The Infuriating Truth About Why Healthy Food Costs More Than Junk

Sure, you might save money on healthcare in the long run by eating healthy.  And you can’t really put a price on health, right?  But the truth is that healthy food does cost more than junk food – and the reason why is infuriating.


Your Tax Dollars Are Paying for Junk Food

Apples don’t really cost more than a Big Mac.  Sure, the price tag might make the apples seem more expensive.  But the truth is that someone (including probably you too) is footing the bill for the Big Mac in the form of taxes, which go to support farm subsidies.

Back in 1933, the United States farm bill was passed.  The bill was meant to help farmers who were struggling because they had too much of a certain crop and the surplus caused prices to drop.  Under the bill, the US government would buy up excess crops and control the release of them to the public.  To prevent a bigger surplus, the government actually paid farmers to leave part of their land empty.

These subsidies mostly went to corn, wheat, cotton and soybeans.  Fruits and veggies – what the farm bill referred to as “specialty crops” – were mostly left out of subsidies.

As the Washington Post points out in this article, the subsidies didn’t have too much of an effect on which crops were grown in the United States until 1980.  Up until then, farmers still grew a wide variety of crops. After all, the subsidies only accounted for a small amount (about 5 to 10 percent) of the market price for crops.  But, in 1980, crop insurance subsidies were added to the farm bill.

Under the new insurance subsidies, farms would get paid even if their crops failed, such as from drought. This took the risk out of farming and made it much more appealing to grow subsidized crops.

Once again, those subsidies went toward grains and oil seeds – not for fruits and vegetables!  It is no wonder that, of the 300+ million acres of food crops in the U.S., half are soy and corn!


The High Cost of Corn and Soy Subsidies

The US government paid out $260 billion to agribusiness in the form of subsidies from 1995 to 2010. Most of these subsidies were for corn and soybean producers.  This wouldn’t be so bad if Americans were all snacking on corn on the cob and edamame.  But most of that soy and corn gets turned into processed, unhealthy oils like high fructose corn syrup.

With prices so cheap thanks to subsidies, it is no surprise that processed corn and soy make it into our food. As this earlier Care2 article about farm subsidies points out, 14 of the 37 ingredients in Twinkies are made with federal subsidies.

Farm subsidies make unhealthy ingredients cheap and thus appealing to food manufacturers.  But the costs of farm subsidies for junk foods go beyond just affecting the way we eat:

  • Farm Subsidies Affect Public Health: Farm subsidies directly contribute to obesity, which is costing Americans billions in health expenditures.
  • Farm Subsidies Harm the Environment: As this NY Times op-ed points out, farm subsidies are devastating for the environment because they reduce biodiversity, encourage greenhouse gas emissions, encourage practices which require pesticides, and discourage sustainable farming practices.
  • Farm Subsidies Contribute to Poverty: The US farm subsidy policy contributes to global poverty by driving down prices, blocking market access to developing countries, and encouraging practices which cause human-health and environmental problems.


What Can Be Done?

In 2014, the US farm bill was updated to include some provisions which encourage environmentally-friendly practices.  However, the 2014 farm bill still heavily subsidizes corn and soy but gives no subsidies for fruits and vegetables, and virtually no insurance incentives either.

It is time to stop subsidizing junk food which is making us sick and harming the environment.  Tax junk food and subsidize fruits and vegetables instead.  You could literally save lives, not to mention the planet and a lot of money.

After all, if farm subsidies can make it possible to produce a profitable Big Mac for under $4, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to enjoy a healthy meal for the same price!


Would you support a tax on junk foods?

Image credit: t-mizo via Flickr


Elisa F
Elisa Fabout a year ago

Thanks for the info.

Nellie K Adaba
Nellie K Adaba1 years ago

Not fair

Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

I support a tax on everything that is killing the planet: carbon, junk food, you name it! Thank you for posting, sharing as well.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

Eric is absolutely right! We need to get the government out of almost everything! They have taken over WAY too much! That is why our national debt is so high.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Simone H.
Simone H2 years ago

The article should have mentioned that corn and soy are mainly used to feed to livestock.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Eric Lees
Eric Lees2 years ago

Obviously what may have been well intended like many other government programs have gotten out of hand.

Case in point:
"Why Is the Government Stealing Raisins from Honest Farmers?"

Read more at:

Eric Lees
Eric Lees2 years ago

@Joyce W. "The food industry is one of the most disgraceful industries in this country! They're only concerned about profits & greed at the expense of the public. The farmers need help & I support that. But I also expect our gov't to protect us too. not...."

And how do companies best profit? In a free market they profit by providing their customers with what they want. The food industry is a result of what we demand, for decades people did not care about where their food came from, what was in it or how healthy it was. All they cared about was cheap. We got exactly what we wanted "cheap food" at any costs and government helped by hiding some of that costs in our taxes.

Fortunately our demands are changing for the better as DebbieSiteIssue S. points out. If enough of us demand healthy food the farmers will provide it. GMO is another prime example, despite the roadblocks the FDA, USDA controlled by Monsanto have put in the way the private sector is doing what it does best. Now we can buy Non-GMO labeled products, even some of the biggest food conglomerates are getting in the game.

Eric Lees
Eric Lees2 years ago

Like most government programs that were intended to help end up causing more harm than good. All subsidizes should be abolished, the government has no Constitutional authority to subsidize anything nor should they as it is not the role of government to take care of us. Neither is it needed, government intervention in markets replace what the market would solve on it's own. Crop insurance can and would be handled more efficiently by the private sector.

This can be applied to any market, healthcare, real estate, student loans, flood insurance, crops. Every market the government intervenes in gets distorted.