Premise #7: Convenience, Carryout and Fast Foods
This week's premise is dedicated to the Anonymous commenter who challenged me on the issue of taxing prepared foods. The popular idea is that people who are on restricted budgets can't afford to eat well because "good" food is expensive, and since low-income people may work more than one job or live in a food desert, they have little alternative to reliance on prepared foods. This would unfairly levy a Prepared Food tax on lower income folk who are least able to afford the increased expense.
I have no desire to see lower income people paying more for their food. This blog is all about investigating the possibility of eating well for less.
The problem with 'convenience' foods is that they are expensive, offer mediocre nourishment and often leave the consumer still feeling hungry.
I'd like to suggest that eating 'real' food doesn't need to require a huge investment of time. I mean, I think I've made it pretty clear that cooking is one of my least favorite activities. I therefore spend as little time doing it as I can get away with while still feeding the family.
The other night, after I taught a theater class downtown, I washed some sweet potatoes, put them in the microwave, opened a couple of cans and had dinner ready to eat in 15 minutes. This includes washing, can opening and spooning things out onto plates. We had black beans, corn and sweet potatoes with lots of butter. I have no idea about the caloric value of this meal, the amount of fiber or fat or, really, anything other than that it's nutritionally sound, delicious and filling. It's also colorful on a plate.
A frozen pizza takes 7 to 12 minutes in the oven, not counting the 9 1/2 minutes it takes me to wrestle the plastic packaging off of the stupid thing. An hour later, everyone is looking for something else to eat.
The food advertising industry has conditioned us into a state of 'learned helplessness'. We have grown, as a community, to believe that cooking for our family is time-consuming, costly and for gourmet cooks only. I call bullshit. Eating is something so simple any idiot can, and through the centuries, has, managed to do it for himself and often his family.
Rice doesn't take very long to cook and is dead cheap. Even the Uncle Ben's boxed rice isn't terribly pricey, but Wal-Mart sells brown rice for about 77 cents for a one-pound bag. Frozen veggies aren't expensive, though they're sometimes harder to find in food deserts. Cans are heavier to carry, but three cans of veggies at under a dollar each, plus a can of beef or chicken broth, with or without rice, is a nourishing soup, much cheaper than prepared tinned soup ($1.79/can? what the hell, man?) feeds several people, and doesn't take much longer than the canned version. I mean, yeah, you're operating the can opener four times instead of one, but the actual heating in a pot on the stove is about the same. Slice up some cheese and open a package of crackers- or toast some bread, whatever- and you've got yourself a meal.
The food advertising industry has conned us into believing that your meatloaf NEEDS two veggies and a starch, plus a sauce on top, to be a 'real' meal. This is not true. One veg with that meatloaf is FINE, and if it comes from a can or a package, there is nothing wrong with that. Tomato soup and grilled cheese for dinner? Go for it. Actually takes about twice the time of YamN-BeansN-Corn, but is still quick. Boxed mac and cheese is WAY more expensive than it needs to be, but in a pinch, it's quick and cheaper than drive-through.
I can't imagine ever being convinced that soda, marshmallows or Doritos qualify as food ("food" = nutritive substance, all others being, in my opinion, "edible matter") and so I'm okay with those things being taxed. If people wish to eat those items, they, like smokers, should be prepared to admit to the non-health-enhancing nature of their personal preferences.
Okay. I will step down from my soap-box now.
(Probably not really.)