Will the Recession Make Us Healthy?
Could tightening our financial belts help us tighten the ones around our waists? A new article Stomaching the recession: What the slumping economy will mean for the American diet in the new edition of Tufts Nutrition magazine addresses the question and concludes there's no simple answer.
The Great Depression, the usual reference point for our troubled economic times, doesn't provide good historical clues, the article reports. The way we ate 80 years ago was very different from today, with limited processed food, no television and most meals eaten at home. Today, half of American food dollars are spent outside the home, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. Of the meals we eat at home, 36 percent are gobbled in front of the TV, according to research firm NPD.
Nor is it clear that a return to the kitchen would help Americans eat more healthfully. People will eat out less -- a survey conducted this spring found that 48 percent planned to cut back on dining out. But taste (read: fatty foods we love) and convenience (read: pre-packaged processed meals) will still drive most purchasing decisions. Nothing, not even the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, "will not make people want to cook," NPD's food analyst Harry Balzer told me. The most popular dinner item this year: the sandwich.
The Tufts article is interesting. But Balzer's take makes me wonder if we're asking the wrong questions. Of course the economy affects where and what we eat. But the ability to cook might have more impact. After all, if you know how to cook (and don't hate to do it), it's easy to make a fast, healthful meal without breaking the bank. My go-to bargain meal is pasta with canned tuna, tomatoes and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Parker Wilde, a professor at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, managed to make a meal of chicken curry, lentil dal, coconut black-eyed peas, white and brown rice plus and fruit salad for dessert for $1.40 per person.
What do you think? Is budget the determing factor in what you eat, or is it time and kitchen skills?
-- Jane Black
July 14, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories: Food Politics | Tags: Jane Black, budget
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