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Affording healthy foods

August 4, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
There was a story a few months back about unemployed twenty somethings, many of whom had useless graduate degrees in the liberal arts and were living in the city, who had received food stamps and were using them to shop at the pricy upscale grocery store Whole Foods.

Since these well-educated and newly poor young men and women received the same amount of food stamps as any other qualifying person and were using them to purchase healthy foods, I didn't see much of a problem with it. If they find they can't survive on what they are buying, I'm sure they'll eventually start eating rice and beans and Ramen noodles like other poor folk.

I sympathize with them because they're kindred spirits. I don't qualify for food stamps but if I did I'd be spending my money the same way. I'm a vegetarian and my health requires that I also must watch the sugar and carbohydrate content in the foods I eat. I also try to buy organic whenever possible. I'm that annoying person you see reading food labels in the store aisles, checking to see if there is chicken fat in the so-called vegetable soup or rennet in the cheese used to make the so-called vegetarian lasagna. That's a personal choice that does add more to my food budget. I buy the pricier vegetarian food in the organic aisle when I can and make due with rice and beans and canned fruits and vegetables when I can't.

In the last few years I've been eating far more rice and beans. It is becoming more expensive to eat right. A study published this week in the journal "Health Affairs" said following the U.S. nutritional guidelines containing more potassium, fiber, vitamin D and calcium would add about $380 to the average consumer's food costs. The feds aren't making it any easier for poor people in some areas to eat healthy foods, either. In Washington state, guidelines make it difficult for women with children to use their food stamps to buy a bag of potatoes, a potassium-rich food. Food stamps also don't stretch far enough for people to eat as healthily as they wish.

Then we come to rural North Dakota, where large numbers of people have to drive for up to an hour to reach a grocery store stocked with a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of those rural counties in North Dakota are classified as a "food desert" because of the lack of access to a grocery. Lots of poor people live in food deserts and they end up eating more processed foods, foods high in salt and sugar that add up to future health problems.

The government is recommending that people get more of those nutrients in their diet because what you eat can reduce the rate of cancer and heart attacks and obesity and other health problems. That's of benefit to society as a whole, since we all pay higher medical costs when a lot of people are sick and require expensive care. It seems like it would make more sense to take a look at ways to make it easier for people to afford healthy foods and also to have better access to them.


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