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.

    Most Shared
    Courtesy of Houseplant.

    In America, one dumb mistake can hang over your head forever.

    Nearly 30% of the American adult population — about 70 million people — have at least one criminal conviction that can prevent them from being treated equally when it comes to everything from job and housing opportunities to child custody.

    Twenty million of these Americans have felony convictions that can destroy their chances of making a comfortable living and prevents them from voting out the lawmakers who imprisoned them.

    Many of these convictions are drug-related and stem from the War on Drugs that began in the U.S. '80s. This war has unfairly targeted the minority community, especially African-Americans.

    Keep Reading Show less
    Culture

    Climate change is happening because the earth is warming at an accelerated rate, a significant portion of that acceleration is due to human activity, and not taking measures to mitigate it will have disastrous consequences for life as we know it.

    In other words: Earth is heating up, it's kinda our fault, and if we don't fix it, we're screwed.

    This is the consensus of the vast majority of the world's scientists who study such things for a living. Case closed. End of story.

    How do we know this to be true? Because pretty much every reputable scientific organization on the planet has examined and endorsed these conclusions. Thousands of climate studies have been done, and multiple peer-reviewed studies have been done on those studies, showing that somewhere between 84 and 97 percent of active climate science experts support these conclusions. In fact, the majority of those studies put the consensus well above 90%.

    Keep Reading Show less
    Nature
    via James Anderson

    Two years ago, a tweet featuring the invoice for a fixed boiler went viral because the customer, a 91-year-old woman with leukemia, received the services for free.

    "No charge for this lady under any circumstances," the invoice read. "We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible."

    The repair was done by James Anderson, 52, a father-of-five from Burnley, England. "James is an absolute star, it was overwhelming to see that it cost nothing," the woman's daughter told CNN.

    Keep Reading Show less
    Heroes

    I live in a family with various food intolerances. Thankfully, none of them are super serious, but we are familiar with the challenges of finding alternatives to certain foods, constantly checking labels, and asking restaurants about their ingredients.

    In our family, if someone accidentally eats something they shouldn't, it's mainly a bit of inconvenient discomfort. For those with truly life-threatening food allergies, the stakes are much higher.

    I can't imagine the ongoing stress of deadly allergy, especially for parents trying to keep their little ones safe.

    Keep Reading Show less
    popular