Mark Bittman on the Myth of Cheap Food

by Lisa Rosen on September 26, 2011

Mark Bittman, a widely respected food writer, had an Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times that overturns a widely believed myth about food prices:  fast food is not any cheaper than cooking at home.

It seems that as a country, we often throw up our hands in despair over the obesity problem, citing the inescapable temptation of cheap, plentiful fast food.  Why shouldn’t people eat fast food, if that’s all they can afford?

Bittman has a fabulous graphic showing the price of dinner for a family of four:  McDonald’s, a home-cooked meal of chicken, rice, and salad, or a home-cooked meal of rice and beans.  If you’re on a budget, you’ll want to stay away from McDonald’s.

Personally, I eat very little fast-food; I’m a little squeamish about what’s actually in food that can be produced on that kind of scale.  But I’m in the minority, as evidenced by the ubiquity of those golden arches (and all the other eye-catching signs and slogans that line our roadways).  According to Bittman, the crux of the problem is this:  people don’t like to cook.

Wait, what?

I don’t really see it as optional.  Eating?  Sort of essential (if you don’t believe me, google Mazlov’s hierarchy).  Unless you’re going to just graze on random  raw plant matter, you probably ought to know how to cook a few things.  It’s a crucial life skill, right up there with knowing how to use a toilet and cross a street without getting run over and tie your shoelaces.  I feel like obligated to teach my kids how to cook a few basic meals for themselves, just like I’ve taught them how to do laundry and schedule their own medical appointments.

The political action Bittman talks about–the changes in regulation and legislation that would curb the influence of fast-food conglomerates–are beyond my puny little control.  But the cultural changes that will pave the way for a real improvement in our nation’s health?  I can do my part.  I can teach my children where food comes from, how it gets to store*, and how to turn that raw material into a meal that nourishes both body and soul.

*Yesterday Delaney and I were at the supermarket, and she asked for some Granny Smith apples.  I told her about this article, which points out, among other things, that the average supermarket apple was picked 14 months before you see it in produce section.  14 months!  She hesitated for a nano-second, then asked if we had time to go to the farmer’s market.  That’s my girl.

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