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3 Not-So-Obvious Reasons Cheap Food Isn’t All That Cheap After All

Craig Leonard April 23, 2014
Hidden Costs of Cheap Foods - Health and Fitness Blog

When making food purchasing decisions, the uninformed majority will predominantly base them on the numbers after the dollar sign printed on the price tags hanging from the shelves.

When food purchasing decisions are made almost exclusively on upfront costs, this inevitably leads to cheaper processed foods holding greater appeal, ultimately finding their way into the pantries of unsuspecting families who honestly believe they’re making a fiscally wise choice.

What if I told you that all the cheap foods you’re purchasing in an attempt to save cash on the front end are actually costing you more in the long-run than purchasing more nutritious foods that may carry a higher initial cost?

When it comes to nutrition, it baffles me how people are willing to invest so little on something that’s so important. Spending $500 or more per month on a car that serves mostly as a means of trying to portray a societal status they may or may not actually hold, however, is completely justified.

Conversely, tell someone that you spend $500 a month on high quality, nutritious foods and they’ll look at you as if you just told them you invested in an Alaskan pool repair company.

Americans Are Blind To The True Value of Nutrition

It is astounding to me that Americans spend less on food than the peoples of any other industrialized nation—an average of $151 per week, which amounts to less than seven percent of their per capita income.

Again, how can such a low value be placed on something so important for our health, longevity and quality of life?

As my wife and I have made the transition to purchasing organic produce, grass-fed meats, products made from free-range poultry not inoculated with dangerous hormones or antibiotics, and healthy organic fats coming from extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil, I would be lying if I denied our having a number of discussions regarding the premium we’re paying for our groceries on a weekly basis.

Nevertheless, our desire to better nourish our bodies – and the peace of mind that comes with that – ultimately wins the day. If costs must be scaled back, there are a number of other less essential areas from which we can intelligently cut our spending.

Besides, as I am about to explain, buying more affordable, nutritionally deficient foods would only cost us more in the long run anyway, all things considered.

The problem lies in the “all things considered” qualifier, as 99.9% of American consumers lack the information I’m about to share with you, precluding them from seeing any further than the price tag staring back at them.

But, as you’re about to see, the price you see on the tag is really more of a down payment, with the true price you’re paying for “cheap food” remaining veiled in obscurity.

Hidden Cheap Food Cost #1: Energy Consumption

Hidden Costs of Cheap Foods - Fuel Costs

Processed foods are produced in massive factories that burn up an enormous amount of fossil fuel to bring you all your favorite nutritionally bankrupt foods that also contain a hefty dose of genetically engineered ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and chemical preservatives.

All this processing drives up the price of gas at the pump by superficially inflating America’s fuel demand by a considerable margin.

Considering that one-fifth of US fossil fuel consumption is attributed to the growing, packaging, and transporting of food, it isn’t difficult to see how a drastic reduction in the manufacturing of processed foods would be a viable means of stymieing petroleum demand, lowering gas prices for all American consumers.

Every time you load your cart full of processed foods you’re indirectly contributing to the burning of extensive amounts of fossil fuels by the factories that produced them, driving up the price you pay for gas, and making that box of granola bars or package of Oreos cost considerably more over time than the price printed on the price tag you took into consideration before putting them into your cart.

Admittedly, whole foods are still transported around the country (unless you purchase them from a local farmer’s market). However, the factory-side energy consumption related to processing and packaging alone is more than enough to make a massive difference in our nation’s demand (and price) for fossil fuels.

If saving 10% at the pump doesn’t hit home with you, you should consider what is perhaps the most unanimous unseen cost of eating cheap, packaged foods…

Hidden Cheap Food Cost #2: The Onset of Preventable Chronic Disease

Hidden Costs of Cheap Foods

Every time you go to your doctor, or purchase medication for a preventable condition you developed as a result of poor nutrition, you can go ahead and tack that cost onto your grocery bill.

All the debilitating health conditions that are plaguing America today are smothering our nation in debt. This debt isn’t just accumulating at the federal level, either.

It’s being amassed by individuals and families racking up medical bills that would take them several lifetimes to pay off.

Heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cancer all come with massive individual and societal cost considerations. Moreover, they are all largely preventable if we would only stop stuffing our bodies full of toxins and refined sugars that wreak havoc on the body’s various biological processes and hormone function.

I firmly believe that 95% (or more) of the new cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes cases being reported every year would be eliminated if Americans as a whole would switch to diets consisting of fruits, veggies, healthy fats and organic proteins – even if they paid no attention to calories and ate these foods to their hearts’ content.

Cancer is the #2 killer in America, on the heels of overtaking heart disease for the #1 position. Cancer is known to be predominantly caused by exposure to toxins and a lack of proper nourishment. Both of these causes can be controlled considerably through diet alone.

In spite of all the money that’s been thrown at this problem it only continues to get worse, because we are failing to treat the underlying nutritional causes.

Despite the obvious possibility of losing one’s life, the personal costs associated with treating cancer can be astronomical.

According to, “Cancer is a costly illness. It can take a toll on your health, your emotions, your time, your relationships – and your wallet. There will be unforeseen and unexpected charges and even the best health insurance won’t cover all your costs.  In some cases, the cost is so high that a person decides to stop cancer treatment early, or not get it at all.”

A report for the President’s Cancer Panel makes clear that nearly every American will be personally financially impacted by cancer. A three-person panel that reports to the U.S. president on the National Cancer Program, said more than 1 in 3 Americans (approximately 41 percent) will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime and about 21 percent of Americans will die from cancer.

Eating cheap, toxic, nutritionally deficient foods is going to take its toll on your health, your emotions and ultimately your wallet. God forbid, it could even claim your life!

Spend the extra money to invest in your health. It will improve your life in more ways than you can imagine and it will save you money in the end.

Hidden Cheap Food Cost #3: Government (AKA: You, The Tax-Payer’s) Subsidies


Cheap processed foods contain high amounts of corn syrup, corn oil, canola oil, soy, rice, wheat, and sugar. These products (along with cotton) account for 98 percent of government food subsidies.

What this means is that, by keeping the demand high for these foods, you are essentially encouraging the government’s continued subsidizing of these ingredients, making farmers and food manufacturers that much more likely to produce them.

As a tax payer, these subsidies are coming straight out of your bank account, whether you realize it or not.

In 2009 alone, the U.S. federal government paid $12.3 billion to America’s farmers. This is nearly $40 for every one of America’s three hundred and twenty million citizens.

Considering that almost 50% of Americans currently do not pay federal taxes, and then also adjusting to not include children not of working age, the actual annual bill to each taxpayer is substantially greater.

This is cash taken from hard working Americans for subsidies being paid to farmers for producing foods that are largely genetically modified and/or used to produce foods that would be a detriment to the health of the same taxpayers and their families.

It’s not that these subsidized foods necessarily cost more to grow or produce. Yet the government still continues to subsidize their production, artificially reducing the price of the junk foods they are intentionally used in, so that food manufacturers can realize enhanced profit margins.

It seems undeniably plausible that government officials are taxing America’s citizens, only to turn around and use those same taxpayer dollars to lobby for campaign contributions from those in the agriculture industry.

As David Sirota wrote on

” … lawmakers whose campaigns are underwritten by agribusinesses have used billions in taxpayer dollars to subsidize those agribusinesses’ specific commodities (corn, soybeans, wheat, etc.) that are the key ingredients of unhealthy food. Not surprisingly, the subsidies have manufactured a price inequality that helps junk food undercut nutritious-but-unsubsidized foods like fruits and vegetables.

The end result is that recession-battered consumers are increasingly forced by economic circumstance to “choose” the lower-priced junk food that their taxes support.”

So What’s the Solution?

Hidden Costs of Cheap Foods - Solutions

Implicit in all 3 of these hidden cheap food costs are the unethical practices of greedy energy-sucking food corporations and a bloated, power drunk, money grubbing U.S. government.

Fortunately, there a number of ways we as consumers can start to turn the tide and buck these insidious trends.

First, we, as a nation, must open our collective eyes to the horrors being inflicted on our people from the virtual food holocaust taking place within our borders – one that Americans are largely complicit in perpetuating.

This ought to motivate us as a people away from foods that are toxic to our biology and toward foods that naturally promote optimal health and disease prevention. In turn, food producers will follow the almighty dollar and stop producing dangerous, addictive foods that are cancerous (literally and figuratively) to our health.

It’s obvious that doing business ethically is of little concern to those producing the foods for America’s families. And those in government charged with watching over said food producers are no more innocent.

So we must force their hand by communicating through our spending habits that we will no longer continue to fund their coffers while they are catalyzing the deaths of millions of Americans.

They will have to make a choice to adapt or go out of business.

Based on the recent boom in organic food demand, it seems the decision to adapt is already being made by those who feel the winds of change picking up and see the need to position their businesses to be better aligned with the projected trends in consumer demand.

Consumers have long been deceived under the guise of prices having the appearance of being more affordable, while actually costing them dearly – financially and otherwise – over the long run.

You can’t put a price tag on preventing a diagnosis of cancer, depression, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease or stroke.

As such, there is no better investment one can make than investing in their health through a commitment to proper nutrition, regardless of the upfront costs.

The financial, physical and psychological returns received on such an investment is beyond measure, making any initial cost considerations a non-issue by comparison. 

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