High-calorie, high-fat processed foods cost less than fruits and vegetables - and that's due to the US's convoluted system of food production and crop subsidies, The Denver Post reports today.
For example, at a King Soopers grocery store in a Denver neighborhood, peaches cost 99 cents a pound. They weigh about half a pound each, which means a family of six will spend about $3 if they each want to eat one. An 18-serving pack of Kraft macaroni and cheese costs $2.99: it also has 400 calories and 580 mg of sodium per each one of those servings, whereas a large peach contains 61 calories and no sodium.
Part of the reason that fruits and vegetables cost so much: farm subsidies don't often cover them. The most subsidized crops are corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybeans. In the last 15 years, 70% of farm subsidies went to these five crops - that's $170 billion. Most of the corn that's subsidized won't end up as corn cobs or kernels for us to eat: it'll be turned into feed for livestock, ethanol, cornstarch and corn syrup.
Since the 1930s and 40s, the subsidy system has been this way. Unlike the more unified corn farmers, fruit and vegetable farmers are often in competition with each other, so they don't fight together to get subsidies. Often, they don't even ask for subsidies.
Another reason fruits and veggies are more expensive: they're more expensive to produce. They spoil sooner, they often need to be hand-picked, and weather or pests can ruin the crop.
Several organizations are working on getting grants for farmers, so that they can find ways to lower the cost of producing their fruit and vegetables. This, in turn, will lower the cost for consumers at the grocery store. The USDA has a grant program that's designed to help farmers boost their specialty crop production.
However, if a farmer switched his crop from a subsidized product like corn to a specialty crop like zucchini, the current subsidy rules would mean he'd receive a financial penalty for doing so. And even if everyone in the US decided to eat as many servings of fruits and vegetables as the USDA recommends, the current crop system couldn't provide for all of them: according to an article in the journal Health Affairs, "The U.S. food system supplies 24 percent fewer servings per person than the five daily vegetable servings recommended for a standard 2,000 calorie diet."