In my first year not eating every meal at the dining hall, I have been doing more grocery shopping. Granted, I only have a microwave and a mini fridge as well as very limited disposable income, so my options are limited. I am slowly learning the stores with the best deals (cough Trader Joe’s cough), but I still notice that overall, healthy foods are much more expensive.
Obviously your kale chips or your organic chia seeds are going to be overpriced since they are a specialty item, but what about fresh food like apples and bananas? You can expect them to be overpriced at Whole Foods and other exclusive grocery stores. There, you are not only paying for the experience but also the process that goes into obtaining the products. These specialty stores definitely are not expected in low-income neighborhoods due to lack of demand, but there often are not even normal grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods. Most of these groceries are purchased from convenience and corner stores. Shelf lives are high here, making the prices low. That being said, apples and bananas with a low shelf life are not frequently found in convenience stores.
I tested my theories by visiting a few 7/11 stores in the Chicago area. Most had apples, bananas, and oranges available. However, if they did, they were often not good quality. Either bruised or dirty, I did not want to eat them anyway. Keep in mind, these convenience stores were in either Rogers Park or downtown Chicago, not necessarily low-income neighborhoods.
Apples and bananas are the simple healthy foods too. What about whole grains that are not in individual packets processed with sugar, salt, and preservitives? What about vegetables whose main ingredient is not water? They are nearly nonexistent in convenience stores.
I researched this further and found that this correlation in income was comparable to that of race. This concerned me. With many other racial conflicts in the world today, I know this issue is not necessarily the most current. However, the relation between socioeconomic status and race is not just a coincidence. People of lower socioeconomic status have less options for healthy consumption, and people of color have even less. This income gap can also be further dissected to see gender inequality. Equality is not realistic, but equity is. It is not about bridging the income gap, but providing more opportunities to increase that equity.
Unfortunately, I do not think solely education will help eradicate this problem. As a marketing student, I think this issue is in business’ hands. Instead of creating cheap, fast products that will sell easily and if not will last a long time on shelves, businesses need to focus on what is best for society. Real shocker, I know. As a majority, consumers are getting more informed, though. If McDonald’s can provide cheap salads and oatmeals, regardless of actual nutrient content, voices can be heard through dollar votes. It will not be a quick process, but I can only hope that in the future, race and socioeconomic status will not limit access to health care. Health should be an option for all.
Originally published on MyBroadMedia in November 2015.