I'm a sociology major. Luckily I am not planning on doing anything with this degree, as I already know what I want to do with my life and I'm pretty much doing it at the moment, but I've always felt it was important to get a college education if you have the means to do so because it speaks of an ability to follow through and finish what one starts. Besides, I love sociology, and I seem to have an innate understanding of it which makes it an enjoyable course of study. One class I'm taking this semester is on the sociology of work, which seems to mean the sociology of the inequality of work; not that I'm complaining, as I seem to have developed a spidey sense for gender, racial and socioeconomic bias. No good discussion of the new American workplace would be complete without talking about Wal-Mart, which was our topic today. Among other things, I find Wal-Mart abhorrent because it has forced the very people who it put out of a job (domestic factory workers, independent business owners) to purchase their goods because they are the cheapest. These people are put into a very sad position, because they literally don't have the money to shop elsewhere, and so must buy their necessary items within the Jaws of Hell; it doesn't very well work for us to tell them to shop somewhere else. While we were making this point in class, someone piped up with, "It's like when we tell poor people to eat healthy, but they can't because it's cheapest to get a 1 dollar hamburger from McDonald's."
I hear this argument a lot. In fact, I think I actually made it at some point on the blog here (I say I think because actually looking to see if I did would require opening another tab on Firefox and I'm too lazy to do that.) I've done some thinking, though, and I was wrong if I ever said that. Yes, it may be cheaper that day to eat at McDonald's, but in the long run, you save a lot of money by cooking at home. To illustrate my point, I thought of how much it would cost to feed one person for a week with groceries. This list was made using groceries from Kroger, and how much things cost in Indianapolis. Some of these things were on sale if you used your Kroger Plus Card, which is free to get so you should get one. Also, always shop at Kroger because they are unionized.
Milk: $1.25/half gallon
Generic Cheerios: $1.88
8 apples: $2.00 (4/$1)
1 lb grapes: 93 cents
1 lb sliced ham: $2.19
1 carton eggs: 77 cents
1 jar peanut butter: $1
1 loaf wheat bread: $1
1 lb ground turkey: $2.50
1 lb box wheat pasta: $1.00
1 14.5 oz can Hunt's pasta sauce: $1.00
Salad mix: $2.50
Generic salad dressing: $2.00
Grand total : $20.02
Cost per day: $2.86
Rough price of a meal at McDonald's, off the dollar menu, which includes a protein, carb, and fruit/veggie: $3.00 plus tax
I'll analyze how I did the list: The milk, Cheerios, grapes and eggs are for breakfast- a handful of grapes, a bowl of cereal and an egg or two is grain/carbs, lean protein, calcium and vitamins from fruit.
The lunch meat, peanut butter, bread and apples are for lunch. Again, any combo of these will give you the essentials for a filling, healthy meal. At the end of the week you'll have an extra apple and likely extra meat or peanut butter to eat as a snack at some point.
And the pasta, turkey, sauce and salad are obviously for dinner. Again- trifecta of good carbs/fiber, protein and a veggie.
I get that this is not exactly the food pyramid, but no one will starve on this, and what you'd be eating is a hell of a lot better for you than fast food. Also, Kroger generally has a lot of 10/$10.00 specials every week- for example, this week in their ad I see tuna, English cucumbers, cottage cheese and 1/2 gallons of orange juice, and that's just the healthy stuff. Add those to your groceries for the week and you get a little more variety, for only $4 more (remember, food isn't taxed.)
As you can see, the idea of being too poor to eat healthy is crap. I don't know how many actual poor people use this excuse; it seems to be used more by broke (different from poor, as broke often has to do with poor money choices) college students/young people. Look at it like this: I will assume that the average college student, or single poor person, works 20 hours a week at a job that pays $9/hr. If you assume that 20% of the weekly paycheck is taken out in taxes, we are looking at an income of $144 a week. By cooking at home and eating healthy, you are spending a little less than 14% of your weekly income on food. Even if you sprung for the extra $4 in groceries, you're looking at less than 17% of your weekly income. If you are eating out at every meal, even the dollar menu, let's assume you spend $9.00 a day (3 items off the dollar menu, 3 meals a day.) That's 43% of your weekly income! Holy crap! Now, I'll go ahead and assume that most people don't spend $10 a day on food and eat at home at least some of the time- but still, if you ate at home for every meal, you could eat really healthily for very little money. Did I mention that the only thing you'd need to eat at home on this plan is a pot to cook stuff in? I realize that a lot of people don't have money to buy fancy kitchen things, so I controlled for that. You do need a stove/oven, but almost anywhere you rent or live in will have these
So, ain't nobody too poor to eat healthy. Thank God we have things like WIC and food stamps in the USA so that people who have to work low wage jobs can provide food for their families, especially healthy food. I appreciate that if it were not just you, but you and say, your two children, this $20 in groceries would not quite cut it. But I do firmly believe that eating at home and eating healthily are really easy if you're willing to do it.