One Dollar Dining

You’re hungry. You’ve got one dollar. What do you buy? Fruit? What about some veggies? Or, do you buy a bunch of junk food? Well, as Michael Pollan of The New York Times reports, if you’re down on your luck with not much money to spend, you’re likely to buy the junk. Here’s why:
Adam Drewnowski [University of Washington obesity researcher] gave himself a hypothetical dollar to spend, using it to purchase as many calories as he possibly could. He discovered that he could buy the most calories per dollar in the middle aisles of the supermarket, among the towering canyons of processed food and soft drink. (In the typical American supermarket, the fresh foods — dairy, meat, fish and produce — line the perimeter walls, while the imperishable packaged goods dominate the center.) Drewnowski found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips but only 250 calories of carrots. Looking for something to wash down those chips, he discovered that his dollar bought 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.


As a rule, processed foods are more “energy dense” than fresh foods: they contain less water and fiber but more added fat and sugar, which makes them both less filling and more fattening. These particular calories also happen to be the least healthful ones in the marketplace, which is why we call the foods that contain them “junk.” Drewnowski concluded that the rules of the food game in America are organized in such a way that if you are eating on a budget, the most rational economic strategy is to eat badly — and get fat.
This is a sad commentary on the state of our society.
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Anonymous Capitalist - April 29, 2007 10:43 AM

Why is this "sad commentary"? If you only have $1 to spend on food each day, and you don't *want* to end up like the starving African children you see on TV, you thank the small gods of technology and capitalism that have brought you this life-sustaining bounty at rock-bottom prices. Would you rather see the poor undernourished and dying with water-bloated stomachs, as they did for the last two millenia - and still are in the parts of the world held back in part by your "philosophy"?

Stop applying your wealthy upper-middle class values to the working class struggling to get by.

mitzi - April 30, 2007 8:52 AM

Did the man who wrote this piece go to a store in a poor neighborhood? There is one (locally owned) I drive by every day that at least attempts to help its mostly food-stamp-based customers. You can almost always find huge bunches of greens at low prices, and sometimes they sell dried beans for 25 cents a pound. Sure, the junk is plentiful (stores sell what people buy), but if you watch the sales circulars (the lowest prices tend to be toward the end of the month when food stamps run out), the basic food necessary for life is there and affordable.

Michael - April 30, 2007 11:29 AM

I'm curious. How do farm susbsidies that skew the cost of many products (corn syrup, meat, dairy) fit into capitalism? Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't this change the dynamics of thr supply and demand theory of economics?

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