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Social Issues
The Cost of Healthy Food - and Who Gets Access to It
September 28, 2011
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Here's a complicated issue: do people with low incomes eat badly? And if so, why?

A few days ago the New York Times ran an opinion piece comparing the cost of a meal for four at McDonald's to feeding the same number of people by cooking at home. Their findings? You could feed your family fresh chicken, potatoes and salad for just under half the price. And an alternative option - pinto beans and rice with bacon - would cost even less.

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Sounds like a simple choice, right? Instead of spending USD$28 on an unhealthy meal at a fast food restaurant, you can cook your family healthy fresh food and save a lot of money. Except that's not a real option for a lot of people. A recent survey of low-income women of colour in Seattle found that they ranked "access to healthy foods" as their top priority, above public transportation, a healthy, energy-efficient home and green jobs. But they don't have that access.

Lots of respondents to the survey - carried out by a group called 'Got Green' from Seattle - said they know how to cook healthy food, but there are no grocery stores neighbourhoods with fresh goods. So-called "food deserts" (areas without access to fresh food) have been in the news a lot lately.

Access to quality food products is genuinely a complicated issue, but it's also an important one. In Canada, the health costs of eating badly are starting to show: based on data from 2007-2009, one in four Canadian adults is obese, and socioeconomic status is one factor that influences obesity. If eating better food is an important part of reducing obesity and other health issues, then the question needs to be asked: how can everyone get access, regardless of their socioeconomic situation?

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