One of the most ubiquitous charges critics make against food manufacturers is that packaged food is more affordable than fresh produce and meat. Supposedly, that’s why so many people fill their shopping carts with “unhealthy” choices. This was a prevailing theme in the 2009 documentary Food Inc. and a favorite tenet of the foodie elite who would like everyone to cheerfully pay more for their groceries. But is it true? A team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shoots down that old canard.
In the new study, researchers compared the prices of each 100-gram serving of a variety of foods, and several healthier options came out as the cost-effective winners:
Orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes were the same as, or cheaper than, starchy vegetables like potatoes.
Whole fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas were 60 to 70 percent cheaper than processed sweetened snacks.
Low-fat milk (skim and 1-percent milk) is priced 10 to 20 percent less than whole or 2-percent milk
Bottled water costs on average between 6 and 33 percent less than carbonated soft drinks in every state except New York.
Those aren’t the only cheap and healthy options at the grocery store, either. Beans, rice, canned vegetables, eggs, and lean ground beef are all pennies per pound and pack a nutritional wallop.
So if you can’t blame low prices for making snack foods irresistible, could it possibly be that consumers sometimes prefer the taste of snacks that you wouldn’t find on an Olympic athlete’s training table? We wouldn’t put it past the food police to require snack companies to make their products less delicious and palatable.