Healthy Fast Food?

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I like to feel healthy. Whether it’s waking up early for a morning jog, or eating a salad for lunch instead of a greasy slice of pepperoni pizza, I’m always willing to give a bit more money and effort to make healthy choices — but sometimes it’s hard.

As a D.C. college student who takes a full course load, interns 18 hours a week and has an on-campus job, I don’t really have time to cook or go to a farmers market. There’s a lot of quick food places around, but the greatest obstacle I face when trying to find healthy food is cost.

Getting food that tastes good on a budget isn’t necessarily the biggest problem. According to a study by Technomix, the average cheeseburger costs only about $4.50. It’s also easy in the city because there are convenience stores on almost every corner where I can buy salty, low-cost chips and soda for a dollar, filling me up for a couple of hours.

Grabbing food from one of the healthier options, however, comes with a much different price tag. Almost every time I go to the local George Washington University hotspot Sweetgreen, I’ll spend a whopping $12 on a meal. I’d love to make salads at home, but again time is the issue. I’m constantly on-the-go, and it’s hard to carry food with me. 

Thankfully, the GW meal plan allows me more flexibility. The first semester of my freshman year I was given $1,000 to spend at local restaurants, grocery stores and bookstores and $700 at GW dining establishments.

It may sound like a lot of money for just a semester at college, but most people I knew (myself included) ran through it in the first couple of months. We didn’t have a kitchen, so most of my peers ate out for every meal, which in D.C., possibly the most expensive city in the country, quickly adds up.

One of my best friends Olivia shockingly managed to make her Freshman year meal plan stretch for two whole years, but it wasn’t easy. When I asked how she did it, she told me by eating a lot of granola bars, Goldfish and processed foods (like Ramen noodles).

Thrifty eating may be a good way to save some cash, but how the food makes me feel — sluggish and hungry — isn’t worth the extra couple bucks saved. I’m not going to (and can’t afford to) pay $12 dollars for every meal, but I’m willing to spend a little more if a healthy option is available.

It’s easier to justify spending that money when I consider that cheap, caloric food has many other hidden costs. The infamous “freshman 15”  was something I tried desperately to avoid, but the obesity epidemic more reflects the true cost of the prevalence of fast food. According to the World Health Organization, by 2015 more than 2 billion people in the world will be overweight, and fast food is partially to blame.

And let’s not forget the environmental costs. I couldn’t believe that for just one pound of beef, over 1,800 gallons of water are needed and over 24 pounds of greenhouse gasses are released.

Here, it’s safe to say, the low cost of fast food doesn’t actually indicate “savings.” The bargain-sticker price isn’t representative of the costs on my well-being, my waistline or the planet. 

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