By: Eric Klaber
All it takes is one quick look at a menu to better understand how this paradox has unfolded. The cost of a Big Mac from McDonald’s is $3.99 and less than six dollars for a Big Mac meal, complete with fries and a beverage. This cost is significantly lower than the cost of a family to prepare a home cooked meal using vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy products therefore adhering to federal dietary guidelines. According to a 2013 study, eating a healthy diet costs about $1.50 more per person per day, or $2,000 more a year for a family of four. In contrast, the meals from the cheaper fast food restaurants are high in calories, fat, cholesterol, and sugar, they contain very low nutritional value. One study from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that on a nutritional value scale of one to one hundred (one hundred being the most nutritious), the average value of eight different fast food chains was 48, compared to the average American diet being valued at 55. Families that consume a large portion of their diet from these restaurants may therefore be at a higher risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome while simultaneously being considered food insecure
Since 1995, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) has spent $292.5 billion on agricultural subsidies. Although federal guidelines recommend that fruits and vegetables cover half of our plates, the government only spends $1.6 billion on these specialty crops. In contrast, $77 billion, or over 26% of all subsidy funds, goes to a single crop - corn. The large amount of government funding in the crop has resulted in over a third of all national crop fields growing corn. This difference in federal funding has brought about a substantial change in the prices of different food items over time. Since 1980, the price of fruits and vegetables has steadily risen by 24% while the cost of soda (which mostly contains high-fructose corn syrup) has fallen by 27%.
It is clear that the federal government needs to re-prioritize which crops are being subsidized under the Farm Bill. Through funding the cultivation of fast food-related crops, the government is providing price incentives for Americans to eat unhealthy meals. These low prices are encouraging families to make poorer food choices that lead to greater rates of metabolic disease. The American people must lobby the federal government for a shift in agricultural subsidy policy. Your voice will help lower prices of healthier food options and provide more incentives for families to eat better and overall improve their health.