Cheap Food: Choice or Necessity?

      3 Comments on Cheap Food: Choice or Necessity?

The average American citizen is overworked. Many people work full time (sometimes with more than one job), have family obligations, go to school, and attempt to have hobbies. All of this activity leaves little time to wonder about the food we are eating and the system we are contributing to when we make food choices. Many people leading this busy lifestyle reach for what is fast, convenient, and more often than not, cheap. People who live in poverty are also reaching for cheap food, not just because it will buy them more food but also because in many poor areas they are subject to food deserts. Food deserts are areas that lack access to fresh produce and other nutritious foods that create a balanced and healthy diet. Eating food that lacks nutrition leads to obesity which can lead to what are known as western diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease or stroke. If there is a known correlation between a lack of nutrient rich food and obesity and the diseases that often accompany it, then why is there more access to cheap food than nutritious food?

The government subsidizes the things that contribute to American obesity, such as sugar and fat. In his book “The Real Cost of Cheap Food” Michael Carolan states that “one tenth of 1 per cent of all domestic subsidies in the US goes to supporting fruit and vegetable crops” (72). If the government truly advocates for it’s people and their health, it would not contribute to cheapening unhealthy foods, which incentivizes consumers, while prices for healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables rise. It may seem like a choice to eat the unhealthy quick meal, but it becomes less of a choice and more of a necessity when considering food prices and options.

See the source image

Carolan, Michael S. The Real Cost of Cheap Food. Routledge, 2011.

“Cheap Food.” Friend of the Farmer, 3 Sept. 2009,

“Food Desert.” Green Mom, 15 Mar. 2013,

3 thoughts on “Cheap Food: Choice or Necessity?

  1. slandes

    Hi Lauren,

    As you mentioned in your post access to cheap food is everywhere, particularly, within lower income areas. While nutritious food lacks both accessibility and affordability for all. The lack of access and affordability for nutritious foods sets up consumers to rely on cheap food whether it is fast food, processed food, or non-organic produce with less nutrients.

    You make a great point that while one may not want to choose cheap food it has become a necessity to a degree because of food deserts in lower income areas. Rather than attempting to find ways t provide more nutritious foods it appears that corporations have taken advantage of these communities by bringing in more cheap food options such as fast food chains.

    As you mentioned, “if the the government truly advocates for its people and their health, it would not contribute to cheapening unhealthy foods”. which leads me to wonder does the government truly care? What needs to happen for the government to change and provide access to nutritious food for all?

  2. ngd2

    Hello Lauren,

    You make a lot of good points, particularly about the government’s role in the people’s health. As you pointed out early, many people have busy lives, but I think ultimate responsibility lies with us. Busy are our lives are, we should put some of that hobby time aside if our health and the health of our family is important, and make it a priority to learn about and make informed choices about food. It’s much harder to change government policy, corporate priorities, and American culture, which seems to pride itself in having choices, than it is to change our own habits. Collectively we can influence the demand side of the supply/demand equation. If we don’t buy the product, the stores won’t stock them, and our kids will never start down the dark path of Oreos.

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