Food for thought: Do poor people prefer junk food?


By Wayne Baker • Nov. 12, 2012

America is undergoing a food awakening. From celebrity chefs and the popular Food Network to farmers market, the good food movement, organic farming, and the growing population of foodies, Americans are eating, preparing, thinking and talking about good food like never before. But not everyone gets a seat at the table.

Americans with enough time, money, and energy can buy fresh high-quality organic foods and make the effort to prepare healthy meals. All three ingredients are needed, however, and if one is missing—the time, the money, or the energy—the chances of eating healthy drop.

One of the myths about eating in America is that poor people prefer junk food over healthy food, writes journalist Tracie McMillan in The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table.

The reasons poverty and unhealthy eating go together have little to do with tastes or preferences or even knowledge. Fresh food tends to be too expensive for those who work for low wages. Typically healthy food is not available in poor neighborhoods. Preparing fresh food takes time, but working long hours leaves little of it for making healthy meals.

What McMillan saw, she writes, was “an abandonment of America’s great promise, implicit in every tale of rising fortunes and opportunity from Thomas Jefferson to Barack Obama, that it would always feed its citizens well.” She set out to understand the reasons why, working undercover at Applebee’s and the food section of Wal-Mart; she harvested grapes and cut garlic with migrant workers. She worked long hours and lived on low wages, eating the same way that her fellow workers ate. This week, we’ll discuss different insights she gleaned from her year undercover.

Would you call yourself a foodie?

Have we abandoned the promise to feed all citizens well?

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