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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.

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

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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    When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

    "He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

    The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

    "Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

    Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

    Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

    Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

    She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

    Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

    Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

    "I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

    "Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

    Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

    "Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

    "When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

    "We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

    "The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

    "We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

    Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

    She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

    That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

    Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

    To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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    Microsoft Office

    This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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