Let's get this party started right. Let's get this party started quickly... right?
I've had two food culture articles occupying tabs in my Firefox browser for a month now. The first article appears in Newsweek and is written by Lisa Miller. The other is an article in the Washington Post by Brent Cunningham & Jane Black.
Both articles assume things which are untrue and symptomatic of most American's ignorance about food. Both articles make it seem that the best food you can get is at Whole Foods or a farmer's market and if you aren't lucky enough to afford that, you're stuck with high calorie, processed crap. First off... everything is processed. I know this is semantics, but the people who say this know nothing about how food is handled, so I know there is little room for nuance in their argument. They really think some food comes out of a machine, but their Whole Foods foods come from some sort of virgin food birth. It's Jesus after he's been individually quick frozen and packaged in environmentally responsible packaging... you know... like the pilgrims would do.
So they assume that A. everything else is processed and B. processed = bad. They also assume that their foods are completely balanced and beyond reproach and everyone else's food is packed with calories and chemicals.
Brian Wansink from Cornell has been doing some very intriguing work on what he calls 'Health Halos' that may explain the Foodies ego toward their food and disdain for others. Health Halo refers to the halo effect that is seen in sensory science. For example a taste test on vanilla milkshakes may yield uncharacteristically high scores from someone who is a fan of vanilla. The vanilla fan may give the shake higher marks for mouth feel and creaminess versus a fan of chocolate. The Health Halo is where people grade food assumed to be of a higher quality or stature as healthier or lower in calories. He demonstrates this perfectly in an experiment he performs on Showtime's Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
Premium organic hypermarkets such as Fresh and Whole Foods exploit the ignorance of the liberal arts and Google Educated foodies that believe everything else causes obesity and disease. Their ignorance costs them dearly.
In the Newsweek article, a family is said to spend $1,000 a month on their food. What's more is the parenthetical caveat that states that $1,000 is roughly 20% of their monthly income. Assuming this is post tax, that means this family makes about $80,000/year. This is about 60% higher than the 2008 average income of $52,029. So not only are they getting ripped off(organics are no healthier than conventional), but they get indoctrinated into this misinformation and talk people who are much less fortunate into forking over a much bigger percentage of their take home pay for these groceries. These groceries then rake in the profits. According to the Newsweek article(and because I'm too lazy to look this up myself), Whole Foods reportedly increased their profits by a whopping 58% last quarter.
People buy what they afford and if they live from paycheck to paycheck, watching calories takes a backseat to getting the most food for your dollar. I've yet to make more than $29,000/yr(someone please help me right this wrong and hire me!) and have gone many weeks where I have to stretch my dollars. I don't miss meals, though, and will readily buy dinner before making a credit card payment. When my dollar is stretched the most, I buy ramen noodles, canned tuna, rice/pasta chub packs of 83/27 ground beef, whole pork shoulders, eggs, milk, potatoes, and apples/bananas. Most of these foods are calorically dense. If I go out to eat during an economic crunch, it'll almost always be a buffet and that will be the only thing I eat that day. When I have more money, what do I do? Less buffets, mostly the same types of foods, because I'm a picky eater, but I don't eat like it's the last day on earth. I also buy less groceries more often and will splurge on fancier items(like the Red Pepper Pesto at Giant Eagle).
I don't want to make this an Elite vs. regular Joe thing or a liberal vs. conservative thing, because I know conservatives that also blow their hard earned money on this bullshit. I also don't want to come down on quality, but people must understand that quality has nothing to do with whether or not something is organic and is more a matter of statistical process control and sourcing better ingredients. Of course, then we get into the industrial side and that's a whole other ball of wax.
Crap... I promised I was going to make this shorter. Fuck.