We overplanted our gardens again this year. My husband and I often roll into harvest season with more food than we can ever possibly eat. We eat fresh from the garden all season, try to preserve as much as possible, and are diligent and purposeful about eating out of our pantry all winter—and still have plenty of vegetables left over.
Also again this year, I posted multiple offers on social media for free food. And again this year, there were few takers. Most people are not interested. Others tell me it’s too much of a trip out to the farm to collect it.
I sometimes wonder if there is any overlap between the people who are not interested in accepting my organic tomatoes and eggplant and kale and squash for free, and the people who say the only reason they don’t eat better is because fresh whole foods are too expensive. I also wonder if people would make the 45-minute trip from town to pick up free smart phones or designer handbags if I were offering those instead of food.
Oh, but that’s different, people might tell me. Phones and accessories are worth a lot of money.
So is good food. If you live on a limited budget—which most of us do—then you have to make judicious choices about where your dollars are spent. And spending money to eat healthy is worth doing.
You can pay your farmer, or pay your doctor.
A healthful diet based on high-quality food is good medicine. Nearly two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, which is linked to myriad conditions including type II diabetes, some types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, obesity can cause additional suffering from issues such as knee and ankle injuries, back pain, sleep apnea and digestive problems. A diet centered on healthful whole foods is an effective strategy to combat obesity and the many health concerns which stem from it.
A Good Chain Reaction
Quality food can kick off a chain reaction that can includes feeling better, becoming more active, requiring less medication, needing fewer medical procedures, recovering from illness and surgeries faster and with fewer potential complications, and more success in fighting off disease. Most people would agree that a good quality of life includes feeling great, having the physical ability to do what they want to do, and not spending a lot of time or money on health care.
This is not to say that good food is an absolute panacea. It is true that healthy eaters can and do get sick, and it is possible for people who thrive on junk food to live long happy lives. But the evidence connecting a good diet to good health is solid.
Being healthy is important not only in the here and now, but it could turn out to be a game-changer in the event of a catastrophic scenario. When a hurricane, earthquake or other unforeseen disaster sweeps through a neighborhood, those at the highest risk usually include those in poorest health. Consider those who are dependent upon medications to thrive, especially if the medications require refrigeration. Think about those who cannot walk easily or who have reduced cardiopulmonary capacity. Picture having to run or lift heavy objects or endure long hours without services, and imagine the value of fitness and stamina at a time like that. People who are less healthy will be more vulnerable in tough times, and none of us want that for ourselves or those we care about.
Spending money on good quality food is a sound financial investment. Even though a gallon of milk costs more than a gallon of soda, and snacks like potato chips are cheap to buy, we need to consider the long-term costs. Unlike many other things that our society considers to be high value, money spent on food will pay for itself in the long run. Individual consumers whose lifestyle choices include a healthful diet are likely to spend less on immediate health care costs like doctor visits, dental procedures, surgeries, prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications, as well as indirect impacts of compromised health like breathing-assistance machines and oversized seats on public transportation.
Everyone in Society Would Save
If we all ate better quality food, the results could mean an overall savings for society, too. More healthy people on an insurance plan results in lower costs for everyone, which in turn makes health care more affordable and insurance options better for all of us.
Could any of us truly say that entertainment or fashion is more important than saving ourselves from sickness and disease, more important than saving big money on health care, or more crucial than contributing to saving the health care system from collapse?
We can almost all afford good food at least some of the time, and few of us can afford the alternatives.
Good food doesn’t have to be about trendy ingredients or fancy recipes, and it doesn’t need to take a lot of time. A simple summer squash can be cut up and sautéed in olive oil with no more effort than making a sandwich. Homemade cornbread is a quick-and-easy alternative to store-bought white bread filled with unpronounceable ingredients. And once you’ve made homemade tomato soup, I promise you will never ever eat it out of a can again.
It doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Purchasing vegetables fresh and in season from a local farmer is great, but frozen vegetables at a big box store are a reasonable alternative, too. And it never hurts to ask at farm markets about other possibilities. Most small farmers I know would be glad to barter food for work, and some offer gleaning opportunities.
Sure, there are households living so close to the bone that boxed macaroni and cheese is one of their few options between feeding their kids and putting them to bed hungry. I’ve been there. And I was once a single parent, working full-time and attending school full-time and rarely had the opportunity to prepare whole foods from scratch. I get that not all of us can afford to prioritize quality food the way we should.
But the rest of us who can, should. Americans pay a lower percentage of our income on food than ever in history, and less than any other country in the world. But the cheapest option is not always the best choice in any category, least of all in one so crucial as that which sustains us and affects our wellbeing.
Spending as much as you can afford to eat well is a worthwhile investment no matter what your other priorities might be. Whether you are raising a family, advancing a professional career, preparing for an unknown future, or simply getting the most enjoyment out of life as you can, you can’t go wrong by investing in good healthful food.
Do you agree or disagree? What do you think about the phrase “pay your farmer or pay your doctor”? Leave your thoughts in the section below: