Health Blog

Why a Dollar Buys More Junk Than Food

November 10, 2008

Could you eat for only one dollar per day?

For many living in poverty, this isn’t a hypothetical question. Unfortunately, our government’s food policies often discourage people strapped for cash from making healthy choices– a fact long known by the hungry and food policy experts alike.

In a recent experiment, two teachers in the San Francisco area tried eating just a dollar’s worth of food a day for one month. They found it nearly impossible to include any fruits or vegetables in their rice-and-beans diet. The couple discovered that junk food, which provides little more than empty calories, was far less expensive than more nutritious items.

Junk food is cheap thanks to government subsidies for crops like corn, wheat and rice. These products are often processed into ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, a key component of inexpensive snack foods.

Although the 2008 Farm Bill made some provisions for the distribution of fruits, vegetables and locally-produced foods, it also granted major subsidies to large farms for crops commonly processed into junk food. Fruits, veggies, and organic produce receive no aid, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor.

This means farm practices that eschew pollution and synthetic pesticides may not be economically viable for farmers, and that more cash is required to buy a piece of fruit than a Twinkie. That’s too bad, since healthy food may be what a nation of overfed, undernourished Americans needs most.


Related on Scienceline:

Do you burn more calories when you think hard?

A small urban farm is helping one community eat well without leaving the neighborhood.

Can false memories of food help you lose weight?


The Scienceline Newsletter

Sign up for regular updates

About the Author



Passing Reader says:

The experiment is very silly, and displays a lack of understanding of basic poverty statistics and reporting and economics. Populations living on less than a $1 a day are often not in the money economy, but are subsistence farmers. The food that they eat is not valued at $1 a day, and they are not purchasing it on the market, and they are certainly not purchasing it on the U.S. market. I’m very surprised that teachers who think poverty is important wouldn’t bother to inform themselves, and surprised that a column dedicated to science reporting wouldn’t look further at this story.

Ross says:

It’s sad that our government makes it so hard to buy healthy, fresh food. $1 a day for food may be extreme poverty in this country, but it’s hard even for the people who have more than that to afford fruits and vegetables.

Alex says:

Actually, the couple lives in Encinitas, which is about 25 miles north of San Diego, as opposed to San Francisco which is about 500 miles north…

jerome hazelwood says:

i and my wife survive on a budget of 204 dollars for food a month(between 3 to 4 dollars day a piece)by the 20th of the month we are visiting food pantries.people are not realistic about the prices of healthy food in us-the stuff our doctor wants us to eat is among the most expensive in the grocery store.the average american however spends far more than the 3and half dollars or so day that i spend.its not an option for me but the vast majority of americans can probably spend half of what they are spending a day on food and still be healthy.but people lets be real about what food cost-its not cheap.its easy to do a thirty day or even a six month experiment and even these people talk about a lack of energy and time and theyve only done it for a few weeks!imagine living this way for years!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *