National Potato Chip Budget

The Occupy Movement has helped raise awareness that while we all pitch in to create our nation’s wealth, a very disproportionate amount of that wealth is amassed by just 1% of our population. The remaining 99% of us could benefit if that wealth were more fairly or evenly distributed. There are plenty of ways to debate how and if that might be accomplished, and in the mean time we all seem to have fallen back into our uncomfortable reality. We know things aren’t right, but the problems seem too big to address. We know things need to change, but we’re not sure how. Finally today there is an answer that doesn’t involve chaining yourself to a street lamp downtown. Something in the paper caught my eye this morning; it led me to a little research, and – if the figures are right – we can make some big advances in some of our society’s biggest problems right now.

Our country spent decades building the unsustainable economy that led to this 1% vs. 99% mess, and we’re only in our fifth year of putting things right. We’re still taking the first painful steps to correct our system, many of us clinging to the old familiar ways, and finding it very difficult to adjust. Rates of unemployment, homelessness, food insecurity, and lack of healthcare are at historic levels. But among all those statistics, some other rather odd ones stand out. The official unemployment rate for June was 8.2%. The other 91.8% of us have apparently been looking for creature comforts during these worrying times: sales have been surprisingly strong of little luxuries such as fatty, salty, sugary snacks, all types of alcohol, and bottled water. Here are some industry annual sales figures:

Potato chips, corn chips, and similar snacks $24.6 billion
Cookies $4.8 billion
Crackers $4.6 billion
Doughnuts (just the top ten brands) $563.4 million
Beer, wine, liquor $59.2 billion
Soda $18.7 billion
Bottled water $6.3 billion

Even during these difficult times, annual industry sales for just these seven product categories total $118.7 billion, just below the entire GDP of the nation of New Zealand. As defined above, the money we spend each year on junk food, booze, and plastic bottles of tap water alone would qualify as the 66th largest economy on Earth. How can we be doing this while people in our own neighborhoods are losing their homes and going hungry? We’re supposed to be the 99%, but we’re acting suspiciously like the 1%.

You’re probably thinking what I thought: first, this really makes us look pretty ridiculous. Second, to be fair though few people realize that our collective snacking adds up to so much. And third, why are people hungry, homeless, and in need of healthcare when we, the 99%, are budgeting 118 billion dollars of our own money towards Doritos and Budweiser?

Politicians waste our money, time and other resources endlessly arguing about budget cuts, so let’s stop waiting for them. Let’s start making some cuts of our own. First on the list: let’s reappropriate some of that 118 billion dollars from our potato chips and doughnuts budget to a new budget: one of healthy food for donation to a food bank. Here’s the plan: go one day a week without the luxuries listed above. One day is 14.3% of your week, and 14.3% of a $118 billion budget is $16,874,000,000. A sudden influx of 16.9 billion dollars to our nation’s food banks would make quite an impact! It won’t address the causes of food insecurity, but would definitely ease the symptoms – and we will all be healthier for it.

While people in our own neighborhoods are going hungry, can we go one day a week buying cans of beans instead of cans of Coke? I think so too. Here’s where to drop them off:


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