Monday, January 7, 2013

Rant: A Wake Up Call To The Food Obsessed

It seems like a staggering statistic based on the amount of restaurants that exist in the U.S. and considering all of the supermarkets and specialty food shops that are around. There are so many thousands of food writers in the U.S. as well as entire magazines and television networks devoted to food. Food seems like an obsession in the U.S. However, if so, then why does the U.S. actually spend so little on food?

In Urner Barry's Reporter (Winter 2013), it is reported that, on average, the U.S. spends 6.7% of its income on food, which happens to be the lowest percentage of the developed and developing world. There is a list of more than 60 countries which spend a higher percentage on food than the U.S. The median income  in the U.S. is approximately $50,000 so about $3350 of that is spent on food, roughly $64 a week. That is less than $10 per day!

During the last one hundred years, Americans have been spending less and less of their income on food. In the 1930s, Americans were spending about 21% of their income on food, which declined to 17% by the 1950s. That percentage has now dropped down to less than 7%, a huge change over all that time. The Urner Barry article does not provide any possible explanation for this low figure so we can only speculate, though various other sources seem to put much of the blame over all the cheap food available.

Chain restaurants like McDonald's and an abundance of cheap, prepackaged foods make it easy and inexpensive to eat. Many people can't be bothered to spend an hour or more cooking at home. They just want the ability to quickly purchase some fast food or pop a premade dish in the oven. The problem, ignored by many of these people, is that those cheap prices can come with a heavy cost, ill health and obesity.

It would be best if many of those people who regularly patronized such chains and bought all those prepackaged foods would cook more at home, from basic ingredients. That can be done inexpensively though even if it might be a bit more expensive up front, in the end it would be less costly as their health would benefit. Convincing those people to change though is an arduous task. Looking at the bottom line is much easier for people than looking forward to the future.

Though all of that may explain why many people spend so little on food, it doesn't explain our cultural obsession with food. The reason may be is that there is a food elite, a percentage of our population which spends a far greater percentage of their income on food. They also tend to be the individuals who cook more at home, while also patronizing higher end restaurants. They also tend to be concerned more with issues such as sustainability. They are the ones who read all about food, who watch television shows about food, who write about food. I would fall into this category, as I certainly spend a higher percentage more than 7% of my income on food.

Such individuals need to properly understand the privilege they possess, the ability to be able to spend a higher percentage on food. Economically, I am strongly within the middle class and have struggled over the last few years to make ends meet. I don't consider myself wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. Of my friends who are similarly food obsessed, none of them are wealthy either. Many of them have struggled during these years of economic turmoil. We are not the 1% yet we have more disposable income than some others.

Our economic woes are nothing compared to so many others in this country. There is a wide economic gap even between the middle class and the poor. The latest figures show that 14.5% of U.S. households are food insecure, the highest total ever. In a country with so much food available, it is a travesty that so many still go hungry. It is a greater travesty that the number of hungry people continues to grow to record levels. We desperately need to help fight this massive problem.

I thus implore the food obsessed, the watchers of food shows, the readers of food blogs, those able to spend so much more money on food than many others:

Get Off Your Ass And Help The Less Fortunate! 

A new year has begun so let it begin on a positive note. Make a resolution to help the less fortunate, to feed the hungry. Skip your $5 coffee, cancel your $25 lunch, forget your $100 dinner. Do something, anything, which will make our country a better and more food secure place. Lend your support to organizations dedicated to alleviating hunger. Individually, we might only be able to make small contributions, but when added together, the impact can be great.

So what are you waiting for? Stop reading my blog and go help the food insecure!

1 comment:

Jason Phelps said...

An excellent topic and point to make. My only follow-up is that when picking an organization to support look into where the money and donations go to make sure your support will have meaningful and local impact. Organizations that advertise minimally will likely spend your money better, but might take a bit more digging to find.

I support the NH Food Bank and the food related initiatives of the church my parents attend in CT. I know the people where I put my support personally, and that makes it easier for me to see where my support goes.