Friday, December 28, 2007

Cheap Food is not an American Tradition

When I hear people complaining about how expensive food is -- and especially about how eating locally is too expensive for the average American -- I like to annoyingly helpfully point out that we spend a smaller percentage of our disposable income than any previous generation.

From a USDA chart showing the percentage of disposable income spent by the average American on food (including food consumed both at home and away from home):

Food -- the food we get from supermarket, the processed and refined food that does us no good, harms the environment, and doesn't provide enough income for small farmers to keep body and soul together -- is cheap. Cheaper than it's ever been, in fact. So cheap that the poor are more likely to be obese than hungry.

Good food -- the sustainably-grown, fresh, tasty food we get from small local farmers -- costs a bit more than the commercially-produced similar items bought in the supermarket. How rich do we really have to be to justify spending what our parents spent for food instead of settling for cheap stuff?


Vera said...

It may seem that the % of income we spend on food is less however please note that prices for other daily expenses have increased.

valereee said...

Vera, what are you thinking of in particular as having risen in cost as a percent of average household income over the past sixty years or so?

Vera said...

i.e. prices of housing, auto, gas, electricity/gas, insurance, taxes, etc. The Consumer Price Indes includes comparison of inflation and cost of everyday living into their calculations and check out this table:

Let's look at your comment on how the poor are more obese than ever and do a arbitrary calculation for a 'poor' person who works and receives minimum wage. Minimum wage is currently $7.25/hr x 40 hrs/week x 52 = $15,080, not including taxes. Generally speaking 1/3 of a paycheck goes to taxes, social security, insurance, etc. So total cash you receive is $829 per month. If you follow the table and assume that they spend 10% on food cost, that means one only has $83 to spend on food a month. I know I won't be able to feed myself on $83 a month.

valereee said...

Vera, but the CPI is only talking about price increases. It isn't taking into account the increase in average income over the same period. Of course food prices have risen over the past hundred years. The point is that incomes have risen more.

I suspect that if you were limited to minimum wage, you'd find that you could indeed feed yourself. You might find it a challenge to feed yourself well. My point about obesity among the poor was that it's easier to eat BADLY than to eat well if you're poor. You can get enough calories very cheaply. Cheaply than ever, in fact. That was my point.