A Value Meal with Real Value for Our Health

On September 17, Slow Food USA, a national advocacy group promoting healthy food, is inviting people to take back the “value meal” by pledging to get together with family, friends and neighbors to cook a healthy meal that costs no more than five dollars per person. As I signed the pledge, I hoped that this movement would cause Americans to think about our values when it comes to food prices and health.

To most people, “value meal” means a burger, fries and a soft drink combo for one low price at the local fast-food joint. These “values” are hard to resist for the average busy American family. Quick, filling, tasty and cheap, these deals are easier and often less expensive than the shopping, preparing, cooking and cleaning up involved in making a meal at home from scratch.

But what is the real cost of these bargain meals? What about the impact of Americans’ love affair with fast, cheap food on our health and our escalating healthcare costs?

When we compare how much Americans spend on food and healthcare relative to other industrialized nations, the data shows that we spend less than all other countries on food but proportionately much more on healthcare. A family of four in France spends $420 per week on food, while an American family spends only $342. Those savings disappear when we compare our relative healthcare costs—$3,464 per person a year in France to $6,096 per person a year in the United States. A U.S. family of four will consume $6,784 per year more on food and healthcare combined than our French counterparts while also experiencing a shorter life expectancy. Americans need to think more broadly about the value of our meals.

In the United States, we eat over 54 billion meals in restaurants, schools and work cafeterias each year. Americans spend about half of our total food dollars in restaurants and fast-food chains are the single most popular lunch destination.

Indeed, fast-food chains provide value in terms of calories per dollar. Americans love a great deal, but eating cheap food has created an obesity and diabetes epidemic in this country. The hard facts show that two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. The CDC predicts that one out of three children born after 2000 will become diabetic. In order to reverse these trends, we need to think differently about how we value food.

Unfortunately, business and government have often made it an either/or proposition when it comes to valuing health benefits versus low food prices. Industrialized farming has driven down the price of food by generating higher yields through utilizing herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and genetically modified foods, which have detrimental effects on our health. Industrial farms also receive billions of dollars in government subsidies provided by the Food and Farm Bill primarily for corn, rice, wheat and soybeans. These subsidized foods are added to the food supply as cheap calories in the form of ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup—which has found its way into virtually all packaged and processed foods and has sweetened America’s food supply.

These factors have distorted the pricing that the consumer sees at grocery stores, restaurants, work and school cafeterias—making packaged and processed food with lots of cheap additives more affordable than food in its natural, unadulterated state, like organic fresh fruits and vegetables and meats from humanely raised livestock.

If we are to stem our spiraling obesity rates and healthcare costs, Americans must  change both how we eat and what we eat. We need to redefine value by looking at the nutritional content of food and purchase foods that deliver high nutritional value. When viewed in this context, those fast food “value meals,“ with their low nutrition value per dollar are a terrible deal.

Eating whole foods and cooking meals from basic ingredients on a regular basis is a long-term investment in our health. Making these choices will help rebalance not only our own health, but the health of our nation and the health of America’s food system. When we collectively start choosing healthier foods and minimizing unhealthy options, the government, farmers, food manufacturers, restaurants and cafeterias will adapt to consumer preferences and provide us with healthier foods.

So don’t just take the Challenge on September 17th to cook a slow food meal, take it everyday for all your meals and you will start building a foundation of a healthy life, and together we will build the foundation for a healthier America.

 Andrea Bloom, Founder and CEO, ConnectWell

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Comments

  1. I love love love what you guys stand for! I say this not only because I believe it is important to “ConnectWell,” but by connecting well we can BeWell! Without our health, we are nothing. If we don’t have our health, we can’t be there for our families, loved ones, friends or most importantly OURSELVES! I am SO HAPPY that there is an organization that is advocating healthy choices as a preventative measure at the community level, and disseminating information to at risk populations. With healthcare policies in the state they are today, we simply need more organizations like ConnectWell! I am looking forward to more updates and observing your measurable outcomes – I am positive they will help organizations and individuals connect the dots to a healthy, well balanced life-style. Bravo!

  2. Mitchell Levinson says:

    Great concept: looking at the true “cost” not “value” of the trashy food we put into our bodies. Those figures Andrea cites about how we spend a lot more on healthcare and food combined than the French is eye-opening. Living for the moment isn’t a great idea for all aspects of our lives. A wise person once told me, “Life is long.” We can’t afford to eat as if today is our last day on Earth–or it might become just that.

  3. Vandana Talreja says:

    We get a daily dose of health topics in magazines,newspapers,etc but none have connected with me so well as Connectwell.Here is an organization which impacts minds in a simple yet effective manner.Great concept, great execution!

  4. Rosalind Bloom says:

    The Connectwell concept is the way of the future – it’s been a long time in coming and thank you so much for putting so much effort to help all of us become healthier human beings. Keep up the good work and I will look for more of your health comments.

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