Is it more expensive to make a healthy meal of chicken and vegetables at home, or to take the kids out to McDonalds? Many working class Americans as well as political commentators would say the latter is the affordable option. Indeed, the “fact” that vegetables are more expensive than eating at McDonalds is often used as an explanation for why increasing numbers of Americans are overweight and obese. The New York Times op-ed “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” by Mark Bittman seeks to set the record straight – for less than the price of a meal for four at McDonalds, one can cook a meal at home that is both healthier and has more calories. The clear graphics provide convincing evidence that a meal of chicken and vegetables really is less expensive and more nutritious than a meal of hamburgers and chicken nuggets. However, when time is money, McDonalds and similar fast food restaurants do seem like the better option for many parents after a long day at work. Bittman suggests that eliminating food deserts would help counter this problem by allowing individuals, especially those without cars, to reach grocery stores with less time expenditure. Additionally, a cultural shift in which cooking is once again seen as a normal part of life and not as an unnecessary chore is vital in combating the obesity epidemic; projects such as FoodCorps and Cooking Matters lead the way in teaching children about cooking and nutrition, but parents need to take an active role in this as well. 

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About the Author: Mara Constantine is a 4th year sociology major and California native. She is currently a research assistant for Professor Kristin Luker. In addition to writing for the Public Health Advocate blog, Mara is also an active member of the Cal Cooking Club and a tutor in the YWCA’s English-in-Action program. Her public health interests include maternal and child health, health of immigrant populations, and health disparities.