Got to thinking about another odd aspect of our food system from a systems thinking perspective.
Yes, it's true, our large food processors are focusing on our taste preferences for fat and sweets. And, yes, it's cheaper to eat junk food.
Still, I wanted to know, wot's the least one could spend on a prudent diet?
Perhaps because Michael Pollan is a friend of a friend, or perhaps beause my questions were interesting, Pollan responded. Better, Pollan forwarded my questions to the lead researcher, Adam Drewnowski, who also responded.
Wot did I learn? I was right on all counts.
Here are my questions:
- Has anyone done the numbers on a least-cost prudent diet?
- What's the least one could spend?
- How would limited funds be allocated to achieve this?
Says I, "looks like Drewnoski (and others) have the data to answer these questions, yet I don't see them answered. I'm guessing that, among other things, such a diet would lead us away from our taste preferences."
Then, "Is that our real choice: taste versus survival? Is this an evolution thang?"
To which Drewnowski replied (via Pollan):
"Your correspondent is right on all counts:
- The work on lowest cost healthy diets was done back in the 1940s by the Nobel prizewinner George Stigler - using the then-new technique of linear programming.
- The optimal diet consited of five foods - flour, cabbage, spinach, evaporated milk and dried navy beans.
- The least cost of a healthy diet - currently in the US - is around $4.00 - the USDA Thrifty food plan is calculated using non-linear programming - but in essence it is another optimization method.
- Yes its all about taste preferences and the pleasure/cost tradeoff.
Now ya know.
Glad I asked!