Listening to today’s health police, you’d think that consumers were being attacked by malevolent, unhealthy snacks. “Fast food is infiltrating our culture … It’s basically everywhere,” warns Kelly Brownell, father of the “Twinkie tax” and scientific advisor to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “We have too much food in this country,” complains Marion Nestle, self-anointed captain of the food cops.

As if having plentiful food weren’t bad enough, it gets worse. Apparently, the marauding menaces of fat, sugar, and salt don’t cost enough. Food is “too cheap,” says Nestle. “Unhealthy foods,” Brownell adds, “are the cheapest and easiest to get. Healthier foods are harder to get and cost more.” James Hill of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado adds: “Sweet, fat things are the cheapest thing on the planet to produce.”

It’s allegations like these that supposedly make the case for nutty proposals like punitive taxes on fatty foods. Penalize the unhealthy foods, subsidize the healthy ones, and all will be well, the argument goes. “We could envision taxes on butter, potato chips, whole milk, cheeses [and] meat,” says Michael Jacobson of CSPI.

But when they’re not pushing for “sin” taxes, anti-food-choice activists will openly acknowledge what should be clear to everyone: that eating a healthy diet doesn’t require much money. Asked by healthy.net whether “eating a sound diet often costs less,” Jacobson responded:

Right. Unprocessed, basic foods are frequently dirt cheap. Potatoes sometimes go for as little as a nickel or dime a pound in many places, and they’re one of the very most nutritious foods. Beans and rice are very inexpensive.

Nestle also sings a different tune when trying to encourage people to eat a healthy diet. “People always assume fresh produce costs more. But it actually costs more to buy processed and junk foods,” she told a Cape Cod paper.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family of four can purchase “a healthful diet meeting current nutritional standards” for less than four dollars per person per day (see p. 90). Go to a typical supermarket and you can pick up a four pound chicken, a pound of lettuce, a pound of potatoes, and a pound of oranges — a ghastly amount of food for the 1500 calories a day crowd — for a little more than six dollars (see p. 91). Is this what these activists mean by “costly” and “hard to get”?