the economics of junk food

In today’s post I ask the rhetorical question, “How many full or even partial chips are actually inside an average bag of Ruffles® Oven-Baked Cheddar & Sour Cream FLAVORED chips?”

ruffles-oven-baked-cheddar-sour-cream

Apparently—if I only count chips that are larger than a quarter—the answer is 12.  Seriously? Granted, there is a tablespoon amount of smithereens at the bottom of the bag but it’s not enough to keep a family of San Diego cockroaches alive.

Fortunately, the nutritional information indicates that a serving size is indeed an entire bag so I’m glad I didn’t have to share my dozen half-chips with, say, another starving programmer who didn’t bring his lunch either.

At $0.90 per bag that’s 7-1/2 cents per chip. Or in financial-nutritional terms that’s 144 calories per dollar.  My can of Sprite® likewise weighs in at 140 calories per dollar.

Compare that to paying $1 for a McDouble at 390 calories per dollar and you’ll realize how I must feel right now. Google tells me that the New York Post once included a column indicating that the McDouble is the “cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history”.

I think I would suggest instead that bread itself has always held that spot in human history since—roughly calculating here—six cups of flour is about $2.40, the yeast packet is another $0.80 so bread weighs in at about 592 calories per dollar. Wow, I think I’m onto something. This page indicates that flour tops the list and white bread is then second on that list at 3,333 calories per dollar. Obviously, bakeries can bring economies of scale to my own numbers.

A University of Washington survey found that “junk food costs as little as $1.76 per 1,000 calories (568 calories per dollar) whereas fresh veggies and the like cost more than ten times as much (presumably 57 calories per dollar)”.

Too bad vending machines don’t include real food in them. Given options, I think some of us might just do the right thing and select something more… filling. I guess I should bake some bread this evening.

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