I love it when food snobs try to convince the American public that it’s just too expensive to “eat healthy.” 

Writing in the Washington Post this morning, Katrina vanden Heuvel promotes the tired theory that healthy food is just too expensive and suggests a really creative solution to the obesity problem in America.  Just raise taxes on fast food companies. Yeah…I bet that’ll do it. 

She writes: “it takes just under thirty minutes of work for an average burger-flipper to earn enough to buy a Big Mac (average American price, $3.58) on his lunch break.  Startlingly, it would still take that burger-flipper 29 minutes to earn enough to buy a head of organic romaine lettuce ($3.49/head). Add tomato ($4.99/pound), sweet onion ($1.49/pound), and carrots ($2.49/bunch); skim milk ($2.99/half gallon), hard-boiled egg ($3.69/dozen), and whole wheat bread ($3.49/loaf).” 

Well…that sounds convincing until you break down Katrina’s math a little more.  

First of all, Katrina is comparing one fast food meal to the prices of a whole head of lettuce (from which you can get several large salads) and the price of whole pounds of the other salad ingredients (tomatoes, onions) as well as a ½ gallon of milk, a dozen eggs (that she apparently purchases already boiled), and a whole loaf of bread.  That hardly seems a fair comparison.  The only fair thing to do would be to compare the price of 3 or 4 fast food meals to the cost of Katrina’s shopping list. 

As for Katrina’s shopping list, she seems to be purchasing most of her groceries at a pretty pricey store and seems to be a little out of touch with how a person on a budget might shop.  For instance, you don’t need to buy organic to be healthy.  I know it might be hard for Katrina to lower her standards, but non organic romaine (and even…dare I say it…iceberg lettuce) is a heck of a lot cheaper than the “organic romaine” she suggests.  For $1.99 a head, one can make three salads bringing the total for one salad to .66 cents.  Then we have the onions. I’m not sure where Katrina’s shopping, but I can get a whole yellow onion at my local grocery for .60 cents.  While I certainly don’t eat an entire onion on one salad, I’ll go ahead and give Katrina the whole .60 cents.  As for tomatoes (I’m surprised food expert Katrina would ever suggest such a non-seasonal produce item…surely she’s not suggesting we eat non-local items), if you shop smartly, you can find roma tomatoes for $2.29/lb. Topping your salad with two of these tomatoes would be less than a $1.  

On to the eggs…I hardly think a “burger flipper” (as she so respectfully calls fast food employees) are really going to waste their money on eggs that are already boiled for you, as Katrina suggests (why do I have the feeling Katrina stores books in her oven?).  One dozen eggs for rarely costs more than $2.  And unless you’re making an egg salad, one or two eggs will suffice to top a tossed salad, bringing that item’s total to .32 cents.  

Even though I am able to find a cheaper price on milk, I’ll just go ahead and give Katrina her $2.99 price on milk.  However, unless our burger flipper (BF) is drinking the whole 8 cups in that ½ gallon, I came up with .37 cents per glass of milk (I went ahead and gave the poor guy two glasses in my calculations). As for the bread, I found a number of totally respectable loaves of wheat bread for $2 and under (giving our burger flipper 2 slices, brings the amount for one meal to .26 cents). 

So, let’s review. According to my calculations, our BF can have (according to Katrina’s own menu selections) a large salad with romaine or iceberg lettuce, 2 hard boiled eggs, 2 sliced tomatoes and a whole onion along with two glasses of milk and two slices of wheat bread for…drum roll, please…$3.58.  Hmmm…that seems to match exactly Katrina’s price for a burger meal at a fast food joint! 

What Katrina forgets, is that for many people…reasonable people…burgers simply taste better than tossed salads.  And fast food offers people the convenience of a fast, complete meal in minutes–a meal that they haven’t had to cook themselves.  The taste and convenience factor isn’t going to change by artificially raising the prices on fast food. 

I actually do agree that the government could do something to help the obesity problem in America, but unlike Katrina, my recommendation would be less government intervention-as in a wholesale change in this country’s agriculture policies (such as farm subsidies and sugar tariffs which artificially lower the cost of corn and hike the cost of sugar). 

Katrina can keep trying to find that magic sin tax that will make all Americans behave the way in which she approves.  But the truth is, Americans simply can find reasonably priced healthy foods. Cabbage, potatoes, onions, and carrots are all very reasonably priced produce items. Dried beans are insanely cheap as are many canned soups and frozen vegetables.  Inexpensive, good-for-you food is out there, but the hard truth is, in our free society, people will eat what they want…even the bad stuff.