Walmart is so well known for having the lowest prices in the country. Have you ever shopped there and just wondered how in the heck they can sell a widget so cheap? Besides their common practice of buying junky stuff from overseas, it now appears that Walmart's cheapo food has become a problem.
Walmart is also notorious for having the fattest customers. Why? It is because of value - apparently the healthiest food is also the best bargain, and it doesn't help that Walmart has partnered with McDonalds to serve increasing amounts of highly profitable junk food.
According to the NY Times:
As a rule, processed foods are more “energy dense” than fresh foods: they contain less water and fiber but more added fat and sugar, which makes them both less filling and more fattening. These particular calories also happen to be the least healthful ones in the marketplace, which is why we call the foods that contain them “junk.” Drewnowski concluded that the rules of the food game in America are organized in such a way that if you are eating on a budget, the most rational economic strategy is to eat badly — and get fat.
It costs considerably more to eat healthily. If you were to consume the USRDA of fat, protein, and calories by eating veggies and fresh meats, the fact is you'd be spending a heck of a lot more to feed your family. Ironically, the result is that lower icome shoppers find the best value in the heavily marketed, subsidized processed foods that pile on the pounds.
The reason, as the New York Times article explains, has to do with the Farm Bill, which heavily subsidizes soybeans, corn, and wheat - three major ingredients, or sources, of many of the ingredients in junk food. The result?
According to Andrea Dickension on WiseBread.com, the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (aka liquid corn in the form of corn syrup) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.
So even foods that are more processed, that require more labor to produce, cost less. The article goes on to explain the origins of the Farm Bill and the detrimental, albeit unintended, effect it is having on our population.
The farm bill helps determine what sort of food your children will have for lunch in school tomorrow. The school-lunch program began at a time when the public-health problem of America’s children was undernourishment, so feeding surplus agricultural commodities to kids seemed like a win-win strategy. Today the problem is overnutrition, but a school lunch lady trying to prepare healthful fresh food is apt to get dinged by U.S.D.A. inspectors for failing to serve enough calories; if she dishes up a lunch that includes chicken nuggets and Tater Tots, however, the inspector smiles and the reimbursements flow. The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.
It ends on a hopeful note, claiming that the resurgence in organic farming and local produce, combined with consumer demands and the American ideal of a free market economy, may give us a chance to reclaim our farming heritage and our health. I'm not sure that I'm so optimistic about our chances for revamping what seems like extremely complicated and pork-filled legislation.