Feast Your Eyes: On Cheap Food and Happiness

Do the benefits of cheap food outweigh its costs?

Welcome to Feast Your Eyes, a new feature on GOOD Food HQ, serving up a food-related map, chart, video, photo, or illustration daily. Got a project you want to share here? Send it over!

This illuminating series of charts was created by Tom Philpott for Grist, using USDA and OECD data. In it, Philpott compares the percentage of income that the average person in America, France, Spain, and Germany spends on food (eaten at home) each year against a range of health and well-being markers.

What these charts so clearly communicate is that, of the four countries compared, America has the cheapest food relative to income, and yet the highest rate of deaths from heart disease or stroke, the largest gap between rich and poor, and the most overweight, obese, and diabetic adults.

As Philpott is quick to point out, correlation does not equal causation. Nonetheless, this chart should make us question whether the benefits of cheap food outweigh its costs. More interestingly, it might give us cause to speculate on the relationship between an economic system that distributes wealth so unevenly and extremely low consumer food prices. As Philpott concludes:

To me, cheap food underpins our highly inequitable income system. If we're going to have a large low-income class, a perpetually squeezed middle class, and a small caste of super-rich, then a cheap food system plays a vital role in keeping those at the bottom fed—if under-nourished


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