How much do fruits and vegetables cost?

Federal dietary guidance advises Americans to consume more vegetables and fruits because most Americans do not consume the recommended quantities or variety. Food prices, along with taste, convenience, income, and awareness of the link between diet and health, shape food choices.

This research updates previous estimates of vegetable and fruit prices, and estimates the cost of satisfying recommendations for adult vegetable and fruit consumption in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

An adult on a 2,000-calorie diet could satisfy recommendations for vegetable and fruit consumption (amounts and variety) at an average cost of $2 to $2.50 per day, or approximately 50 cents per edible cup equivalent.

The lowest average price for any of the 59 fresh and processed fruits included in the study was for fresh watermelon, at 17 cents per edible cup equivalent. The highest average price was for fresh raspberries, at $2.06 per edible cup equivalent.

The lowest average price for any of the 94 fresh and processed vegetables included in the study was for dry pinto beans, at 13 cents per edible cup equivalent. The highest average price was for frozen asparagus cuts and tips, at $2.07 per edible cup equivalent.

See full report

Metcalf Food Solutions Reports Released

Five new reports were released today that together present a new vision for how we think about, produce and consume food. The reports offer a range of strategies to promote local economic development and improve access to healthy and abundant locally-produced food.

The report collection, titled Metcalf Food Solutions, is the result of an open competition led by the Metcalf Foundation, a private family foundation that has been working behind-the-scenes for the past eight years to jumpstart a sustainable food movement in Ontario.

To download the reports, go here.

Access to Affordable, Nutritious Food Is Limited in “Food Deserts”

For a small percentage of U.S. households, access to a supermarket or large grocery store is a problem.

Some neighborhoods in the United States, particularly those in low-income areas, have been dubbed “food deserts” because residents do not live near supermarkets or other food retailers that carry affordable and nutritious food. Low-income residents of these neighborhoods and those who lack transportation rely more on smaller neighborhood stores that may not carry healthy foods or may offer them only at higher prices.

A lack of healthy options could lead to poor diets and to diet-related conditions such as obesity or diabetes. If low-income households in food deserts can only purchase food at higher prices, they may be more prone to food insecurity—not having enough food for active, healthy living.

Full report from the USDA, March 2010.

Household food security in the US, 2008

From the US Dept of Agriculture’s Economic Research Series:

Eighty-five percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2008, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

The remaining households (14.6 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.7 percent with very low food security—meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.

Prevalence rates of food insecurity and very low food security were up from 11.1 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively, in 2007, and were the highest recorded since 1995, when the first national food security survey was conducted.

The typical food-secure household spent 31 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition. Fifty-five percent of all food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs during the month prior to the 2008 survey.

Link to full report

Recession swells food bank use

As reported by CBC:

The number of Canadians needing aid from food banks swelled in March to almost 800,000, an increase of almost 120,000 from the same month the previous year.

The year-over-year increase of 17. 6 per cent was the largest increase since 1997, said Food Banks Canada’s executive director, Katharine Schmidt.

The recession was seen as the primary culprit for the rise in food bank reliance, the group said. In total 794,738 people turned to food banks in March, representing about 2.4 per cent of Canada’s population. About nine per cent — or 72,321 people — were first-time users.

“Food banks have unfortunately seen first-hand the effects of three recessions in three decades,” said Schmidt in a statement from Ottawa on Tuesday.

“It is crucially important that, as we rebuild the economy, we begin to better address the barriers that prevent too many Canadians from sharing in the national prosperity,” she said.

Schmidt said the groups’ findings show both unemployment and underemployment are issues for Canadians that need to be addressed.

The group found 19 per cent of those assisted by food banks each month are living on income from current or recent employment.

The report also found:

  • Alberta had the highest increase in food bank usage, with 61 per cent more Albertans relying on the assistance compared to last year.
  • Food banks assisted about 5.7 per cent of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador, making the province the most reliant on the assistance.
  • Canadians under 18 years old make up 37 per cent of those assisted by food banks.
  • Of assisted households, 6.3 per cent reported some type of pension as their primary source of income.

Food Banks Canada called on the federal government to:

  • Maintain planned levels of transfers to provincial, territorial and First Nations governments.
  • Implement a national poverty prevention strategy.
  • Increase use of the guaranteed income supplement (GIS) among low income seniors.
  • Ensure post-recession plans take into account low-income Canadians.

The CBC site carries an interactive map to show the breakdown by province.

Part of a healthy breakfast?

Many children from low-income families arrive at school without having had breakfast. A new report from the USDA Economic Research Service examines the role of children’s participation in the School Breakfast program, which serves over 10 million children a day.

Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey—Kindergarten Cohort and from the Wisconsin Schools Food Security Survey, the study found that students are more likely to participate when breakfast is served in the classroom, when time available for breakfast in school is longer, and when they come from lower income or time-constrained households. Children with access to the School Breakfast Program are more likely to eat breakfast in the morning and that program access may enhance food security among families at the margin of food insecurity.

Unfortunately, nearly 40% of children who are food insecure do not yet participate.

Full report

Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences

A new study reports on “food deserts” — areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. The report summarizes findings of a national-level assessment of the extent and characteristics of food deserts, analysis of the consequences of food deserts, lessons learned from related US Federal programs, and a discussion of policy options for alleviating the effects of food deserts. Overall, findings show that a small percentage of consumers are constrained in their ability to access affordable nutritious food because they live far from a supermarket or large grocery store and do not have easy access to transportation.

Link to full report

Food prices and weight

There may be a silver lining in the current economic crisis that includes skyrocketing food prices, at least for most North Americans who are still managing to get by, and for whom food availability is not yet critical, as it is elsewhere in the world: a slimmer waistline. We know that higher prices on healthy foods mean that people buy fewer of them, with negative health consequences. But the same principle might work with non-healthy foods too. A new article in the Millbank Quarterly suggests that major changes to the prices of non-healthy foods may affect people’s desire to buy them. If “foods” such as soft drinks and junky snack foods were more expensive, people might opt for cheaper (and potentially healthier) alternatives instead. Perhaps the food pricing problem could be harnessed for the power of good? It’s food for thought.

High prices hinder healthy diets

The 2009 Report on Canadians’ Health, a study conducted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation found that over 40% of Canadians have occasionally gone without various foods because of cost.

Prices vary widely across Canada, and these regional differences make it difficult for Canadians in some parts of the country to afford healthy basics, putting them at greater risk for obesity, heart disease and other health problems.

Although it’s widely known that food prices tend to be higher in remote regions and parts of Northern Canada, where food has to be shipped long distances, the report contained some examples of high prices in urban areas and central parts of Canada.

For instance, a bag of six apples cost $5.02 in Calgary compared with $1 in Toronto, according to the report. Four litres of 1 per cent milk cost $11.89 in Rankin Inlet compared with $3.49 in Vancouver, while one kilogram of peanut butter rang in at $7.58 in St. Catharines, Ont., and $3.29 in Regina.

Not only are healthy staples (such as fruit, vegetables, and dairy) often more expensive, but the price of unhealthy options (such as pop, chips, and highly processed foods) has remained stable, making them more attractive for low-income consumers.

Heart and Stroke Foundation study site, complete with map of regional differences

Full story from the Globe and Mail

Does subsidizing fresh food make a difference?

Do government subsidies for healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, improve the food quality and consumption of low-income Americans? If healthier food were cheaper, would low-income people be more likely to buy it? According to a recent report from the USDA Economic Research Service, the answer appears to be yes.

The average American diet already falls short of the recommended consumption levels of fruits and vegetables: 1.03 cups of fruits and 1.58 cups of vegetables per day in 2004, compared with the recommended 1.80 cups of fruits and 2.60 cups of vegetables. But low income Americans consume the equivalent of only 0.96 cups of fruits and 1.43 cups of vegetables per day.

The report examined how likely it would be that low-income Americans would buy more fresh produce if it were cheaper. It calculated that a 10-percent price discount at the retail level (i.e. in stores) would encourage low-income households to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables by up to 5%. This would still not be ideal, but would be more in line with the average American consumption.

Link to full report

The Healthy Food Bank is a non-profit organization that worked to provide nutritious staples like fruits, vegetables and whole grains to people in need around North America. We believe that people deserve good health, not hunger — no matter what circumstances they were born into. With the generous help of our donors we were able to raise thousands of dollars and 100% of that money was used to buy good food for someone in need. A big thank you to all of our donors and everyone else who contributed to our successful effort.