The Food Budget

I just read a great post over at Moody's Goose about nutrition which included a bit about how grocery stores are laid out. The post pointed out that the cheaper items are usually situated on the perimeters of the store and this includes the fresh produce, fruits, etc. The packaged and processed food are situated in the center aisles and these are more expensive than the fresh stuff. I shot off a lengthy comment stating my surprise that people choose food as the thing to budget during this time that most all of us need to be curbing out budgets.

I shot off prematurely, I think, or perhaps I should say I submitted an incomplete comment. I understand that there are great many folk in our country right now that are struggling with very limited finances. My own household used to be funded by two incomes, but now we are down to one. But, we were not so greatly affected because while I was in graduate school, we lived on the one income and were able to find ways to live within our means. When I left my job in 2007, never did it occur to me that I wouldn't be able to find another one. Yet, in my situation it was far better for my mental health for me to be away from that extremely toxic environment.

So the remainder of this post is not in reference to those people who are surviving on severely limited budgets, but rather to those who curb their food budgets while keeping such things as cellphones and cable television in their monthly budgets.

I am very lucky to be living in a state in which I have access to fresh food, some of which is locally grown. There are farmer’s markets all over the place and on nearly every day of the week. There are dozens of CSA options and variety enough to fit any budget. Although the growing season is shortened by our epic winters, there is a lot of green space within the Cities and neighborhoods which allows residents to grow gardens. There are also a number of community garden spots in many of the neighborhoods. In addition to all these, there are a dozen food co-ops scattered in the Twin Cities metro area and in the recent years, organic foods are readily available in the larger grocery stores. See! I’m very lucky and very happy to admit it.

I also think the climate in this region allows me to understand the healthy benefits to eating in season. Fall foods such as squash and potatoes add the starchy hardiness needed to endure cold winters. Fresh greens in the spring clean out the toxins in the body that build up during the winter months. Lettuce and melons help to replenish fluids and hydrate through the hot, steamy summer months. Knowing this pushes me to seek variety, it helps my budget as seasonal options are often cheaper, and most importantly, creates an interesting and healthy relationship with food.

It is because of these reasons that I am surprised at the number of people in my community that opt out of eating healthy and/or choose to strictly limit their food budgets. These are people who spend what I think to be outrageous amounts on cable and cellphones; people who have no problem putting a $1000 camera on their credit cards and make up for this shortfall in their budget by loading up on boxed mac-n-cheese to feed those same children they want to photograph; people who dream about taking care of their wrinkles with botox and yet, never consider the effects of their diet on their skin; people who think nothing about shilling out $5 for a coffee drink, but will not pay the $3.79 for some organic romaine lettuce or $3.99 for a carton of organic strawberries.

Do I sound judgmental? Truthfully, I am judgmental, especially since I have been criticized for my preference for organic food. I have been told that I am preachy about my organics at a time when I was trying to share my experience with my new discovery – Harmony Valley CSA.

A former co-worker cited with a sneer some study that showed that organic food was not more nutritious than conventional food. I never actually thought it was. I assumed that organic food had less chemicals involved in the production process. I later found out that same person suffered from weekly migraines and had lost her menstrual cycle for a year because of her large consumption of MSG and other chemical additives. She expressed confusion because she didn’t eat much Chinese food, not realizing that MSG was in all the Doritoes and other processed snacks she ate. The Asian restaurants that she frequented had signs posted that clearly stated “no MSG” added.

I used to read the blog “30 Bucks a Week” because at first, I thought it was a great idea. It was a catchy blog theme sure to attract a lot of media attention especially during this economic downturn in our country. I liked it whole lot until I read how they pulled out their Blackberries (phones, not fruit) to calculate the savings during a shopping trip.

A friend of mine once told me that buying a DVR would help save her marriage and return sanity to her household. She has two young, rowdy boys. I couldn’t help but think that putting some of that money into nutritious food might help with the behavioral issues. But what do I know? I don’t have children (yet, but soon to come!). But I can say that taking the time to cook with my husband has led us to a much closer and healthier (!) relationship. We started our marriage very broke. He was making $7 an hour, I had returned to school. We had great Friday nights making stir fry, garlic bread and watching videos. Married 15 years and now making stir fries with CSA produce and watching cable television series on Netflix.

We started broke and lived on a really limited budget. But we decided early on to spend what we wanted on food so long as that was at the grocery store. We don't have cable, I don't have a cellphone (his is a company phone), and we don't drink sodas that are quite spendy. Right now because I am pregnant, we aren't buying any liquor, but believe me that's sure going to change come March! He packs a lunch for work. We do splurge on Blue Mountain coffee but this is usually bought at Marshall's and he makes a thermos of coffee every morning to take to work. The Big D is a Type 1 diabetic and because of our nutrition decisions, he endocrinologist routinely complements him on his health.

Ok, this is getting much longer than I planned for it to be. Also, I am sincerely trying to work on my writing style, seeking one that appeals to a large group of people in a way that doesn’t include being snarky towards those that disagree with me. I’m trying. Maybe not there yet, but am trying.

The way I see it, it’s all about our choices on how we want to live our lives. I just think we will all live longer and more happily by eating well, rather than by preserving our material wealth.

Comments

  1. I totally see where you are coming from. I used to feel like I was doing something wrong when other couples told me they only spend $50 a week on groceries when we were spending so much more. Then I realized that cooking & eating are one of the most important things to us. I'd rather spend part of my Saturday at a farmers market than at a movie. Cooking a big meal for friends is more fun for us than buying concert tickets.

    I understand a lot of people are struggling out there but it seems to me a place to live & good food should be at the top of any budget.

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  2. I completely agree. There was actually a study a few months ago by the USDA's Economic Research Service that found Americans spend just 9.8% of their disposable income on food. sounds like priorities are way out of whack. Apparently in 1929, families spent 24% of their income on food. check it out. http://feastonthecheap.wordpress.com/category/news/page/2/

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