Junk Food Costs Its Buyers More

by Don Boudreaux on August 22, 2012

in Agriculture, Dinner Table Economics, Environment, Food and Drink, Man of System, Myths and Fallacies

Here’s a letter to the New York Times (HT Emet Mohr for alerting me to Bittman’s flaw-filled most-recent column):

Asserting that “Not everyone can afford fresh fruits and vegetables,” Mark Bittman pleads for policies that would replace today’s large commercial farms with smaller farms (“Celebrate the Farmer!” Aug. 22).  He writes: “The naysayers will yell, ‘this mode of farming will not produce enough corn and soy to feed our junk food and cheeseburger habit,’ and that’s exactly the point.  It would produce enough food so that we can all eat well”.

Not all food experts agree with Mr. Bittman’s suggestion that agricultural markets and policies result in too little availability of fresh foods and, hence, prevent Americans – and especially poor Americans – from eating well.  Only last September one expert found that “In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food….  In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home.  You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people” – a price, this expert reported, that is half of what it costs at McDonald’s for the same number of people to dine on burgers, fries, and soda.  (This fact, of course, means that people who eat lots of hyperprocessed foods choose to do so, and even pay a premium to indulge that preference.)

Oh, I almost forgot: the expert who found that junk food is more pricey than are many healthier options such as “rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh vegetables” is your very own Mark Bittman writing in your very own pages (“Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” Sept. 24).

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

Relatedly, here’s Pierre Desrochers’s and Hiroko Shimizu’s essay in today’s National Post on why eating globally is more sustainable than eating local.

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