All my life I’ve been preached at by people concerned with my well-being. People full of ideas about how I could eat better for less if I just spend more time shopping, cooking, eating.
If I had a nickel…
Better food is more expensive food here in the US, and time that isn’t promised to someone else is something that the poor have very little of, and I am one of their vast numbers. It feels like this has always been reality. For all of my life, it has been.
Fast food is the cheapest food. That is why fast food businesses are successful. They provide food that is ready when you need it, and they provide it at a price that isn’t too high for the hungry person to afford. I could go to Taco Bell and eat lunch for less than four bucks back in the day, back when I sold my time to other people in exchange for continued existence. Two bean burritos and a taco, with a cup of unsweetened iced tea if I wanted to splurge.
Making the food myself I’d have to shop for the raw materials. A stack of tortillas was a dollar, the beans were a dollar, the cheese was a couple of dollars; and if I spiced the food properly we’re talking more than the prepared food would have been, and I’d still have to prepare it. Hours I didn’t have spent preparing the beans and then turning them into refried beans. Plus I’d have more food than I could eat by myself, so I would have to freeze it for later.
All of that preparation would have had to be done in a kitchen that was more than ten miles away, which is where home was, then frozen in a freezer that was similarly located at a distance. Or I could spend four bucks and eat the food prepared by Taco Bell. I could spend more to get a hamburger at Fran’s or Dan’s, but then I’d be eating the dreaded red meat, and that would have been even worse for my health.
This is why Americans are fat. We are fat because french fries are a buck and are available on every road in the US if you just pull off and hit the drive through. A sack of potatoes is $4 and you still have to have the fryer and the oil to make the Pommes Frites yourself. A hamburger can still be gotten from Whataburger for $4. Eight buns and a pound of hamburger will cost you more than that, without even getting into what you top the hamburger with. You just can’t beat the prices at fast food restaurants. I’ve tried, many times. It can’t be done. Not here.
Don’t get me started talking about green groceries. I love salads, but the only place I can get them cheap is Dairy Queen. If I buy the vegetables at the grocery store I’ll spend twice as much for more food, food that will go bad before I can eat all of it. Again, I’ve tried this many times. You have to buy more food at the store, you have to prepare the food yourself, you have to eat it or preserve it to eat later, or it spoils. Versus just driving through the DQ and getting a grilled chicken salad hold the cheese and bacon and spending $6. This is the problem.
Time pressure combined with cost constraints means you have to eat poorly, or not eat at all. I lived for months at a time on frozen leftovers when I was a working stiff. Leftovers brought frozen from home and thawed in the nuker in the office at lunchtime. I know how to cut corners. But sitting alone in your cubicle eating leftover thanksgiving turkey and rice gets old after a few months, and you start to want to get out and eat with your co-workers. They, if they are smart, don’t have children. Children are too expensive to have unless you are wealthy. They have more money than you, and they probably still eat poorly because that is what it is like to have to go out and find food in the food deserts that most downtown business areas are. You eat fast food, even if you have money. You just pay more for it at more respectable places than Taco Bell, but it is still assembly-line food made quickly for the massive downtown lunch crowds.
Now that I’m disabled, not beholden to someone else for my survival beyond counting on the continued existence of the US government (fingers crossed) I have the time to cook for myself, while still not having above poverty finances to afford better food. Being cooped up at home means I eat better now than I ever have previously in my life, and that is because I simply don’t bring food into the house that isn’t what I should be eating, and I dole out what I bring in over long periods that hopefully end before the food spoils. Using the chest freezer we specifically bought to preserve extra portions in, as often as possible to extend the shelf-life of prepared foods. That is what the luxury of not owing my time to someone else provides. Food that is slightly better than food bought at a counter prepared by someone else.
Here’s an example of what I mean by food being more expensive to fix for yourself than it is to buy at a fast food restaurant. This is one of the more reasonable markets near my home. The dreaded Walmart (Editor’s note. Yes, this paragraph has been extensively modified. This change makes the point better) Many places in the US are food deserts, no food available other than fast food. I’ll take a Walmart if that is all there is to shop at; and in many, many places, that is all that there is. That isn’t all there is in my neighborhood, but I won’t sully the other markets names with mentioning them in an article titled bad food. Walmart has no reputation to lose, so they will get picked on here.
This illustration will drive the point home.
Thirteen dollars and change, just for the produce. Chicken breasts aren’t available on the website, other than canned. Canned wouldn’t be good enough. Not for purists. I’d have to get fresh chicken breasts in person, buying at least six of them, and freeze them for later. Five dollars a pound. A block of goat’s cheese will run about seven dollars. A bottle of balsamic vinaigrette is about four dollars. If your objection to my buying bottled vinaigrette is to tell me I should be making my own dressing, and you feel the need to tell me about it, I will stalk you in response. Tread carefully. All told I would spend upwards of thirty bucks just to make two salads. Then you have to go back out for more greens, which will spoil in three days.
…Then remember that I can get a salad, pretty much like that one, at DQ for $6. I have the goat cheese and dressing, so I’m golden. Fast food is cheaper. Fast food is easier. Fast food is why Americans are fat.
Based on comments to an article in a private Facebook group.