In their latest research, Drewnowsky and Monsivais compared prices in 2006 with prices in 2004 for the same products at the same time of the year, because vegetables and fruits and even fish vary in price depending on the season. The healthiest foods went up the most, an average of 19.5 percent, but the researchers believe the cost of many types of foods, including the stuff we're not supposed to eat, will likely increase dramatically in the near future.
"Cheap calories will not be cheap much longer," Drewnowsky said.
As Michael Pollan showed in his best-selling book, "Omnivore's Dilemma," that remarkable resource corn — used everywhere from the dinner table to the stockyard — is going to be in even more demand because of the trend toward bio-fuels. It is easily converted to ethanol, a more profitable crop than cheap sugar.
So what's it going to take to eat well in the future?
"It takes three things," Drewnowsky said. "Education, money and time. If you have all three, you're home free. If you have two out of three, you can manage. But if you have only one out of the three, or zero of the three, you are pretty much screwed. And a lot of low-income people have zero out of three."
It's enough to make a guy like Drewnowsky angry. Not so much at fat people, because many of them can't afford to eat right, but at candidates for high office who ignore a growing global crisis.
"I would like to know who in the next debate is going to talk about the rising cost of food," he said. "I've not heard a comment [from any presidential contender] about that."
Maybe it's because they are all rich and educated. Let them eat cake.
Lee Dye is a former science writer for the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in Juneau, Alaska.