The value of a dollar

January 11, 2011

By Jo Cooper

I asked our popular Food As Medicine faculty member, farmer, teacher and author John Bagnulo, MPH, PhD, to take a few moments and view this thought-provoking slide show, Marketplace Photo Gallery: The value of a dollar, in which photographer Jonathan Blaustein photographs a dollar’s worth of various types of food.

Here are John’s thoughts:

The photos are excellent and really make a statement. The part that stands out the most to me is the relatively low cost of the meat products, including the double cheeseburger. This is obviously the result of meat and corn subsidization.

The US has tried to keep meat and livestock feed cheap over the last 30+ years for a variety of reasons, but human health was not one of the driving factors. These three foods offer the most calories after the ramen noodles and by far have the greatest amount of embodied energy/use of resources even with the candy coming from China and the crackers from Spain. This disparity in cost between the price of fruits and vegetables and that of meat and junk food is a major barrier in our efforts to help struggling families and the less fortunate eat better. Policy change with respect to how we help farmers is as important as education.

The next thing that strikes me after looking at these photos and thinking for a few moments is how some fruits are given such wonderful titles as SuperFoods, and I understand of course the rationale for this, but also how this may lead many consumers astray with their efforts to eat better and /or feed their families. Conventional grapefruits at four for a dollar is a great price and I think that you could make a strong argument that they are just as good for us as blueberries. Plus there is very little difference between conventional and organic grapefruits. I would recommend these as a staple for any household. Fairly long shelf life for a fresh fruit, really very clean as a conventional fruit, and low cost makes this true winner for all.

Lastly, I think it is also important to think about where Americans spend their money. What can I buy instead of the tomatillos or the grapefruit? Most of us are consuming items and services that will never nourish us in any way. Even the lowest SES groups in this country spend a far smaller percentage of their income on food than the rest of the world. Our economy seems to be stacked against these groups for sure, but food and the quality of food being produced here has taken a back seat to our desire for items and technology that have unfortunately been given the label as signs of an increased standard of living.

What are your thoughts?