As happens occasionally, I'm having a hard time expressing myself on this one.
Inspired by our friend Dana, my better half has challenged himself to eat on $2.00 a day for 5 days. Dana, going more for the "see how the rest of the world lives" angle, has so far eaten eggs, cream of wheat, rice and beans. Bryan, on the other hand, went the "let's just see what I can do on two bucks a day" route and got a little more variety. The results are courtesy of Aldi. Just about anyone I know who is following a tight (and low) grocery budget has shopped there, or at Save-a-Lot, or at (heaven forbid!) Walmart from time to time... or all the time.
He was successfully able to get enough food to make sure he'd have enough calories for the day. In fact, he's said that it might be just a tad too much food. But it's what he bought to ensure that he had enough food for five days that got my mind working.
Peanut Butter. Jelly. Eggs. Cheap wheat bread (no doubt laden with HFCS, as is the jelly, I'm sure). Cheap lips-and-assholes hot dogs and white hot dog buns. Ramen noodles. Oatmeal. Evaporated milk. Three cans of vegetables. Five apples.
The only fresh ANYTHING on that list is the apples. There's no lean protein at all (eggs and cheap peanut butter are both pretty fatty). Each can of veggies is 3.5 servings, so between the veggies and apples, there's a total of 15.5 servings of fruits and veggies, which works out to 3.1 servings a day, far short of the recommended 8-10 servings. The only dairy on that list is a 12oz can of evaporated milk - regular milk is too expensive, forget cheese or yogurt.
There is some fiber in the oatmeal (very little in the cheap wheat bread), and the eggs are fairly good for you (this week, at least). But otherwise, we have a bunch of saturated fat, carbohydrates, HFCS, extremely limited dairy, and the only significant nutrients are coming from less than half the recommended allowance of fruit and vegetables.
It didn't really start to affect me until I hit my mid-to-late 20s, but I now feel like crap when I eat fast food and other things that are highly processed (deli meats, lips-and-assholes, etc.). Lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy are just flat out better for you. But it's all so much more expensive. I was having this discussion with a coworker the other day, and she was relaying her frustration at the fact that feeding her family a meal from the dollar menu is cheaper than buying all of the ingredients for a nice salad. She opts to spend the extra money for the health of her family, but there are many people who don't have that option.
$2.00 a day. $60.00 a month. Per person. And that's just for food. In our leaner days, we used to scrape by on a grocery budget of $50.00 a week, and that had to include cleaning products and toiletries as well. And believe me, we didn't eat much better than what you see here. This is very real. There are people for whom this is not an experiment - we'd all do well to remember that the next time we want to judge.
There are kids growing up like this - dinner from the dollar menu because it's cheap. Or four-for-a-buck off-brand macaroni and cheese. Or whatever else is cheap and filling, of which each choice is more processed, fatty and chemical-laden than the last. And more often than not, they live in areas where mom and dad don't want to let them spend too much time outside, so they don't get exercise. TV and computer time takes away from the exercise as well. And when people grow up like this, it's all they know. I'm not saying that it's an excuse for them to remain ignorant as they get older, and not work to change their habits. But if anyone can tell you, I can: changing habits formed over the course of a lifetime, from behavior modeled by your parents and so many people around you? It's a LOT of hard work to break those habits. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes I'm not. And there are a LOT of kids who grew up - and are currently growing up - in much more unhealthy homes than I did.
I don't have a solution. I wouldn't even begin to know where to start. It's all well and good to bring people into our schools and teach kids about good nutrition, but talk is cheap. Last time I checked, broccoli wasn't.