Specifically, I want to address the frequently heard complaint that it costs much more to eat healthy.
Don’t worry—I’m not going to give you a lecture about how much broccoli you could eat for the price of a Big Mac, or how, if you were really inventive, you could make a four course nutrient dense meal for the price of two large bags of Doritos and a 2 liter coke.
That stuff may be true, but it doesn’t speak to your experience, which is that calories are generally cheap, and good food (like grass-fed meat) isn’t. And that it takes a lot of work (and time!) to make healthy food that’s economically viable, while dropping by the take-out window at Taco Bell takes neither.
So let me start by saying two words about that: It’s true.
And let me follow it with two more: So what?
Now before you think I’m being calloused and unsympathetic, hear me out. When President Herbert Hoover spoke inspiringly of putting “a chicken in every pot”, chicken was an expensive commodity—in 1930, you’d pay a whopping $6.48 a pound for chicken (in today’s currency). Last year, in contrast, the price was $1.57.
So this is a good thing, right?
Well, yes and no.
See, one of the casualties of modern life is we’ve lost the ability to think ahead. We’re so focused on the now, on immediate ratification, that few of us stop to think of long range costs. This is why we have a credit card crisis in America. This is why “buy now pay later” is virtually the national anthem. And it affects every area of our lives. People lease cars based on how much their monthly payment is, not how much the real cost of the lease is over 3 years. We pay the minimum requirements on our credit card. We eat what tastes delicious now and figure we’ll start our diet “tomorrow”. Everything in modern life is skewed to sacrifice long range consequences on the altar of immediate reward. If it feels good now, do it—and worry about the consequences later.
And you can see just how well that’s been working out.
So sure, we can now get chicken for a buck and a half a pound. But the real costs of that “bargain” are hidden. Chickens are bred to grow breasts so large that they literally topple over and can barely breathe or stand. They are shot full of hormones, steroids and antibiotics (a contributing factor in the looming crisis around antibiotic-resistant bacteria). Many health professionals feel the “meat-cancer” connection that seems to show up in some association studies has little to do with meat and everything to do with the chemicals and hormones that the meat is filled with.
Sure, you can buy that kind of meat a lot cheaper than you can buy pasture-raised. But you’re kicking the can down the road. You may not be paying more cash at the register right now—but payment will come due just as sure as death and taxes, and it won’t be cheap.
That many diseases and conditions are lifestyle related is no longer in doubt. Lifestyle choices—and dietary choices especially—have a huge influence on cancer, cognitive impairment, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Calories are cheap in the standard American Diet, but the costs of that diet are anything but. You just don’t have to pay for them right now.
But pay for them you will. Make absolutely no mistake about that.
So does it cost more money to eat healthy? Sure it does—at least at first. But it costs even more not to eat well. You might not notice it right now, today, at the cash register. But a decade or two from now, the bill will come due.
And it won’t be fun.
Look, one of the most difficult lessons any of us as parents have to teach our children is to look at the long range picture. A 20 year old doesn’t care about what happens when he’s forty (let alone sixty)—he cares about Friday night. (That’s why it’s so hard to get kids to save money.)
But are we adults really any different?
Look, I have an advantage over a lot of you in that I’m in my 60’s and I know how this game turns out. I’m passionate about making people understand how much it matters to eat well when they’re younger because I know what it feels like “on the other side”. I’m 67, look 47, feel 37, and act 27. I have boundless energy. I get up without an alarm clock at 6 AM. I play tennis every day. I have a healthy libido and a wonderful relationship. I have a great career, amazing health, an optimistic outlook and I look forward to every day.
And I know—I know—that’s because I’ve been eating well (albeit a bit more “expensively”) since I was 38. And, like a person who’s been putting a few bucks away every month since he’s twenty and now, at 70, is enjoying millionaire status, I’m enjoying the results of 30 years of spending a little more and eating a little better.
And I can tell you that it’s worth it. Big time.
So does meat from grass-fed cows, eggs from free-range chicken, organic coffee and milk and strawberries and all the rest of it cost more? Sure it does. In the short run.
But if you can lift your head over the horizon to see the long view, that extra cash you’re laying out now will pay off in benefits you can’t even imagine.
Do the math. And then tell me whether or not it’s worth it.
I think it’s a no-contest. How about you?