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Spending less on more junk

(article, Culinate staff)

Those of you who dig infographics might remember the popular New York Times September 2011 photo illustrations showing three sample meals for four people: an expensive Mickey D's spread, a moderately priced chicken dinner, and a cheap pot of beans and rice.

Now comes a series of charts from NPR's "Planet Money" show, documenting how America's food-spending habits have shifted over recent decades. The major change? We spend less on our groceries (as a proportion of our incomes) than we did a generation ago, but the biggest chunk of our foodie change goes to processed food. (And to fast-food outlets, if the Times infographic was any indication.)

On the Huffington Post, Catherine New pointed out the obvious: "Processed food offers more caloric bang for the buck than non-processed foods on average, thereby providing a significant share of daily calories in one cost-effective — and time-effective — serving. The reason that we don't spend as much money on groceries is because we don't have to."

And she noted that fellow HuffPo contributor Alice Hines has reported on the ever-spreading opportunities to purchase cheap processed food — notably, in dollar stores. It's one of the quieter stories of the Great Recession: the rising cost of real food combined with stagnant incomes means flush times for processed food.