My friends and I always buy cheap snacks from a local convenient store, two blocks away from our high school, Bronx Science. It’s a pretty local thing; not some fancy 7-Eleven-type gig. The store is lined with cheap snacks, most of the brands not heard of anywhere else. And probably for good reason too. One of the more notorious snacks, our personal favorite, is the Iced Honey Bun, manufactured by Cloverhill Bakery Snacks, Co., and composed of a whopping 610 calories (97% DV sat. fats, 55% DV total fat, 22% DV carbs, etc.)- it sells for a dollar.
This cheap and disastrous alternative to a well-rounded diet is easily avoidable for most people. Yet the snack is still cheaper than a medium bag of Lays ($1.25) or even a medium bag of semi-healthy Wheat Thins ($1.75). Such is the basis for the Bronx obesity epidemic. Bronx high school students, caught between the standard $1.50 charge for a skimpy school lunch and the cheaper more tempting treats, often choose the latter. According to a recent New York Times article linking the South Bronx obesity epidemic, ironically, to poor food security in the area, “A 2008 study by the city government showed that 9 of the Bronx’s 12 community districts had too few supermarkets, forcing huge swaths of the borough to rely largely on unhealthful, but cheap, food.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/nyregion/14hunger.html?_r=2)
So in fact, this is not just an issue confronting the Bronx’s teenage populace, but in fact, a systemic problem plaguing the entire community. The correlation between poor food security and rising obesity rates has been delineated by Raj Patel as an inevitable burden placed upon the powerless through a food system hyped up on ‘individual choice’. Overall, our food system looks like it runs in a vicious cycle: the impulses of well endowed consumers bias market growth in the direction towards cheaper processed food, which become the only affordable choice for those with less. The trapped underclass in turn, feed this growth, eventually driving up the prices of less demanded, but healthier food choices like fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat. But in fact, there is still time for moral restitution. What is a few extra bucks spent each week on healthier foods for the average middle class consumer, in comparison to a lifetime of obesity for the financially oppressed? This growing systemic ill can be easily overcome the minute we take up our consumer responsibilities.
The Obesity-Hunger Paradox, by Sam Dolnik- NYTimes, March 12, 2010