5 Reasons Why the Poor Can’t Afford To Eat Healthy

Posted on Category:Healthy Eating


You’ve heard the convos or whispers — you may have even had a similar thought once or twice: low-income people should try to eat healthy, rather than buying junk food. Really?! How in the hell is a person expected to eat healthy when they can’t afford to buy food in the first place?

There’s something drastically wrong with the food system in America. The poor are shamed for not eating healthy, yet immediate access to healthy food is limited — creating food deserts, food insecurity, and food injustice.

The pandemic exposed the fatal flaws in the American food system, and the racial disparities largely affecting people of color—many, who are essential workers earning low pay.

Before you pass judgment on those who don’t have the financial means to buy healthier foods, think about these reasons why they can’t:

Grocery prices have risen drastically over the last year

The pandemic has proved profitable for grocers because folks gotta eat and they’re stuck inside [have you checked out the prices of groceries lately?]. COVID-19 hugely impacted the rising costs of groceries.

Just imagine being quarantined in the home with several small children or teens. When they’re bored, they want to eat. What are parents forced to do with hungry mouths to feed — buy more groceries?

Heck, since the pandemic, I’ve spent more money on groceries this past year than I have in previous years. I feel like I’ve been working only to buy groceries. And the cycle seems to never end — order groceries, eat, repeat every few days.

Not only are food prices much higher, but the quality of food has also decreased. Fresh produce seems to last only about three days — long enough for you to cook one meal before it goes bad. Then, you’re having to throw out rotten food and spend extra money to replenish. It makes you wonder about food production and how our food is grown or harvested.

Organic foods are much more expensive than regular food items.

As much as I’d like to eat all organic foods, I can’t. No, scratch that — I refuse to buy a pint of organic strawberries for $8. It’s not that I can’t afford it — I can. But it just feels like I’m being ripped off when I can buy a regular pint for $2.50. Sure, the argument is that organic is better — but is it, really? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pay more for groceries than I have to. This is the dilemma for many low-income families — buy organic, but don’t have enough money left over to buy other food or household items. When you’re on a limited budget, it’s all about stretching your dollars as much as possible — even if it means buying cheap quality foods. It is just wrong for anyone having to choose between buying healthy foods or unhealthy foods!

I choose not to buy organic for most of my food items, and I’ve had a healthy diet for nearly 40 years. Yes, it is possible to eat healthy, low-cost foods without sacrificing your budget — I’ve done it and know that it works. If the consensus is that organic is better, then those foods should be more affordable for everyone, regardless of income level. The government can help to improve consumer eating habits by mandating what foods consumers can buy with food stamps.

Low-quality food is less expensive but more accessible

If you really want to get me fired up, start a conversation about how fast food is so cheap, but the cost of fresh produce and better-quality food is out of reach for many. Not to mention that a person with a consistent diet of foods high in sodium, trans fats, and sugar is at risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. These are all preventable diseases with a proper diet.

What’s really amazing to me are the advertisements pushing cheap fast food deals like 2 Whoppers for $2, but you never see ads for Whole Foods or Trader Joes — at least not in my advertising market. Why is that?

A Washington Post article several years ago profiled a South Texas town, where the children contracted diabetes and high cholesterol at an alarming rate—more than adults. Farmers’ markets and grocery stores were non-existent, and the local corner stores were the favorite spot for the children to get breakfast — hot spicy Cheetos-like snacks smothered in melted cheese. WTF! Is there any wonder why the children had diabetes?

Lack of healthy food education targeted to at-risk populations

An increase in community efforts can help in teaching at-risk populations the importance of eating healthy and providing strategies for how to buy the best quality foods on a limited budget. These strategies should include options for buying food: fresh, frozen, canned, and how to read the nutrition labels to reduce intake of sodium, fats, and sugar [improvements have been made to nutrition labels where they are much easier to read].

Food security is at risk

Food insecurity is on the rise, with more Americans seeking food help. The rise in unemployment during COVID-19 has certainly exacerbated the problem. Food banks are overwhelmed with long lines of Americans waiting for food. Here we are in one of the wealthiest countries on earth, and millions of its citizens are struggling with not having enough food — I don’t get it!

What puzzles me is that America is the first to interfere in the affairs of other countries over the mistreatment of their citizens. Yet, America has millions going hungry, or without access to healthy foods, and is slow to offer any kind of help that would make a difference.

Eating healthy shouldn’t be a luxury for those less fortunate. As Americans, we should all have the same access to healthy foods. That accessibility shouldn’t be based on whether or not we can afford them.

Previously published on medium


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Photo credit: by Matthew Lancaster on Unsplash