It’s a major misconception in our modern society: processed foods like chips, frozen dinners and Happy Meals are not cheaper, but actually more expensive than whole foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. While this topic graces our TV screens in shows like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revoluion and our shelves in books like Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, the misconception remains among many Americans.
A few weeks ago, Mark Bittman wrote a column in the New York Times making the case that cost is not what keeps American families from eating healthy meals. Bittman argues that advertising and marketing of snacks and fast food, the addictive nature of unhealthy foods and a lack of cooking skills are to blame for America’s nutrition problems.
It’s a problem that is documented by plenty of evidence, says Christine Olson, a professor of community nutrition at Cornell.
“His article lends some visibility to a fact that is well-known by nutritionists and family economists and amply-substantiated by research,” she said. “A home-prepared family meal is generally more nutritious and cheaper than a family meal purchased at a restaurant, even a fast food restaurant. But the frenetic pace of family life and the relentless advertising by the fast food industry contribute to the widely-held opposite perception. “
Cornell Cooperative Extension has been educating families about this very issue for decades. Its Food and Nutrition Education in Communities program has been helping families gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes they need to eat healthily since the 1970s. Another program called Cooking Up Fun teaches young people about cooking with healthy ingredients.
It’s one of the many ways that Cornell Cooperative Extension is using evidence to help improve the lives of families in New York.