Recently I was sent a copy of an article by NPR titled “What America Spends on Groceries. It breaks down both how much we spend on them as a total percentage of our budget as well as what percentage is spent on various food categories. It compares both of these statistics now to the same statistics way back in 1982. My initial thought was that they should have gone back at least twenty or thirty years for a good comparison … my second thought was oh crap I’m old.
For those of you who want to read the article in its entirety here is the link http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/06/08/154568945/what-america-spends-on-groceries?sc=emaf . For those of you too busy making dinner, here is the really, really short summary. We spend less of our money on groceries now than then and we buy more crappy processed food now than then. A little bit surprising, at least to me, is that with only a few exceptions almost all categories of food are less expensive now than they were in 1982; meat, dairy, even potato chips are all cheaper. Why you ask? The only answer offered by the article is “We’ve seen major restructuring in poultry, pork and beef industries that has allowed efficiencies and brought down the cost,” Sounds a little, forgive me, fishy to me.
That answer by itself seems incredibly simplistic. The social changes as well as the corporate changes throughout the world have clearly influenced both the cost of what we eat but more importantly the quality of what we eat. And the consequences of those changes are much more of a story than the raw data. It doesn’t take a statistician to tell us that as a society we eat out more (MUCH MORE) than we did in 1982. When I was growing up you didn’t choose what restaurant you went to on your birthday. If you were luck you might get to pick what mom made… if you were unlucky (or Oliver Twist) you would eat gruel. According to the article we spend approximately 3% less on groceries than we did 30 years ago… I don’t have the statistics in front of me but I would venture a guess that spending on restaurants has gone up by a bit more than 3% in the same time.
I have to be a bit careful here as this is a food blog not a political blog but I will throw out a few thoughts that will probably tip my hand a bit anyway. Nestle, the largest food company in the world, ranks 42nd on the Fortune 500 list, ahead of Honda, Nissan, and Sony just to mention a few. Wal-Mart is of course number one and Kroger (King Soopers, Albertsons, etc) comes in at a lowly 72. What is perhaps most stunning is that in 2011 Nestle reported corporate profits of 32 BILLION DOLLARS, more than ANY other company in the world. Let me say that again. NESTLE FOOD CORPORATION MADE MORE MONEY THAN ANY CORPORATION IN THE WORLD. Here’s the link. Go see for yourself. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/global500/2011/full_list/ . Unless you own stock in Nestle that should probably bother you a bit. It makes gas prices seem downright reasonable.
But how can that be you say? How can prices be so far down and profits be so high. If you ask me me (and by reading my blog you sort of have) the answer is simple. You get what you pay for… When you buy a book shelf from Wal-Mart the quality (or lack thereof) is pretty obvious. What is not so obvious is that the quality of the vast majority of the food, not to mention the working conditions for those who produce it, is just as bad. The proof however is there: in our waistlines, in our arteries, and in our children’s health. Food made in factories should scare you. Food grown on factory farms from genetically modified organisms should scare you. Ingredients that didn’t exist 100 years ago should scare you. Big hairy spiders do scare you and you almost never see them… think about what you ate just today. BIG OIL, BIG PHARMA, have nothing on BIG FOOD… which if you think about it does make sense. You can choose to not use, or at least reduce your use of, oil and pharmaceuticals, give up food, on the other hand, and the @#$% hits the fan. While whale oil and snake oil have gone the way of the dinosaur, we eat and presumably will continue to eat “essentially” the same foods we have eaten for the last 10,000 years. Now that’s an investment with a future.
I wish I had a solution for the world, heck I wish I had a solution just for my family but I don’t. Short of growing all of your own fruits, vegetables and grains and shooting enough game to live on, it is nearly impossible to be completely free of BIG FOOD. Since the dawn of civilization it has always been the poorest citizens of a society who eat the worst and the least. In America today howerver, in an unprecedented and ironic twist of fate, it is the poorest who are the most obese and it is not the lack of food but the food itself which is slowly killing them. Eating well is expensive. But the point of this blog has often been, and is again today, that life is about choices and what choice could be more important than what you choose to put in your body. Cook from scratch, buy local and organic whenever you can, and support restaurants that do the same. Start there. Of course another option would be to take all that money you are saving on groceries and put it you’re your Health Savings Account, because you are going to need it.
This blog has not been brought to you by Victoza or any other daily inject-able diabetes drug. Nor is this blog affiliated with any of the companies mentioned above. Nor is it intended to treat any injury, condition, or disease. Blah blah blah blah blah