Low-calorie, high-price: The relationship between food and wealth

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Photo by: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs.

My close friend who is studying at Western University shadowed a senior community nurse in London, Ont. One evening, she came home and told me about her visit with a low-income, single-parent family. She discovered that the two children often went to bed hungry. When she opened the family’s fridge and found two cases of pop, she questioned the parent’s decision: Spending money on pop instead of buying healthy food. The nurse my friend was shadowing told her that the parent had just wanted his kids to feel “normal.” Unfortunately, in this situation, feeling “normal” meant spending the little money the family had on a beverage with 33-grams of sugar per can.

This family is among the 5 million Canadians with low-income status. Diet quality is heavily dictated by socioeconomic factors. Those with more limited economical means tend to consume more energy-dense foods that are nutrient-poor and consist of refined grains and added fats. It is common knowledge that healthy, nutrient rich, low-calorie food does not have a low price tag to match.

Here are four common food problems experienced amongst marginalized families, trying to stay healthy, but unable to afford the grocery bill.

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Photo by: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs.

Food security:

Not everyone has the luxury of owning a food-processor to make their favourite low-fat organic cranberry muffins. Those who are strapped-for-cash may have limited storage and/or lack access to adequate facilities where they can prepare food. Many whole food recipes call for kitchen gadgets like blenders or Crockpots. Those without stable housing may not have freezer space or a cold-cellar, let alone a Crockpot.

Accessibility to a grocery store:

Often, low-income individuals are marginalized further because they live in a neighbourhood with minimal grocery stores. If a store owner chooses not to take business to a low-income area, residents may be forced to do their shopping at a pharmacy or convenience store, which do not always foster healthy choices. Those who cannot afford groceries, let alone a car or public transit, often gravitate to high-caloric foods. Recommending high-cost foods to low-income people instead of aiming to showcase more healthy and cost-effective recipes may prove to be wholly ineffective.

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Photo by: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs.

Direct link between food and mental health:

How many times have you seen a full-figured person at the check-out with a bag of chips and a tub of ice cream and thought to yourself, “They don’t need that…” Studies have shown we tend to be more apathetic than empathic. A single-parent struggling with mental health may choose to temporarily cope, through the most “responsible” means possible. They may skip the vodka shots to binge eat after she puts her kids to sleep. 

Lacking food literacy skills makes shopping intimidating:

With so many aisles of possible ingredients and snacks but no real foundation in food literacy, low-income and lower-educated individuals may walk out of a store feeling embarrassed and ashamed. Despite saturating reality TV with cooking shows featuring fast and delicious recipes and restaurants for everyone, most content rarely incorporates traditional low-income recipes.

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Photo by: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs.

My great-grandmother created a cookbook from The Great Depression that included a one-pan, milkless, eggless, butterless dessert called “crazy chocolate cake.” It was one of my favourite things to bake as a kid because it was easy and I could guarantee that my mother had all of the ingredients. Every culture has low-income dishes that deserve recognition. Nowadays, if you want to try honey-cornmeal biscuits, a traditional Native American treat, for example, you’re going to have to fork over some serious cash. Food preparation takes knowledge and imagination (and money).

While not everyone can directly contribute to the crafting of better public food policy in Canada, everyone is capable of standing up to class-discrimination when we see it, in ourselves and in others around us.

CookingLight.com has 104 recipes that feed four people for under $10. The best thing about these recipes is they don’t skimp on nutrition. If we can work together to draw more attention to recipes like these and other great ways to save while eating healthy, we can reduce the gap between food and income.

What’s your favourite low-cost, healthy recipe?

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