Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Quantity vs. Quality

There is an artisan cheese store called Beecher's that I like to visit in Seattle. For just $20 or more dollars per pound, I can get mouthfuls of organic, homemade, local dairy pleasure.

People always give me stunned looks when I mention how much I will pay for certain food items. After all, in the US we like our food cheap. Because I am more frugal than most, my secret love of artisan cheese just doesn't add up.

I think the artisan cheese is actually a fine economic choice when you consider a few things. It is way healthier than most cheese. The grass fed cows and sheep produce milk with omega whatever acids and lower levels of bad fat. No hormones and garbage either. Dollar per dollar, I'm getting less calories but more nutrition, which is imperative with my fat jeans getting tighter by the millisecond. Plus, the cheese is rich and flavorful enough that I can eat it at a rate of about one bite per day. Last night my husband and I crumbled a little dry jack on our polenta. Today we'll mix some gorgonzola into a homemade vinaigrette.

Americans eat way too much food but spend less than, well, almost anyone in the world on groceries. This is because we are always looking for the cheapest way to get a plate full of meat. We aren't willing to buy legumes, and we won't pay more even if the better nutrition justifies it. We can afford to eat conventional meat and dairy in massive amounts because both are heavily subsidized by the American government. Healthy options, not so much.

We don't just east the wrong food, we eat way too freaking much of it. A typical French croissant is 1 1/2 ounces. An American Sara Lee croissant is 3 1/2 ounces. In Mexico, they use 5 inch tortillas to make quesadillas. Here we use ten inches. In most of Europe, the largest container of milk you can get is 1.5 liters. That's less than half a gallon. In other countries people eat better, but they eat way, way less. That's why we are the fatties of the planet.

We don't just eat more than other countries, we eat more than we used to. Here is a graphic depiction of fast food serving sizes now and just twenty years ago:

Personally, I think the government should tax unhealthy food and use that money to subsidize organic fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Maybe even make them free. Then I could feel like I am doing something magnanimous whenever I bust out the Cheetos. Plus, it would eradicate the need for food stamps, the school lunch program, and various other bureacracy- and waste-ridden programs. Anyway, if we are going to make socialized health care work, we will need a healthier population to keep the whole bloated barge afloat. Healthier diets is one step closer to that utopia we all want to live in.

Most people need to eat their ideal weight times ten calories per day. So, for an average American female, 1200-1300 calories per day. Wow. That's less than half of what most of us eat.

If you eat half the food, you'll be buying half the groceries. It leaves a lot of budgeting room for things like artisan cheese.


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