Cheese and the Cost of Healthy Food
“Not everyone can afford to eat well”: this has been the rebuttal to health-food-enthusiasts in general (and locavores in particular) ever since the rise of writers like Michael Pollan. The argument goes that it costs more to buy healthy produce than a Big Mac. In the past, economists have compared the prices of these foods by the amount of calories they offer. Recently, however, the FDA conducted a study comparing food costs not only calorically, but also by price per edible weight and price per average amount eaten. The results? According to the latter two methods, “grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and less healthy foods.”
So what does this mean for cheese? Where does it rank on the health spectrum, and is it worth the cost? To find out, I visited Laura Downey, co-owner of the wonderful Fairfield Cheese Company in Fairfield, CT.
As Downey pointed out to me, there’s a difference between the cheese you buy in a gourmet shop and a Kraft single. At Fairfield Cheese Company, she said, “Most of the cheeses we sell are small-batch, from grass-fed cows so they’re high in CLA acid, and most of them are raw milk, so they enzymes are still there.” Both of these make for a healthier product for consumers. What’s more, “when people eat this kind of cheese, overall you end up eating less of it, because it’s more flavorful and more satisfying.”
In addition to being eligible for the healthy-food category on the spectrum, Downey says (and most Culture readers will probably agree) that fine cheese is worth the money we spend on it. “While it’s expensive, if people could get over the fact that they don’t have to buy a whole pound of it, if it’s $25/lb and they buy half a pound, it’s $12. And that half a pound really ultimately could feed four people. That’s $3 each, so to me, that’s not expensive.”