Why Do People Eat What’s Bad For Them?

justin perich fruitA few weeks ago I wrote a piece about what’s actually in fast food millions of Americans eat on a daily basis (the answer: anything but food). Today I found a New York Times article that asks an important follow up question: why do people continue to eat it anyway?

The answer isn’t so simple. As the writer Mark Bittman states, many of the explanations and excuses usually offered just don’t stand the logic or accuracy test…

Common Answer #1: Fast Food is cheaper than Home Cooking.

Conventional wisdom states that many families and individuals, especially those that are less well off, often choose the fast food route because it’s more affordable. But in this case, conventional wisdom is just dead wrong. One meal at McDonalds costs on average between 6 and 9 dollars, depending on your region. That comes to $24 to $36 for a family of four. On the other hand, you can usually prepare a meat dish, a salad, a side dish, and a beverage for four for anywhere from $10 to $15 without breaking a sweat.

Common Answer #2: But Fast Food gives you more calories for less money than Home Cooking.

Even those who admit that buying and preparing home cooked meals is cheaper often like to argue that, calorie-wise, fast food gives you more bang for your buck. But folks, this just ain’t smart. Given that over 50% of the population already consumes too many calories anyway, it’s far better to choose the option that gives you less unhealthy calories and more healthy ones.

The Real Reasons: Home Cooking is “too much work,” Marketing is persuasive, and Fast Food is literally addictive

As Bittman reveals, the true explanation is threefold. Firstly, people see cooking as a tedious chore that gets in the way of the delight of eating. Secondly, nobody on TV or billboards is bombarding us with appetizing images of home cooked meals. And thirdly, eating fast food sets off the same neuro-addictive responses triggered by drugs or gambling, effecting dopamine releases in the same harmful way.

So how do we solve the problem? Mark Bittman talks about starting a huge political and cultural revolution, akin to the tobacco backlash of the 90s. But I think it’s much simpler. I think it has to start with you and your family. As Gandhi says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” These fast food conglomerations are always going to be there, and there will always be people who will fall for their false charms. But if you stop buying the fast food garbage and start making your own, healthier meals, maybe friends and neighbors will start to notice and change their habits as well.