Recently a friend who is a bit more of a foodie than I am posted 100 simple nutrition tips. These tips are generally helpful, and I have tried to adopt a few of them.
But one thing that struck me is the difficulty of following even a majority of these tips. I’m fortunate enough to be a relatively affluent and privileged white male, which means that I have the ability to afford most of those foods on the list and at least some cognitive energy to devote to considering my diet. But good lord-eat fish once a week, a fruit salad once a week, a salad before every lunch/dinner, one dark green and one orange vegetable on each plate, a lot of high-fiber food, not to mention walnuts, yogurt, tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, rice etc. Even supposing that this diet could be affordable for someone making considerably less than the median income, the time and mental energy it takes to shop like this and give up other pleasures and activities that you may have planned in the meantime seems to me to make the diet quite impossible. If you really devoted yourself to following those tips, you might have more energy, but not much more time to do other things. Maybe it would be habit-forming eventually and cease to be a burden, especially if you’re middle class, but if you’re on the edge of poverty and have to make sacrifices in so many other areas just to get by, it seems unlikely that you would have the cognitive energy or cash to spare to eat a salad before every meal, purchase a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, have fish once a week, etc.
I suppose you could make efforts to change the culture so that the poor really value food over other priorities, and then it might be possible for them to have that diet-limiting the amount of unhealthy food that can be bought with food stamps etc. But I can’t really see this effort at cultural change working more than on the margins as long as the poor remain…poor. If you’re one paycheck away from the power being turned off or being evicted from your apartment, and your kids are in a crappy school that doesn’t really teach them anything, so you have to spend even more energy helping them than normal, and your job is unstable and requires a lot of exhausting manual labor, and you live in a dangerous neighborhood where every trip outside after dark is a serious risk…you’ll probably never care enough about your diet to follow those 100 tips.*
This is why I think policymakers should value economic growth above (almost) everything else. Economic growth can raise living standards and give people more options for fulfilling lives. It’s worth sacrificing a lot of other preferences to improve the lot of the poor. Welfare can only do so much in the place of a better job.
*note that I am mainly speaking of the American poor, as there is a unique American diet. I understand that other countries have healthier diets, but I am not familiar enough with those cultures to opine here.