Healthy and Affordable?

16 August 2011

food system, health, nutrition

By Alyson Murphy, CFJC Intern

This past school year at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, I lived in my own apartment for the first time, meaning no meal plan at the cafeteria to feed my often-insatiable appetite whenever I wanted and with however much food I desired. Instead, I discovered both the delights and the challenges of shopping and cooking for myself. Trying unusual recipes, exploring different grocery stores, and simply learning the culinary basics became my new hobbies. Like most college kids, however, I’m on a budget, so I learned very quickly that my bank account simply could not fund my every dietary whim. As tempting as it may have been to just frequent the dollar-a-slice pizza shop that stared at me through my bedroom window from across the street, I knew that eating economically wouldn’t be so easy if I wanted to eat healthfully, too.

As important as finding what food to eat was finding where to buy it. I loved wandering the aisles of the local farmers’ market with its abundance of fresh produce and homemade baked goods, but selections dwindled with the onset of winter. Big-name health food stores had no shortage of interesting and wholesome foods, but most weren’t within walking distance or within my price-range. The nearby bodega supplied many of the staples I needed, but $6 for a bunch of bananas? No thanks.

With a little creativity and some coupon-clipping, however, I developed a system that allowed me to supply my apartment kitchen with all the nutritious food I needed. In the process, I also developed an interest in nutrition and a better awareness of what I put into my body and where it comes from.

Thinking back on my first experience cooking and grocery shopping for myself, I can only imagine what it’s like for people whose budgets are even more restricted than my own. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the luxury of my parents’ fully-stocked fridge this summer in San Francisco, but what about the people who don’t get a “summer break” from the challenges of eating healthfully and affordably? A number of federal assistance programs support these individuals and families, and in a perfect world, SNAP, WIC, and SSI benefits would be enough. While these programs do alleviate some of the troubles of buying food in today’s economy, they fail to dismantle the structures that have made fast food cheap and fresh food costly. In fact, according to a study published by the journal Health Affairs, following the updated U.S. nutritional guidelines for potassium would add $380 to the average consumer’s annual food costs. Clearly there is room for improvement in the policies that affect food prices. It is my hope that the efforts of CFJC and other like-minded organizations can get to the root of the problem before it is too late—and before a banana costs more than my bus fare.

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