I was having to use a laundromat for a couple of weeks while my husband built a platform in the garage for our washer and dryer. Going to the laundromat to do laundry was my standard for much of the first 5 years of E’s life as I moved a lot and most places didn’t have a washer and dryer. It was actually kinda excited to have the opportunity to do ALL OF THE LAUNDRY AT ONCE, which is the best thing about the laundromat.
After I got all of the clothes in the dryers I decided to use the last of my quarters (about $3 worth) to walk to the gas station next door for a soda and a protein bar as I was starving and needed something to kinda stick to my stomach for a bit until I could fix a meal at home.
I walked in and chose a can of Diet Coke for .79 and then went to the granola bar section where the cheapest option was $1.79. It was small and it was not a protein bar, so really just a healthily packaged candy bar. Which I don’t mind, but I needed something that would keep me from being hungry for 2+ hours as I had laundry to finish and dogs to walk before I’d be home. The cheapest protein bar was $2.69. I decided to see what my other options were. One one aisle I noticed beef jerky was CHEAP AF, but I don’t eat meat.
Then I noticed that I could get TWO packs of TWO cupcakes for $2! That’s FOUR cupcakes! Might not be a lot of protein but that would definitely fill me up and also…CUPCAKES! YUM! I’ve been anxious and depressed and for that brief moment I thought Holy shit I haven’t had those things in ages! And it made me so happy.
So I bought them and loved every second of eating them.
What’s the point of this story?
To highlight how poverty effects food choices. First and foremost? The unhealthy food is cheaper. Period. It always is. I was a single Mom working a minimum wage job in college, we bought food at the Dollar Store and it was hyper-processed and not made of anything even remotely healthy. Can you eat healthy on a budget? Sure. But it’s not easy or convenient and back then I was not going to deal with cutting coupons or shopping sales when I barely had time to get 5 hours sleep a night, much less hit up more than one grocery store to look for good deals.
But also? JUNK FOOD MAKES YOU HAPPY. I mean, yeah, it’s because it’s full of sugar and fat and we’re all addicted to refined sugar. Also, sugar and fat (which used to be hard to find in the early days of humanity) give us an evolutionary advantage. BUT IT ALSO JUST MAKES YOU HAPPY. Sure…could we change our programming if we broke our addiction to refined sugar and trained ourselves to want to fuel our bodies in the best way? Yeah. But do you know where those priorities lie when you’ve realized that your utility bill is $40 more than you expected on the month of your kid’s birthday? HEALTHY CHANGES TO YOUR DIET ARE NOT A PRIORITY FOR THE AVERAGE PERSON LIVING PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK, TRUST ME.
Have you ever compared the prices of feeding a family of 4 someplace with healthy options like Zoe’s Kitchen verses the Dollar Menu at McDonalds? IT IS A GIANT DIFFERENCE. And you know what makes kids happy? MCDONALDS. So you can feed your kid and make them happy.
Now, we could take some time to analyze how governments can play a role in all of this. Globally we’re seeing different approaches from more regulations on processed foods to more programs that make healthy food more easily accessible. But the truth of the matter is that it’s a HUGE and COMPLEX problem that no poor person has time or energy to think about when it’s much easier to get that sugar fix from the swiss cake rolls on the $1 shelf at the convenience store.
The whole moment, walking into a gas station with only $3 and trying to figure out what to buy was just a reminder about how cheap crappy (BUT DELICIOUS) food is. I mean, I saw a guy but two hot dogs off the roller-thingy AND a giant soda AND a bag of chips for $3! That’s a cheap and VERY satisfying meal if you’re looking strictly from a calorie/dollar standpoint.
That was really just the point of this. A story that reminded me of my poorer days and how I made food choices back then. It reminds me to never judge someone who spends their limited money on shitty food. And it reminded me how F*CKING DELICIOUS HOSTESS CUPCAKES ARE.