After reading yet another blog post extolling the virtues of couponing, I’m moved to present a contrarian point of view.
To begin, I’ll share several factors in my life that drive my perspective on food marketing, grocery shopping and couponing—and I’ll own the fact that my situation may not be like yours.
- Eating and living in a healthful way is a top priority for Rob and me.
- We live in an urban area with access to one of the country’s finest public markets, a source for fresh and reasonably priced food. Cincinnati’s Findlay Market is where we shop every Saturday for nearly all our produce, meat, dairy and baked goods.
- We don’t have children, so no voracious appetites or picky eaters to satisfy.
- We like to cook.
That said, I’m often dismayed when I open our Sunday paper and see the proclamation of $150-something in coupon savings. Why? Because manufacturers use these discounts to push foods that are less healthy and to encourage overconsumption. Let me explain:
Coupons promote foods that are less healthy. Sugary cereals. Pizza rolls. Frozen entrees. Dinners-in-a-box. Pay attention to the food coupons in your Sunday paper: How many discounts do you see on fresh (not canned, or in syrup) fruit or unprocessed food?
Coupons encourage overconsumption. Buy one, get two free sounds like a good deal on the surface. But I’m pretty sure I need only one box of Pop-Tarts (and, if I’m completely honest with myself, I don’t really need the one). Four boxes of hamburger dinner. Ten cups of sweetened yogurt.
Coupons encourage overacquisition. I’m sort of horrified by those “extreme” couponing shows on cable TV, where people crow about their basement stash of 5 years’ worth of canned soup and toothpaste. Where I come from, we call that hoarding. Just because it’s “free,” doesn’t mean you need it.
Coupons push Big Food’s agenda. As a writer and advocate whose goal is to encourage simple, healthy eating, I shudder to see foods touted for their “health” properties. Dairy products with added fiber. Sugar substitutes with vitamins. Whole-grain breads loaded with HFCS. Crackers with antioxidants. Ever notice how many coupons for antacids and stomach-soothing meds there are in the Sunday paper? Maybe we should just be eating a little better …
Because of where and how we shop, I rarely clip coupons. Mostly, I look for savings on personal care and home care products, and on a few staple food items like non-sugar cereals or canned tomatoes. Would I like to reduce our grocery bill? You bet. Am I pissed that there aren’t coupons for healthy choices? Absolutely. Do I think those people with five years’ worth of canned soup and toothpaste in the basement are nuts? Yep.
I’m not at all averse to clipping coupons in a general sense—like everything related to eating, I would simply advocate mindfulness. Here’s the thing: It’s completely possible to eat well and save money. (Here’s just one article on how to eat healthy on a budget.) It comes down to cooking, simply and with real ingredients. Which is why I’m here, and I hope why you are, too.
related recipes (no coupons required)
easy chickpea and tomato stir-fry
delicious cooking with whole grains
pasta with zucchini, pine nuts and parmesan
best sautéed vegetables
roasted seasonal vegetables
Now, I’m not trying to be a coupon curmudgeon, so please share your thoughts on the topic in the Comments below.
Edit: So, this morning I revisited this post and decided to try a web search for coupons for a healthful product that I know I would use: Kashi crackers or cereals. Here’s the very first link I clicked … sigh.