Have you heard? The recession makes people eat more junk food! The recession makes people eat less meat! The recession has been a boon for the diet industry! The recession makes you snack less! The recession makes people sit through the Transformers movie and actually claim they liked it! The next thing you know, the recession will have weapons of mass destruction and it will be curtains for all of us.
Hyperbole aside, no matter how you look at it, the world-wide economic slump has had an effect on how people eat.
In some cases, the connection is obvious: A very poor person loses his or her job and eat less because they can’t afford to buy food. This starvation scenario is rare, at least in developed countries. Thanks to welfare programs, unemployment benefits and credit, most people on a reduced income don’t starve. But they do change how they eat. Even those who have retained their jobs have altered how they eat based upon the economic forecast. Teasing apart the dietary implications of economic hardships has turned out to be an Olympic sport for researchers.
Fact: Income is the number one predictor for obesity. Even controlling for all other factors, the lower your income, the higher your risk of being overweight or obese.
By way of explanation, we have long known that calorie-for-calorie junk food is cheaper than fresh fruits and veggies. So it only follows that people who want the best caloric bang for their buck will eliminate the expensive stuff first and head for KFC all-you-can-eat buffet.
On the other hand, you have people curtailing how they eat because of financial constraints. Potluck dinners and backyard barbecues are becoming more popular and power lunches and expensive dinners out are on the decline. Ostensibly all this home cooking would be better for one’s waistline.
So which is it: Is the recession making us fatter or skinnier? Perhaps just more prone to histrionics? In my household, I can say with certainty that I’m watching our food budget more closely. Especially since food prices have risen about 11% over the past year and a half. I recently started a new budgeting system that has me plan out a month’s meals in advance (crazy, I know!) and shopping off a strict list every week. I’m using more coupons (despite my local grocer’s every attempt to thwart me), shopping the sales and going to discount stores. I’m packing my husband’s lunch every night and cut out the kids’ monthly McDonald’s trip.
While all my frugal tendencies have definitely saved us money, I’m not sure if it’s made us healthier. One of the things I quickly discovered about shopping discount warehouses is that organic is a foreign word. As is “whole grain” in any context other than Froot Loops. Although I will say “natural” is splattered on everything from a 25-cent box of mac-n-cheese to peanut brittle. But we do eat out less and I suppose the caloric damage from a store-bought corn dog is less than a deep-fat-fried one from a restaurant. And I’ve been hitting up the farmer’s markets and even our own backyard for produce. (This weekend we harvested all the cherries off our cherry tree – it was enough to make one pan of the best cobbler ever!) I’ve also stopped buying as much snack food – even though the snacks I buy are healthy ones like hummus and snap peas – which has actually led me to snack less. Not that I’m losing weight or anything (egads, that’s a post for another day!) but we all know why that is.
So now I’m curious about you: have you changed your eating habits because of the recession? Are all those ladymag articles about The Destitution Diet inspiring you or depressing you? Did you like the Transformer’s movie? Really??