Monday, September 26, 2011

Is Fast Food Cheaper?

It's been a crazy Spring and Summer, full of a lot of ups and downs.  Luckily, I think it's behind us for the most part. So I now declare the hiatus over, and I've decided to get back to posting more frequently.

I recently saw a comparison chart posted on Facebook by Hounds in the Kitchen.  It was from a New York Times article titled, "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper."  While my opinions differ slightly regarding the solution to the problem, I think the majority of the article is spot on!

There was a comment on Facebook to the effect that people aren't actually eating fast food because it's cheaper, but instead because it's faster and more convenient.  It think this creates an interesting dichotomy regarding this whole fast food vs. real food issue.

  • The reason people give for eating fast food. 
  • The real reason people eat fast food.
Granted this is most likely not a true dichotomy because there are probably overlapping areas, but I think in general it's a fair thing to say.

The reason people give for eating fast food - they can't afford anything else

Many times when I hear people (either in person, in articles, comments of articles, news reports, etc.) talk about eating primarily fast food, it's because they supposedly can't afford "real food."  They claim that "with a family of 4, 5, 6, etc. the only way they afford to feed their family is with fast food."  "They don't want to, but when you have to choose between the value menu and a steak, there's just no comparison."  These are general paraphrases based on what I've seen and heard, but if your comparing the value menu to steak, then yes, you probably can only afford fast food; however, if you're that financially strapped why are you even using steak as a comparison measure?  

I think this article, and more importantly the comparison chart, does a great job showing people that if they are poor, then they can't afford fast food! The crazy thing is these numbers totally disregard the "true" costs of the food.  It doesn't take into account the actual costs to get the food there (which is basically all the subsidies, tax credits, etc. that they'll pay for through taxes) or the future healthcare costs of eating that junk.  

I'll throw it out there that I think the cost issue is just the issue that people are willing to argue about.  It's a hot issue that is easy to throw out there and illicit sympathy for.  I will say though, I don't think it's overtly attempting to garner sympathy, instead I think it's just lack of knowledge.  This leads us to the real reason people eat fast food:

The real reason people eat fast food - they don't have the organization skills or cooking skills

It's hard to admit that you don't know how to do something.  Yes, it's also hard to admit that you don't have money, but more and more I think it's becoming much easier to ask for help financially, but this doesn't seem to be the case with lack of knowlege.  I think we have a whole generation of people that have ZERO idea what a kitchen is actually for, how to use a stove/oven, how to use a knife, or even make mashed potatoes! If people are willing to look at the real issues, they will see that they lack the skills, and they can't easily blame it on their job, their education, or the government.  Yes, they could easily say that they were never taught how to cook, but that is easily remedied, usually much more so than finding someone a good paying job (especially in today's economy).  Also, this type of cooking requires organization, and fiscal responsibility which is a whole other topic that I think a lot of people these days are for whatever reason trying to avoid.

This article also touches on this cooking issue and makes a really good connection that people define cooking as work.  Don't get me wrong, many times cooking a meal can be work, but that doesn't mean it has to be!  With a little organization, and some planning, you can make most meals in 20-30 minutes during a weeknight and not even dirty a lot of dishes.  Yes, this might mean spending a few hours on the weekend preparing some stock, precooking something, slicing/dicing vegetables, etc. but what a great time to teach your family or yourself some useful life skills! If some pre-work is done on the weekend, that pinto beans and rice recipe would probably take 10 minutes to make on a weeknight.

I think the real fast food problem in America is not so much that people are eating it all the time (which is definitely a HUGE problem), it's more that the skills of cooking are being drastically lost with each passing generation.  Without those skills, people will logically fall into eating fast food because they don't know any different.  We need to change the way people are thinking.  When people start taking back the responsibility to feed themselves and their families by cooking, only then will we be able to gain ground on the obesity and malnutrition epidemic that is facing our nation.

There have been great strides by organizations like Slow Food USA and their $5 Challenge.  As of today, there are 5,572 different meals that have been shared on that site that are under $5 per person.  These meals would all beat the $6.97 per person price tag of that McDonald's meal.  There are also organizations all over the country like Local Matters here in Columbus, that are at the grassroots, with the children of the nation, educating them on real food, how to prepare it, and all the benefits of eating something real.  They are also making huge efforts to make good, real food more available in areas that are considered food deserts.

Writing this, I know we've been no where near good these last couple of weeks.  We've gone out far to many times, but at least we knew it wasn't because it was cheaper.  It was because we were unprepared.  We finally sat down tonight, made a menu for the week and went shopping.  There will be no more eating out.  There is a lot of work to be done!

1 comment:

Andrea said...

"The real reason people eat fast food - they don't have the organization skills or cooking skills"

YES! This is my thought exactly! In fact I was going to write an article touching on this same topic. :D I fully believe that people do not know how to cook and therefore do not make an effort to learn. Thus creating this vicious circle of needing to go out to dinner all the time.