Economic Downturn May Be Making American Diets Healthier

We're spending less on meat, sweets and alcohol.

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Some might consider it a silver lining to the recession: Americans are cutting back on unhealthier foods at the grocery store to save money. According to the Wall Street Journal, consumer spending on food took a nosedive in the fourth quarter of 2008, falling 3.7 percent. It's the steepest decline in all of the 62 years that the government has compiled data on the topic.

Because of the recession, we're spending less on meat, sweets, and alcohol, and more on milk, eggs and fresh vegetables. Red meat, which has a large carbon footprint, dipped 3.4 percent (no thanks to PETA's "Vegetarians Have Better Sex" campaign). Contrary to the accepted belief that a stiff drink will help us through the recession, sales of alcoholic beverages plummeted 10.9 percent. We're getting our protein through more eggs, our calcium through more milk, and our nutrients through more vegetables (hopefully they're locally-grown, but no one's holding their breath). We're also dipping into our pantries to use up our stored food, rather than letting it go to waste. Either way, the recession seems to be pushing us all inadvertently towards flexitarianism - a diet that's good for our health and the planet.

There are two drawbacks, though. Since we're spending less money on food, I doubt that people are putting their dollars towards pricier organic fare. And perhaps a worse outcome is that the Dollar Menu at McDonalds is looking mighty good to anyone looking for a filling meal that's cheap - the company's sales rose 7.1 percent in January.


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