Post No.: 0043
Regarding obesity, if you are poor and live in a ‘developing’ country then you won’t generally get to eat convenience or junk foods – you’ll cook from raw ingredients and eat what humble foods you can. This alone should dispel the myth that if one is poor then one can only afford processed foods and fizzy drinks and cannot afford a more healthy diet! If you were truly poor then you’d view pre-processed or junk foods as actually luxuries, in the sense that all you have to do is bung them into the oven or microwave without needing to really prepare anything (not that ovens or microwaves are inherently wrong or bad to use – it’s just what we put into them) or they’re bought already cooked. And you’d be drinking plain water or simple teas, not fizzy soda/pop too, because plain water is obviously cheaper (specifically tap water – except in places where the tap water is risky to drink, if a place has running tap water at all).
Put another way – raw ingredients are cheaper than pre-processed, pre-prepared foods because customers pay for the convenience of having things done for them by whoever makes or sells them. If you don’t put in the labour (of doing the chopping and cooking etc.) yourself then you’re paying someone else to do it (even with their economies of scale). There might be exceptions but I cannot think of one right now.
So there is a misconception that the poor can only afford unhealthy, obesity-causing diets and that a healthy diet is out of reach for many. We pay for processing and convenience, as processes mean energy, and energy means cost – the more we do ourselves, the less we pay others to do it for us. And if you want some apple, don’t get an apple pie – get an apple for cheaper (pound-for-pound for the actual apple content), or if you want some meat, don’t get a meat pie – get a fresh cut of meat for cheaper (pound-for-pound for the actual meat content).
Yes our options are reduced the poorer we are (e.g. seafood is generally more expensive than other sources of protein for many in the world), but in ‘developed’ countries (for the want of better words for ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries because the world is more complicated than these two categories) there are enough other, affordable options in each nutrient category. And indeed a larger percentage of one’s weekly budget will need to go on food the poorer one is, but people still need to spend that amount on more, rather than less, healthful options.
We simply cannot become obese without excess, and we can’t have excess if we are truly poor. Tell poor children in ‘developing’ countries that they’re going to be obese because they’re poor then(!) Ever seen a starving child in a famine zone not being able to afford anything to eat except a sausage roll?(!) Obese people essentially eat more like King Henry VIII did! (By the way, when we see truly poor and starving children with pot bellies (kwashiorkor) – that’s due to a lack of nutrients, mainly protein. So of course being financially poor intrinsically causes poor health outcomes in these sorts of extreme poverty situations, but if you’re in a situation where you consume too many calories then you can always technically afford to consume less.) Meow.
Until we see poor people in ‘developing’ countries eating e.g. burgers and chicken nuggets, or charities sending e.g. pizzas and fries to these starving people, then these aren’t the most cost-effective (as in the best value of desired nutrition for the money) foods that one can get. Now this is not a vilification against eating burgers, chicken nuggets or the like now and again but about the point that raw ingredients and cooking for oneself is cheaper/more cost-effective if the reason you give for not eating a healthy diet is because you cannot afford to. Obese people, rich or poor, just make bad choices. Being starved may not be a choice for many in this world but being obese is, in a practical sense. A person who doesn’t have enough to eat can’t always eat more, but a person who eats too much can always eat less. No one is force feeding anyone (which would be a weird dark side power!)
A mis-education about needing to spend a lot of money to eat a healthy diet, and over-simplified beliefs about what is healthful, are unfortunately perpetuated by certain cultures and circles (e.g. ‘natural’ always equating to ‘healthy’, or ‘expensive’ always equals ‘better’). Esoteric fad ingredients purported to be the next health craze also don’t help. All this is harmful because it perpetuates the myth that a healthy diet is expensive and difficult. The less we know, the more we over-simplify and over-generalise (although we won’t be aware that we are – unless and until we learn a lot more). A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing e.g. ‘some’ becomes generalised into meaning ‘all’, thus forming an overly crude and erroneous over-generalisation that leads people into traps and poor decisions. Simple minds want simple rules, but reality is far more nuanced.
Well that’s a couple of perspectives on the issue – here’s another, arguably key, one to understand… It’s not so much that those in low socio-economic status (SES) groups tend to consume high-calorie or calorie-dense foods and drinks because it’s cheaper – it’s that being (or at least feeling) poor is stressful, and stress tends to make us gravitate towards comforting calorie-dense foods and drinks. Stress may also make us not want to spend the time and effort to cook if one can get away with it because one would rather conserve energy (another term for being ‘lazy’ could be being ‘energy efficient’). These are instinctive reactions to stress borne from and optimised for a very different environment than the one many people live in today – times and places when and where stress was frequently related to wondering where the next meal is going to come from.
But in an environment where calorie-dense options are actually plentiful, this over-generalised and over-firing instinct to gather and retain as many calories in the body as possible ‘for the potentially lean days ahead’ is maladaptive and works against our self-regulation to do what’s best for ourselves. Indeed, for most of us, many calorie-dense foods are simply pleasurable and rewarding (to the brain) to consume regardless of our stress levels (‘addictive’ is a debated term though) – but most of us have probably experienced that stress tends to make us desire or crave calorie-dense (sweet and/or fatty, and maybe savoury) foods much more (plus it sometimes makes us feel less motivated to spend the time and energy to cook too). Some people may react differently but the body is physiologically geared towards the storage of fat during times of chronic stress (an immediate effect of acute stress might be fat loss though because the body is accessing energy in order to ‘fight or flight’). The stresses of being overweight itself and then stigmatised for being overweight can themselves create a vicious cycle of comfort eating too – it’s therefore a more tricky and complex issue than at first seems.
If socio-economic status (and the level of education attained by one’s parents) is a major correlate with obesity then we must arguably reduce poverty (and educate). But income level and ‘healthy’ versus ‘unhealthy’ grocery shopping ratios do have a lot of variance in the population e.g. many in low-income groups may perceive that fruit and vegetables are more expensive than ‘unhealthy’ options, but then many others in low-income groups grow their own fruit and vegetables; and high-income groups may perceive that fresh fruit and vegetables are more accessible for their budgets, but then busy high-income groups may gravitate towards ‘unhealthy’ convenience food options. So income alone is not a perfect determinant of whether one will likely spend a higher or lower percentage of their grocery shopping on ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ choices. Socio-economic status involves education, occupation, opportunities, the home environment, community environment, culture, as well as income.
Whatever the case, it should be encouraging to know that a healthy diet for yourself and your family is, in sufficient practicable part, in your own fluffy paws (even if your own fuzzy instincts in conjunction with the environment around you may be working against you), unless you cannot even afford or access the raw ingredients, the equipment, utilities and gas/electricity to cook, or the plain water to drink (in which case I don’t personally believe this is moral, right or fair on anyone).
When shopping for food on a tight budget, do not look for value-for-money in terms of cost-per-weight or volume, but in terms of cost-per-amount-of-desired-nutrients (e.g. nuts and dried fruit can be relatively expensive per volume but can be dense in nutrients). A balance of nutrients is vital too and can be achieved by seeking a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables (frozen, canned, dried or fresh are all fine, depending on what’s added e.g. sugar), and varying your meals. Buying ‘economy’ or even ‘diet’ can sometimes be a false economy because they can lack the desired nutrients – sometimes they are bulked up with cheap sugar, fat and/or salt to make up for their basic lack of flavour or are nutritionally equivalent to buying air, which is obviously a waste of money. (Yes sugar, fat and salt are indeed relatively cheap but you can still have too much of them, hence once you’ve got enough of these nutrients it’s better to seek other nutrients for your money.) Again, knowledge is power for you. And the more you read product labels, the quicker you’ll get at doing it.
Furrywisepuppy and Fluffystealthkitten are not going to sell you any fad diets or push expensive fancy ingredients that have cheaper alternatives for a cut of the proceedings. We are not going to write a diet book because it’s going to be the same ‘boring’ healthy diet advice as the heavily-scientifically-supported healthy diet advice that’s been around for ages and is the one promoted by decent governments with decent health departments. Often things are only ‘boring’ because they’re the most true and they’ve still not been sufficiently defeated by any new research. We like cooking from scratch, eating together and only eat convenience or junk foods occasionally too.
If you have or think you have a specific medical condition that makes you an exception to the rules when it comes to what constitutes a healthy diet for you then please seek and follow the guidance of your doctor.
Meow, ciao and chow!