Whole Foods got caught overcharging customers, but that's just part of the problem with food costs.

The harsh fact of the matter is that food is becoming less affordable for low-income families.

For years, people have debated whether or not it's worth shelling out extra cash for organic produce.

It's one of those topics where reasonable people can disagree, and whether or not someone should or shouldn't go organic is something best left to the individual consumer.


Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

That said, there's some disturbing news coming from produce-land, and it's nothing to do with GMOs or processed foods. It has to do with mislabeling — possibly intentionally.

According to the New York Daily News, NY-area Whole Foods might have been ripping you off — more than you even knew.

People jokingly call Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" for its perceived priceyness, but according to reporting from the Daily News, their local chains have been overcharging customers for at least the past five years, usually by mislabeling the weight of products.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Examples of violations included chicken tenders that were overpriced by $4.85, coconut shrimp that was $14.84 over its actual cost, and a vegetable platter that came in at $6.15 too expensive — all because the item weight didn't match up.

As most shoppers don't bring their own scale to the store (and probably aren't able to guess weight down to the nearest tenth of a pound), this isn't even one of those situations where it's fair to suggest "buyer beware."

But let's talk about a bigger issue: Lower-income Americans are having a harder time putting food on the table.

According to a report from the USDA, households in the bottom 20% of income earners were spending on average 36% of their income on food.

And just as frightening, the cost of food is rising faster than the rest of the economy. That is, over the past five years, the cost of food has risen by more than 10%, outpacing the average change of a little more than 8%.

It's not just food, either. The price of college, child care, and vehicle maintenance have climbed steadily over the past decade relative to other items while things like toys and electronics have gotten more affordable. In other words, the things we need to survive ("the basics") are getting less affordable, and without these, it's a huge challenge to pull oneself out of poverty.

We mat not have the power to single-handedly change the economy, but there are things we can do to help the hungry.

1. Fight for a higher minimum wage.

If prices are on the rise, at the very least wages need to rise as well. If the bottom 20% of earners can make just a bit more, they won't be as squeezed when it comes to deciding whether or not they can afford to eat healthy (and in the long run, avoid some potential medical bills) or not.

2. End food deserts.

Food deserts are low-income communities with low access to grocery stores. By opening affordable, healthy, community-run grocery options, food deserts can be fought, making for healthier and more financially sound residents.

3. Spread the word.

Possibly the most important thing any of us can do is to help spread the word about the food-related challenges facing low-income Americans. Sometimes their stories get lost in discussions about politics, and we hear about increasing restrictions on how SNAP (food stamps) funds can be spent. It's important to remember that the people in need of SNAP assistance are actual people and far more than pawns in some political game.

Because while Whole Foods is overcharging customers on shrimp (and YES, they could just go to Trader Joe's or somewhere cheaper), it's important to remember that this is indicative of a larger problem. Healthy food and fresh produce and the option to go organic or not should be one that all people have access to regardless of income.

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    Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

    Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

    According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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    Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

    Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

    Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

    The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

    In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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    Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

    Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

    "Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

    Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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