College students are no strangers to being on a budget. On-campus jobs are capped at 18 hours a week, at $12 an hour, which maxes out our checks at $432 every two weeks — if you even had the maximum amount of work study or exception funding that allowed you to work that much. With all the fees of student life, tuition, books, and living, that is not a hefty budget. I myself have grown up pinching pennies, like so many others, and that meant choosing the cheapest options at grocery stores. The choice to eat healthy is then made much more difficult when faced with the fact that healthier foods are statistically more expensive than the unhealthier options.
The Harvard School of Public Health published research that shows that “the healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets . . . ” This doesn’t seem like it would make much of a difference, but, yearly, this is an extra $550. For many college students, that is the cost of a month’s rent in a shared apartment or home. For my family of five, $550 each would amount to five months of bills, including electric, water, mortgage, and more. With that money being the deciding factor of if the water got cut, you forgo the fresh, lean meat for ground beef; at least then you go to bed with a full stomach.
So, I beg the question — why are we urged to live a lifestyle that no one is putting within our reach? We know that carrots are healthier than potato chips, but the price is impossible to overlook. According to Time, “that’s because current food policies support inexpensive but high volume production, and favor easily manufactured and processed foods that provide more profit per unit for the food industry.” Yes, cheap production is a great way to feed the masses, but not at the cost of our health.
Even here at Whittier College, a highly-regarded liberal arts school, we are not untouched by this price disparity. Upon looking at The Spot’s prices, I saw exactly what I have seen in stores my entire life — healthy food is more expensive. One of the oversized Hot Pockets costs $2.99, whereas the roasted veggie wrap costs $4.95. This is almost a $2 difference for about the same amount of food. This is not the only example; pizza bagel bites that can last about two meals (depending on how hungry you are) ring in at $3.89. The healthier option, yogurt with granola, is $3.49 and a small breakfast at best. This is not to discredit Bon Apétit, as they have to sell in relation to the prices they buy this food at. The larger problem is that companies are allowed to set these price disparities.
As a school and as a nation, we need to step up to these prices and decide, subsidize, and realize that a student should not have to buy $4.49 donuts to fill their stomach because the southwestern chicken salad costs $6.50. This is not limited to grocery stores, either — Taco Bell’s $5 cravings meals, that have three times the amount of food and a drink, cost a fraction of what the $7.85 Chick-fil-A Spicy Southwest Salad does. Those who say that this is because fast food is prepared for you forget that the materials to prepare this salad, or ones like it, at home add up as well. Not to mention the time you have to put into a meal and, as we know, time is money. We are forced to decide between what will fill us up while also allowing us to stretch our budget, and what will make us feel and be healthier. If you go to the store with a $50 weekly budget for the family, that is all you have, so it better stretch every which way. We all have bought a huge pack of ramen, because we can squeeze about 20 meals out of it, instead of buying a head of lettuce or some carrots, and that needs to stop. We need better options, and those start with having conversations about how to lower prices and fix this disparity.