Why Does a Salad Cost More Than a Big Mac?
Why Does a Salad Cost More Than a Big Mac? In a classic case of contradictory government policy the pyramids in this graphic clearly show the inverse relationship between federal government agriculture subsidies and federal nutrition recommendations.
The chart was put together by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, but its figures still, alas, look quite relevant. Thanks to lobbying, Congress chooses to subsidize foods that we’re supposed to eat less of.
Of course, there are surely other reasons why burgers are cheaper than salads. These might include production costs, since harvesting apples is probably more naturally seasonal than slaughtering cows (even though both are in demand year-round). Transportation and storage costs might also play a role, as it’s probably easier to keep ground beef fresh and edible for extended periods of time, by freezing it, than cucumbers.
Whatever the cause of the pricing change, there is little doubt that many healthful foods have gotten much more expensive relative to unhealthful ones. David Leonhardt showed this in another remarkable chart that displays how the prices of different food groups have changed relative to their pricing 30 years ago:
This chart, put together with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the price of different foods and beverages over the last three decades. The price of each food or beverage is set equal to 1 in January 1978, and the chart then shows how the price has changed since then.
It’s a fairly striking pattern. Unhealthful foods, with the exceptions of cookies (the blue line), have gotten a lot cheaper. Relative to the price of everything else in the economy, sodas (the orange line) are 33 percent cheaper than they were in 1978. Butter (dark brown) is 29 percent cheaper. Beer (gray) is 15 percent cheaper.
Fish (the yellow line), by contrast, is 2 percent more expensive. Vegetables (purple) are 41 percent more expensive. Fruits (green) are 46 percent more expensive.
The price of oranges, to take one extreme example (not shown in the chart), has more than doubled, relative to everything else. So if in 1978, a bag of oranges cost the same as one big bottle of soda, today that bag costs the same as three big bottles of soda.
Health-e-Solutions comment: Apart from meat, the food agri-crops currently subsidized the most are corn, soy, wheat and rice. What do you end up with? A fast food diet! These charts show statistically what we know to be true at the grocery store. More importantly, they tell us why this is true.
Nevertheless, we still must shoulder some of the blame because we keep demand high for unhealthy foods by purchasing them. It would be nice if governments would subsidize healthier foods and stop doing the same for unhealthy products. However, it would be more powerful if we as consumers would create the demand for change though our purchasing habits.
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