Tuesday, June 05, 2007

You Asked for It...

After receiving a number of emails yesterday and this morning, asking for some context to where we spent money on our food budget, here is the list:
  • Beef - 200-pounds @ $3.40= $680
    [two split-half orders; a split-half is half a cow divided by two families]
  • Pork tenderloin 15-pounds @ $5.50 - 20% = $66
  • Slab Bacon (uncured) - 16-pounds @ $5.00 - 20% = $64
  • Sausage (bulk) - 16-pounds @ $3.50 - 20% = $45
  • Brats/Sausage (link) - 20-pounds @ $4.50 - 20% = $72
  • Ham Steak - 12-pounds @ $4.25 - 20% = $41
  • Spare ribs - 20-pounds @ $2.10 - 20% = $34
  • Turkey (2 Heritage birds/year) = $120
  • Chicken (26 birds/year) = $234
  • Eggs - 78 Dozen @ $2.50 = $195
  • Lamb - 20-pounds @ $4.00 - 20% = $64
  • Wild Fish & Shellfish = $200
  • Other meats (bison, venison, etc.) = $60
  • Milk, Half & Half, Yogurt, Cheese = $980
  • Butter = $185
  • CSA (local, organic produce, April - Nov) = $600
  • Farmer's Market & retail (mid-April - mid-Nov) = $100
  • Retail Produce, including frozen (mid-Nov - mid-April) = $250
  • Oils, Spices, Condiments, Nuts/Seeds/Nut Butters = $247
  • Miscellaneous = $75

Total = $4,312; $82.92 each week; $27.64 per person each week.

Had this been any other point in time, compiling the list might have been impossible; last year when we moved here, I started to keep track since our food purchasing habits changed as we joined a CSA and started ordering meat, poultry, eggs and such directly from local ranchers. While we lived in northern VA, I was easily spending $150 a week, but wouldn't be able to break down where the money went by food type. Sorry, I'm just not that obsessive!

Here, living in mid-Missouri, tracking my spending by food type is rote, it's how I order much of what we consume, so understanding where I spend on food is much easier here than in Virginia.

Something that I do need to note: what this does not include: our meals in restaurants or take-out eaten at home (we average once a week, one meal out/take-in); and meals while on vacation or attending conferences.

This, I think, is important to point out because, if this is considered into the above figure, our total cost for food is truly higher, almost double, since we average $25 a week for meals prepared outside our home, and budget $75-100 a day when traveling for meals (with an average 28-days a year on vacation and attending conferences).

If I include that $1300 for meals out/take-in [25 * 52] and $2100 for meals while traveling [28 * 75], we're looking at $7,712 for food each year; $642.66 per month; $148.30 each week; $49.43 per person each week. And, no, I really don't want to do the math to see how much I really spent while we lived in VA - it's too frightening to think about since I know it's significantly more than we're spending here in mid-MO.

So how to reconcile the budget if I did prepare each meal, at home or while traveling, from purchases throughout the year - that is no meals from restaurants or take out, and no need for vacation/conference eating out since all meals are from what we purchase; a more realistic budget of $4920 is needed to maintain our almost exclusive organic/pastured dietary habits throughout the year here in mid-MO.

I arrived at this figure by taking a year - 365-days - and subtracting our current average of 28-days traveling to arrive at 337-days; then took 52-days, divided it by 3 (meals each day) to arrive at 17-days; then subtracted that from 337 to arrive at 320 days - the days of meals provided in my budget above. I then divided the budget [$4312] by 320-days = $13.48 per day for meals we eat from the above budget. I then multiplied that sum by 365-days (in a year) to arrive at what we'd need to spend if we consumed all meals prepared by ourselves without any from restaurants.

So if $4,920 is truly more representative of what it would take to eat all meals, then we're looking at $94.61 each week, or $31.54 per person...to eat an almost exclusively organic/pastured diet; here in mid-MO.

Now granted, the way I do save considerable money requires first, a good, big upright freezer; next bulk purchase of meats/poultry/game (30-100+ pounds at a time) and then enough money on-hand to purchase major quantity when something expensive is on sale (like butter or oils - for example, right now I have close to 25-pounds of butter in the freezer).

Add to this, a membership in a CSA, while over time saving money, requires an up-front payment for the season (or you pay more if you pay with the payment plan; and out here there is no weekly or monthly payment plan - when you use the payment plan of three payments, it increases the total cost for the season by $50).

So, each of my "large sum required" ways to save a lot of money in the long-term makes it next to impossible for someone who is receiving assistance to do the same thing. I think this is one flaw in the current system that can and should be addressed - to me it makes sense to make funds available to allow recipients to utilize local sources, like a CSA or Farmer's Market or rancher, if it's saving more to do so than force the purchase at retail prices each month.

I don't think any of the CSA's in this area are equiped to accept EBT payments; even if they were, the up-front cost for membership would be prohibitive since those receiving assistance cannot "borrow" from future assistance to pay for an on-going source of fresh produce. So while a CSA membership costs about $18.75 each week (32-weeks) for a family of four, and would be a very cost effective way to ensure weekly fresh, local produce to recipients, it's not possible with how the system is structured today.

The Farmer's Markets in and around our area aren't equipped to accept EBT payments either; so while local produce (both conventional and organic) is available in the Farmer's Markets, often at significantly less than retail prices, it too remains a resource that cannot be utilized by those receiving assistance. (Some Farmer's Markets across the country are equipped for EBT payment)

Forget about trying to purchase meat or poultry in a large enough quantity to have a discount extended for bulk purchase; and totally forget about the significant savings when someone is able to buy a split-quarter or half, which makes meats and poultry cheap, cheap, cheap when compared to retail. Again, it's too much money up-front for someone receiving assistance to manage, even though long-term it saves significant sums of money.

Those receiving assistance, even when they have the room for one, cannot use their budget to purchase a freezer - which would enable them to purchase larger quantity at a lower price! The way money is currently made available also makes it next to impossible to stock-up on non-perishable foods (like canned vegetables & fruits, canned tuna/fish, peanut butter, etc.) when sales are favorable to a large quantity purchase, that over time saves money.

Anyway, for those of you who wanted to know how I manage to spend what we do each month on a mostly organic/pastured diet, there you have it.


  1. Peter Hoff11:22 AM

    You are an inspiration for anybody who tries to read science papers and now for anybody who's thinking of trying to eat better food. I didn't realize it was really doable. Thanks for keeping and publishing these records.

  2. what is the story behind the -20% for most of the meat? ir

  3. what is the story behind the -20% for most of the meat?

    Thirty or more pounds ordered at one time - a bulk order =)

  4. Very late to the show, but thank you for posting about your experience and ideas. You've brilliantly encapsulated one important element in the overall oppression placed on the economically disadvantaged...the phenomenon of the "poor tax." As a single mother unable to qualify for any assistance, I'm painfully aware of the financial advantages my children and I would realize if I could only invest in some of the up-front expenses you list as part of your budget. But as you note, "the system" is set up so I must buy small quantities of goods at high unit prices...making us yet poorer. A very sad statement about a capitalist society.