought forward an interesting article pointing out the effect of consumer behavior on the price of organic items. They sensibly argue that organic foods cost more because we expect them to. The effect of such an assertion is that consumers are not only more willing to pay higher prices for them, but they will do this without qualms.
Although eating clean is more expensive than having junk in the short term, it isn’t in the long term. A healthy diet can save you a significant amount on health related expenses as healthy foods lower your risk of illness. Savings aren’t confined to medical expenses but can stretch to your insurance premiums being lower. Good health also increases your productivity both physically and mentally, resulting in a higher earning potential to add more zeros to your bank balance.
The unfortunate reality is that it just costs a lot more to produce healthy crops and to farm animals in an ethical manner. It seems that there isn’t much that can be done to make healthy alternatives more accessible. Governments are trying to do something by subsidizing those at a high risk of disease. However, it must be considered that maybe subsidizing healthy foods to improve public health can be good for economies.