Eating Healthy Is (Not) Expensive: 2022 Edition

The same tired line... is a matter of perspective, priorities, and government subsidies.

Eating Healthy Is (Not) Expensive: 2022 Edition
Photo by tommao wang / Unsplash

Tale as old as time, or at least the USDA.  One of the most common excuses for not taking one's own health and nutrition into their own hands is an alleged increased financial burden.  I've debunked this myth in the past , pulling several monthly spending comparisons from the Atlanta area.  Let's add to that conversation for 2022.

Why Steak Costs More Than a Big Mac:

For starters, understand that "healthy" food isn't made artificially expensive.  Rather, it is the conglomerate of "unhealthy" foods that are made artificially cheap via government subsidies (1).

Source: EWG Farm Subsidy Database

Look at the top 5: corn, wheat, soybean, CRP, and cotton.  Livestock and dairy subsidies amount to $19B compared to the $210B in corn, wheat, and soy.  No wonder the USDA wants you to eat 6 servings of grains / day!

The Conservation Reserve Program, if you're wondering, is used to pay farmers to not farm land because it has been rendered fallow by over farming due to mono/rowcrop agriculture; more on that in a minute.

Disposable Income:

Americans spend $500 - $3,400 / year on health insurance premiums on average; and 10% spend more than $7,000 / year on out of pocket expenses (2).  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Americans spend almost 8% of their income on healthcare expenses (3).

In contrast, we're spending about 10% on our food budget.  What an irony!  The more sick we get, the less we spend on food.  I'll resist the urge to go off on a tirade about preventative vs. reactionary healthcare...

To make matters worse, we've basically flipped our spending priorities from meat to processed food since 1982.  While vegetable, fruit, and grain consumption remains about the same, meat gets the blame (for the above healthcare spending) – even though we're eating less of it (4).

Lastly, we all know that eating out is expensive.  Yet 40% of our meals are consumed away from home; leaving only 60% home-cooked.

So, to put things in perspective so far:

  • Government subsidies make corn, wheat, and soy very cheap.
  • Americans spend about as much on healthcare (increasing %) as on food (decreasing %).
  • We eat out (high expense) 40% of the time.
  • The food we do manage to eat at home is 23% processed and 14% baked goods.  I'd imagine the processed percent is much higher when eating out.

So, is eating healthy expensive, or are our poor choices, mislead by our government, expensive?

Making Dollars Go Further:

Median earnings in the U.S. are about $40,000 (5).  If we use the 10% figure above, that gives us $333 / month to spend on groceries.  In reality, we'd certainly head off some of those healthcare expense; and while we wouldn't reap the full 8% from that; cutting it in half isn't unreasonable.  That leaves us with $466 / month, or about 14% of our income.

The review I did last year had a more comprehensive budget analysis that should still be relevant.  Just like we won't eliminate all healthcare costs, we will probably eat out and willingly overpay some times – like for good company!

The point I want to make in this year's edition is that we can make our dollars go further than we think by putting them to work in ways we might not have thought of.  You've probably noticed rising meat prices in the grocery store.  The rib eye I bought the other day was $16 / lb.

If you think that's outrageous, you're right.  This is what happens when the government and big businesses (which, who are we kidding, they're one and the same) are allowed to control our food system, production, and distribution, as well as the "science" telling us what to eat.

While you could pay $16 / lb at Wal-mart and support multi-national businesses, for not much more ($17 / lb) you could support a small business like TruBeef (*) that works tirelessly to reverse the degrading topsoil, restore our atmosphere, ensure animal welfare, and provide you grass-fed, grass-finished, organic food.  That's a no-brainer!

What If I'm Not "Carnivore":

These examples are for illustrative purposes.  The meat vs. corn / soy argument is the most obvious.  I've written many times on the importance of animal-based, meat-centric diets.  That same scale still applies:

  • Cereal grains are cheaper than Big Macs.
  • Big Macs are cheaper than salads.
  • Salads are cheaper than steaks.
  • Steaks are cheaper than diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer's disease.

It is a bit trite and unfair to echo "invest in your health" and I've had to change my opinion over the years on processed and conventional meats (thanks Shawn Baker and Ken Berry!).  People have to start where they're at and at the same time not use that as an excuse to remain where they're at.

That said, there's nothing wrong with starting (as I did!) eating conventional supermarket:

  • ground beef
  • eggs
  • butter
  • liver
  • canned fish (mackerel, sardines, oysters, not tuna)

One pound of ground beef and a dozen eggs cost less than $10 and give you about 2,000 calories.  Start there.  Then move on, below.

One thing left out in the comparison of healthcare vs. grocery costs is the quality of life.  If you're in that top 10% of healthcare spenders, how much are you enjoying the life you're living?  Regardless of your answer, you know the truth and you know that there are stark compromises and that this isn't a zero-sum game.

My Challenge To You:

Food has become a highly political issue and will only continue to do so.  So, my challenge to you for 2022 then, is to consider how you can make your dollars go further; and not just in your own home or on your plate.  "Voting with your dollars" is one thing you cannot abstain from.

The meat price comparison I made above shows that "eating healthy" and "organic and all that stuff" is almost literally the same price as the most subsidized "conventional" equivalent.

Again, if you're a literal "dollars and cents" person, read my previous article for a budget comparison.  Then, after you've committed to investing in your own health, think about extending those dollars to the next level on you're hierarchy of needs; things like your community, nature, other small businesses, causes bigger than yourself that you're implied in.

The first rebellion is your own knowledge – be that nutritional or ecological.  The second is taking action, starting where you're at and always moving forward.  From there emphasize people and communities and the things that make life worth living – be the antithesis of Meta, Microsoft, and globo-governed-industrial food systems.

*affiliate disclosure

Additional References:

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