The elitism surrounding the health food movement is a barrier to health food marketers and will be until it becomes reasonable for a busy family to be able to afford—and choose to pay for—higher quality food.
The food writer Michael Pollan’s response to the question of health food elitism is a must-read. In it, he dissects a 2004 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in which the difference in quality of calories your money can buy is incredibly vast.
Take for instance the fact that “one dollar spent in the processed food section of the supermarket — the aisles in the middle of the store — will buy you 1200 calories of cookies and snacks. That same dollar spent in the produce section on the perimeter will buy you only 250 calories of carrots. Similarly, a dollar spent in the processed food aisles will buy you 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of fruit juice.”
For someone interested in eating healthily but struggling to feed their family, the choice is a difficult one. Do they buy the healthiest food products they can afford, and risk not having enough? Or do they stock up on junk, and avoid going hungry?
In a perfect world, every calorie in the supermarket (or the farmers’ market, for that matter) would cost exactly the same. So families on a budget wouldn’t be forced to decide between less of the good stuff and more of the bad.
Pollan concedes that the “situation is a public problem and can be addressed only through public action,” that the exclusiveness surrounding wholesome foods of better quality brought on by higher prices will remain, as long as government policy fails to level the playing field between good calories and bad.
So what specifically can healthy food companies do to help remove the stigma of health food elitism?
They can help justify the higher price of eating well by using some of their advertising dollars to help educate families about the importance of nutrition.
They can be the public voice that helps bring on new farm policies to subsidize the right types of foods.
And, perhaps most importantly of all, they can communicate a “you get what you pay for” message to those families who are on the fence about whether top-quality food is truly worth their money.