wot’s the cheapest way to eat well?

food system

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:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The optimal diet consited of five foods - flour, cabbage, spinach, evaporated milk and dried navy beans.
  3. 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.
  4. Yes its all about taste preferences and the pleasure/cost tradeoff.

Now ya know.

Glad I asked!

Published by Ken on April 29th, 2007 tagged Systems Thinking

One Response to “wot’s the cheapest way to eat well?”

  1. Ben Sullivan Says:

    Alright, Ken, good work. I especially appreciate that three of the five (four if you're Popeye) do well in dry storage, creating energy savings potential when I switch to a smaller fridge. Now, my question to you is this;

    What is the 'post-modern' re-interpretation of a Hawaiian diet that an islander could expect to do well by given our current state of affairs? Does taro take the place of the flour or the cabbage? Can you grow navy beans here? The list I'm dreaming about would come with directions for how to grow the majority of it in my backyard.

    I've got the ulu tree already in the ground in the back yard...but I need a few years for it to grow.

    Seriously, though, I am sure you know some folks who could drum up some good answers here. I'm thinking Stacey, Adam, Ray, others? I guess the key is noy just what we 'can' grow, but what we 'need' to grow.

    Thanks, Ken.