The Zen of Cheap Stuff

Most everyone recognizes that there is truth to saying “you get what you pay for”.  For the most part, cheaper products don’t function as well as higher priced goods.  Further, products made with cheaper materials don’t last as long and are more likely to be defective and/or break sooner than the higher priced items.  In the same light, using inexpensive merchandise for maintenance, regardless of what that may be, does not produce the same longevity as higher grade merchandise that are crafted to higher standards.  There is a general truth to all of this, whether we are discussing electronics, chain saws, cars, metal cutting tools, art equipment, or siding for our homes.  And though we all know of exceptions (i.e., inexpensive goods that last forever with little or no maintenance), most of us will agree that high quality items cost more and are better served with quality maintenance.

Except of course when it comes to our body—this is the big exception to the above statements.  You can eat, day after day, the most inexpensive food you can find and expect your body to function at peak levels for your entire life.  Animal foods derived from beings living in captivity and wading in their own feces provide the same nutrition (according to the USDA) as free-range animals that have access to clean pasture and fresh plant foods.  It simply isn’t worth paying more money for plants that were grown on soils maintained with organic, animal- and plant-derived fertilizers (e.g., manure, seaweed) and augmented with nitrogen-fixing cover crops.  That is because produce grown on highly depleted soils that are “enriched” with chemical fertilizers derived from petroleum products are just as good.  Further, it is an established fact (according to some) that highly processed foods that are stripped of their naturally occurring vitamins and are then supplemented with synthetic and laboratory-derived compounds are in no way inferior to whole foods that contain naturally occurring vitamins and their necessary cofactors.  Wait a minute …

Cleary, I’m being sarcastic (and please forgive that).  I’m hoping the point has been made.  We understand that we get what we pay for, but we aren’t willing to pay for higher quality food or spend time preparing that food to maximize its nutrition (or even learn what those last few words mean).  And then, in middle age, when our bodies start to fail, we wonder how this could be.  We’ve nourished ourselves (and our children) with the cheapest products we could find but also have expected to function well into old age.  To me, this is the great American dietary paradox—an assumption that health can be maintained with substances that barely qualify as food.  We focus on calories, but not what the calories were derived from, not what accompanies the calories, not what the calories were stored in, and not what the calories were chemically treated with.   We spend very little time understanding human nutritional needs and even less money on them.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking.  There are real financial obstacles to acquiring high quality food (well, not really, you could forage, but let’s leave that topic alone for now).  Organically raised food does cost more to produce (for reasons I won’t go into here).  And despite the fact that it nourishes you better, helps prevent sickness, and even increases your odds of avoiding cancer (a very expensive illness to treat), it is simply too much money for a working family to generate.  Mind you, this is sometimes the same working family that has multiple TVs in their home, is making payments on one or more ATVs, possibly has a couple of snow machines, has tens of outfits they haven’t worn for more than two years, and decided that a swimming pool was a necessity for the home.  That sounds judgmental, but it isn’t meant to be.  I’m only pointing out that those families have chosen to spend their money elsewhere (i.e., they’ve chosen not to spend money on that which is primarily responsible for health—real nutrition).  And equally important, when anyone purchases inexpensive food, they are contributing to the inhumane treatment of animals and to the growing chemical burden found on our landscape (it is an unfortunate truth of cheap food that we can’t escape).

So, to summarize this, the next time you look at the price of grass-fed beef, remember that it contains approximately twice as much of a cancer-fighting compound called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).   And the next time you consider which eggs to buy, remember that more expensive eggs from poultry with access to pasture have darker yellow yolks, indicating a greater amount of carotenoids, natural compounds that protect you from cancer.  And when you consider how expensive the organic apples are, remember that conventionally grown apples are among the most contaminated fruits grown in the United States and are documented to expose you (and your children) to cancer-causing chemicals.  Given that the US Environmental Protection Agency (and I quote) “only measures [health] risk based on individual contaminants”, try to imagine all the things that cheap foods expose your family to.  Your health is worth paying for.  The higher priced food may mean that you can’t afford the cable-TV package you hoped for, but it serves your children better and makes for a cleaner landscape for them to play on.  Americans aren’t accustomed to thinking long term, but believe it or not, what you feed your children ends up affecting your grandchildren’s health (through epigenetic factors).  I believe it is time we start acting like the stewards of the future that we actually are.