A recent article in Newsweek drew attention to the Great Food Divide in America. I emphasize “America” because our concerns about food are relatively different from the concerns of the other seven billion eaters on the planet. Americans worry more about what we’re eating. Much of the rest of the world worries about if they’re eating. That’s not to say that all Americans are well fed. We must continue to solve the issues of hunger and food insecurity. However, much of the solution is not about provision or even poverty. It’s not that the planet cannot produce enough food for our population. It can. In fact, the planet already produces more than twice the amount needed. Distribution is the real challenge. In the United States, it’s often not a lack of funds that causes malnutrition, hunger and obesity. It’s possible to eat nutritious and wholesome food, even for lower income families. Information, education and initiative are key ingredients that are lacking. “I’d like to feed my family fresh, chemical-free or organic food. I’d like to feed them what I know is better. But you try fitting that into a family budget.” I hear that all the time, even from the well-heeled soccer mom, often delivered at a farmers market as she pushes a stroller with one hand and sips a four-dollar latté with the other while junior tugs at the straw in a box of Juicy-Juice, little more than colored sugar water. The core of the argument is that processed food, industrial and sugary junk food is cheaper than healthful food. That argument leaks logic on many counts. Faux food. First, is processed food really food ? That is far from a specious question. The answer is “No.” It is infuriating to see otherwise intelligent (well, maybe that is debatable,) persons writing about food costs and comparing food items based on caloric content. I have often read that calories in the produce aisle cost more than calories in the processed food section. I actually heard a “registered dietitian” announce on network television something to the effect that “purchasing the 2000 daily calories recommended by the government in the produce section costs more than buying the same amount of calories in the processed food aisles.” Well, duh! Sugars, corn syrup and fats do have more calories. But it’s nutrition that should be compared, not calories. Calories are what you don’t want. Nutrition is what you do want. Eating healthfully is as easy as the Three C’s: Consciousness, Choice and Cooking. First, be conscious of what is real food and what isn’t. This may take some education. In the Newsweek article profiling one family’s predicament of eating breakfast on a budget, the family is described as eating “bodega food,” a New York-ism for quick shop fare. Typical breakfasts are egg-and-cheese sandwich for the daughter, muffin and soda for the son and two Dunkin’ Donuts and a latté for mom. No prices are given but conservatively the muffin, sandwich and soda have to be at least a dollar each and a good guess that a couple donuts and a latté have to set you back three bucks. Make it a very conservative six bucks for the family. Bulk up. Compare that cost to a version of my favorite breakfast at one-eighth the cost per person: organic oatmeal, two-thirds of a cup from Whole Foods’ bulk section (18 cents); a handful of raisins, same source (10 cents) and a splash of bulk honey from No Name Nutrition (two cents) for a total of 30 cents or less. Times three and I make it a nutritious and much less fattening breakfast for the entire family at less than a dollar, total. And if I hear the “time factor” argument, I will personally come over and get your butt out of bed 15 minutes earlier if need be. When a poster on the Newsweek website noted the option of bulk foods such as that, the son (named Ta-Shawn) posted in response that they do have “4 boxes of oatmeal” in the pantry and that he eats that on some days. The problem is that Ta-Shawn has not learned that boxed, packaged, flavored and processed oatmeal in single-serving envelopes is not the cost-effective, nutritious option he needs to learn about. And when Ta-Shawn gets home after school, he could pop a big russet potato in the oven for an hour while he does homework, steam a large stalk of broccoli, butter them both and enjoy with chopped tomato and avocado on top. Here is one place my menu splurges. The huge organic russet was a dollar, the stalk of broccoli 40 cents, the avocado and tomato serving a dollar, totaling a whopping $2.40 for dinner before butter. That’s just one version of a nutritious, satisfying and cheap dinner option. One myth that Americans fall for is that meat makes the meal. Uh-uh. Our meat-centric diet is most of the problem. Before one leaps on the “gotta have protein” buckboard, consider this. The potato, avocado and broccoli described above have more and higher-quality protein than a quarter-pound of ground beef. And a diet doesn’t have to be vegetarian to be affordable; just plant-centric, which is better for you anyway. Yes, in general, government subsidized industrial junk food is cheaper per calorie than vegetables, fruits and real food. But in the long term, the hidden costs of obesity, malnutrition and social self-esteem bear examination. Helping all Americans become conscious of what real food is, make the choice to implement that knowledge and take the initiative to learn to cook will go further to end malnutrition and hunger in this country than all the food technology Monsanto and their investor shill Bill Gates can come up with. Be well.

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