We had a guest speaker who talked about food deserts. Food deserts are areas of cities where people live, but there aren’t any grocery stores with easy access. At best, people’s food needs are met at the local 7-11, but these convenience stores charge more than grocery stores would and don’t carry fresh produce. People who live in these areas eat a lot of junk food and canned food because that’s what’s available, and they tend to get way too much sodium because even “healthy” canned food tends to be higher in sodium than its fresh or frozen counterparts.
The guest speaker claimed that food deserts don’t really exist, or at least that the problem is much smaller in magnitude than it has been made out to be in the media. He didn’t show a map or anything, and I haven’t looked up the original research so I can’t verify that claim.
He then said that when low SES and middle SES people shop at the same grocery store, they buy different food portfolios. Middle SES people tend to buy a lot more variety of food, and they’re more likely to buy the seasonal produce–the fruits and veggies that are cheap because they’re in season. Lower SES people at the same grocery store tend to buy the same bundles of food every month with far less variety.
He attributed this difference to lack of knowledge about how to cook different foods, but we could easily assume that there are differences in ability to carry the food home or to process and store the food so that it doesn’t go bad (and the downside to food going bad is worse when you have less money). It could also be a difference in time– working 2 or 3 minimum wage part-time jobs doesn’t leave much time to be creative about cooking or shopping, especially if you have to take several buses to get to the grocery store.
The bottom-line though, is that if we want to help people to eat more healthily and more inexpensively, we can’t just provide access to fresh produce. We probably can’t also, as he suggests (and WIC is doing), just provide cooking classes. There are many reasons that lower SES people in cities turn towards convenience foods rather than a variety of seasonal produce.
Most of the stuff left on my cheap eats list is pretty bready, and we can’t have that much bread and still feed the baby so no biscuits and gravy, bruschetta, or pancakes this week. Also we’ve been too sick and exhausted to make casseroles, so no tamale pie, even though that’s a great cheap eat. In reality we’d probably have chili and spaghetti once a week rather than once (or twice, if you count meat and veggie chili together) a month if we were trying to keep costs low.
Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup: We make the soup from scratch because the canned stuff is too sweet. But with a can, this is a $4 meal, give or take.
lentils: depends on what you put in it, the lentils themselves are <$1. You could add a couple slices of bacon from your bacon stash, but we’re probably gonna go veggie with spices. So some onion and garlic and mustard seeds… probably a $3 or $4 meal.
stir fry veggies over rice: This’ll be different than the last stirfry, but the cost will be about the same.
taco salad: This can get pricey– but the lettuce will be $2, the beans $1, then probably a jar of salsa for $2. Meat will add another $2-$6.
quiche: Same as an omelete, but add another $1 or 2 for the crust.
noodles with olive oil and garlic and cheese (don’t worry, OMDG, we’ll probably have a side salad with it): YMMV.
And that should be it. Next week I’m totally going back to the Thai cookbook for stuff. (If you have the exotic stuff on hand because you eat a lot of it, the Thai food isn’t so bad, but if you don’t, it gets pricey.)