Convenience, not expense, is making us avoid eating fruits, vegetables and other non-processed foods

A lack of convenience, not a high price, is the major obstacle to getting people to eat more fruit and vegetables, a study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition has found. The study analyzed the fruit and vegetable consumption in six low-income, mostly minority neighborhoods in Chicago.

“Participants who agreed that they had ‘convenient access to quality’ produce were more than twice as likely to eat the FDA-recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables,” Sarah Kliff reports for The Washington Post. “Those who reported high cost as a barrier to the consumption of produce ended up eating just as much as those who didn’t.” (Post photo above by Barbara Damrosch)

The study seems to support New York Times columnist Mark Bittman’s assertion that Americans are skipping nutritious food because it takes much more work to prepare, not because it’s too expensive. “It’s cooking that’s the real challenge,” he writes in a September 2011 column. “The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch.” (Times photo by Daniel Borris)
Contributing to the problem, Bittman argues, is the addictive qualities of fast food and processed food: physically addictive, as a study by the Scripps Research Institute shows, and mentally addictive. Bittman cites David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and author of The End of Overeating, who said manufacturers created food that was “energy-dense, highly stimulating and went down easy. They put it on every street corner and made it mobile, and they made it socially acceptable to eat anytime and anyplace. They created a food carnival, and that’s where we live. And if you’re used to self-stimulation every 15 minutes, well, you can’t run into the kitchen to satisfy that urge.”
The answer is in changing mindsets, Bittman writes, and getting “people to see cooking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.” That takes education and changing the environment, which, he points out, has been done with tobacco. Cultural change can happen by celebrating whole foods, he writes. Political action would mean limiting “the marketing of junk; forcing its makers to pay the true costs of production; recognizing that advertising for fast food is not the exercise of free speech but behavior manipulation of addictive substances; and making certain that real food is affordable and available to everyone. The political challenge is the more difficult one, but it cannot be ignored.” (Read more)
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