Friday, May 18, 2007

Junk Food Enabling

Grrrr... I am in such a mood. I just got back from Walmart, which is probably part of the problem. We needed to get groceries for the week and at this point, Walmart is the cheapest grocery store in town (except for communist Aldy's which doesn't have a very good selection). Well, at least until Walmart eliminates all of the competition, and then jacks up its prices. Every trip to Walmart is like a lesson in health and nutrition. I see more morbidly obese people riding around on motorized scooters than any other grocery store that I have ever been to. Inevitably, I see these people in the junk aisles, not the fruit and vegetable aisles, and stereotypically they are filling up the baskets on their motorized carts with things like Cocoa puffs, Doritos, Pepsi, snack foods of all varieties, and tons of processed foods. Also, let me clarify, when I say morbidly obese, I don't mean, "I'm middle aged, have three kids and/or a busy career and life, and I don't have time to properly take care of myself." I am just as guilty of letting myself go and gaining weight since I've had Noah. In this society, I think it would be more surprising if people didn't gain weight. I'm talking about obesity to the point that stomach-stapling surgery would be less risky than to stay that obese (and approximately 1 in 10 people die from complications of gastric bypass surgery). There are more and more of these people and they are becoming younger. It used to be old ladies in mumus. Now, I have seen children as young as two or three with beer bellies. Of course, their parents are seriously overweight too.

As we shopped, I observed several things. When we are in the fruit and vegetable aisle, there are probably 5 "foreign-looking" people to 1 "American-looking" person. It is almost as if Americans avoid the fruit and vegetable aisles like the plague. The cookie and pop aisles rarely had any foreign-looking people in them, yet they are congested with people who appear to be Americans. Is this a coincidence? Even if the foreign-looking people were born in America, what is it about their cultural background that causes such a difference in grocery shopping preferences?

My next observation was that junk food in all forms is significantly cheaper than healthful food. As far as I know, this is common knowledge. However, why is this usually the case? If it is organic, I understand the logistics as to why it is expensive. Yet, take for example, all-natural non-organic peanut butter. All they do is grind it into peanut butter and place it in a jar. No preservatives or chemicals, just peanuts. Shouldn't the chemicals add costs to production? Apparently not, because regular peanut butter costs $1.99 whereas the "natural" peanut butter with less work and no additives was almost $5.00 per jar. What's up with that? It doesn't make any sense. What is the motivation for buying non-processed or less processed food if you can buy a more familiar, chemically-enhanced brand for $3.00 less. If you are on a tight budget, there is really no room for comparison.

In addition to the fact that junk food is so much cheaper than healthy food, I notice that Walmart almost always has more sales on rubbish food than health food. I wonder if, in general, Walmart prices their junk food artificially low to attract consumers who make bad food choices, knowing that they will keep coming back to Walmart to get their junk food fix. After all, junk food is not as filling and you need more of it to feel full. Therefore, even though it is cheaper than healthy food, people would be more inclined to buy more of it, and in turn, keep coming back for more, thus spending more money than if the food they ate was healthy.

Despite all of the dangers of obesity, I don't think it is in the interest of businesses such as Walmart to encourage people to eat healthy. As long as people are enticed to eat junk, and healthy food remains more expensive, we are bound to remain an overweight society. I guess the most that we can hope for is that we aren't all wearing mumus and riding around Walmart on motorized carts.

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