And that 27 minutes isn't always preparing real nutritious food but rather spent microwaving new versions of tv-type dinners, or rehydrating and heating up something that's been ripped of its nutritional value, dried, and stored in a box for the last 6 months. All of this coincides with America's ever-increasing heart disease, diabetes, and a plethora of other "Western" illnesses that could very well be curbed with the best medicine nature has given us: Food. With all of the scientific research backing up a need to return to the kitchen, why do we continue to eat this way? There are two barriers that we shamefully convince ourselves are real obstacles to eating well: Money and Time.
Money: It is no secret that for those on a budget, a dollar goes a long way in purchasing cheap, unhealthy, energy-dense junk from the value menus at fast food restaurants and the middle aisles of the grocery store. It's cheaper to buy chips than potatoes, soda than water, snack cakes than fruit. This is a problem that is deeper rooted than the poor being poor. It is a systematic and fundamental problem stemming from how we grow, produce, and regulate food, using an unfair framework of monoculture crops, water and corn subsidies, and unnecessary additives to stretch both the amount and the life-shelf of foods. For the world's poor, money is a true barrier. Low-income neighborhoods frequently lack full-service grocery stores and farmers' markets where residents can buy a variety of high-quality fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products (FRAC). When available, healthy food may be more expensive in terms of the monetary cost as well as the potential for waste, whereas refined grains, added sugars, and fats are generally less expensive, palatable, and readily available in low-income communities (FRAC). For the rest of us, those with average or higher wages, we have no excuse. Sure, buying vegetables and fruits costs more than cereal and frozen pizza, but it is an investment in your well-being. Research from Harvard pinpoints the price of eating healthy (a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts) vs. unhealthy (processed foods and meats, and refined grains) at around $1.50 more per day, highlight that this cost is trivial compared with health costs of diet-related chronic diseases (Rao, et al. 2013.) This equates to about an additional $550 per year/person in food costs, which is definitely a burden to low-income families. For the average earner, however, it just means about one less Starbucks Venti Cafe Mocha each week. Not only does eating healthy reduce chronic disease, but it has other great benefits that improve your life. A 2012 Population Health Management study reported that eating an unhealthy diet puts you at a 66% increased risk of productivity loss. Eating healthy foods also contributes to maintaining a stable body weight, reducing stress, boosting mood and energy, and can provide an opportunity to enrich your life by trying different foods than you are accustomed to (WHO, 2014).
Time: Americans spend less time cooking each day than in any other developed nation and also spend less time actually eating than other people across the globe (OECD). Women were traditionally the ones preparing meals for the family and spent a lot of their time doing so, before the 70s. Now, more women are tackling full time jobs as well as motherhood. This is especially true for single parents (moms and dads, alike). On top of jobs, we have errands to run, a workout, school, part time jobs, personal hobbies, networking events, our favorite tv series, and maybe some sleep! According to the 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics, on an average work day, Americans are spending about 2.5 hours on leisure time and sports, 1.0 hours on eating, and 1.6 hours on "other".
The same study broke down leisure time for an average day, including the weekends or non-work days. Prepare yourself. The following content may be disturbing to some readers. We spend an average of 2 hours and 49 minutes watching TV, only 17 minutes relaxing and thinking, and only an another 17 exercising. What?! No wonder we have so much chronic disease. And no wonder we think we don't have enough time to grocery shop and cook a decent meal. It would cut into our Walking Dead or Big Bang Theory time. Um, hello? Are we serious? Here's a plan: just cut out 1 hour of TV time and you have plenty of time for cooking! Isn't your health and your family's health worth 1 hour a day?
And before you start saying something about time or money, hold that thought. I've got another blog coming out soon on how to make 20 meals for $100 with only a 5 hour time investment (less than our average leisure time in one day). Stay tuned. For now, I'll leave you with some Food For Thought from the brilliant food author, Michael Pollan: