Sunday, April 5, 2009

Food Budgeting

Broke in the Suburb published a post today that suggests that 5% of her income is sufficient money for food. It wasn't the main focus of her article, but it's a trend that I see among many PF bloggers out there- food is a tiny percentage of the budget. I suggest to you that cheap food is a false savings.

There are several ways to cut back on the cost of your food. The healthiest way is to buy your vegetables locally and seasonally and to get most of your protein requirements from legumes and dairy products. If you can stick to a diet of beans, tofu, rice, and whatever fruits and vegetables are seasonal in your area, I take my hat off to you. What happens when I try to save on my food budget, though, is that I buy less fresh fruits and veggies. Lets face it - they are darned expensive!

Of course, you can buy frozen veggies, and I have seen research that suggests that frozen veggies are basically equivalent nutritionally to the ones you get in the grocery store, which have some nutrients lost from the amount of time they spend between harvest and consumption. The problem with frozen veggies is that it is even more difficult to ascertain origin than it is for fresh fruits and veggies. The fresh ones generally have a label indicating their origins. The frozen ones, on the other hand, have no such indications.

Frozen seafood is required by law to indicate its county of origin. A brief perusal through your local grocery isle will show you that 95% of it comes from China, with a smattering of other Asian countries and South American countries making up the remaining 5%. If you go to a really upscale store, perhaps one or two items will come from the United States, but of the three grocery stores within 20 miles of my house, only one has US-caught seafood. And I live in one of the top seafood-producing states in the country. I feel safe in assuming that my frozen vegetables are coming from somewhere similar, unless they indicate otherwise on the packaging.

I have never been to any South America countries, but I have been to China. It is a remarkably polluted country, where food safety regulations are routinely ignored. Any time you purchase food from China, you place your faith in their system of food regulation and inspection. The USDA tells them how they should operate, but makes no significant effort to make sure that western standards are followed. It is therefore my belief that frozen vegetables are more likely to contain higher levels of toxins. As these sorts of environmental toxins can accumulate in your body, eating food higher in toxins now puts you at risk for related illnesses later.

Honestly, though, I don't always even make it up with frozen fruits and veggies. What ends up happening is that I don't come home with fruits and vegetables, and then I make up for the volume that I am used to eating with starches and fats. This leads to weight gain, which has both short and long term budgetary ramifications. Bigger clothing is more expensive; it is cheap to dress chic in a size 8, but darned hard to do so in a size 16. Being even slightly overweight can lead to all kinds of problems that require costly medication and surgery.

As long as you have the slight amount of extra time it takes to eat locally and seasonally, it is not that expensive. I spend about 10% of my budget on food. If your budget is really so tight that 5% is all you have, then I am not advocating starvation. But I would rather have my health than premium cable.


  1. I appreciate the mention (although I don't think it was meant as a compliment) =)

    But I hope you had the time to check out my response on my blog. I totally agree with you that nutrition is FAR more important than saving a buck or two. I wanted to take a moment I guess to fully explain how I am able to manage this smaller percent for my budget.

    Without taking the time to coupon clip or buy in bulk and buy when items go on sale, in no way would my approx 5% budget in groceries be feasible.

    Not to mention that I neglected to point out in my post that I am provided meals at my work (a catering company) I am not even allowed to bring food from home to my job. This equates to approx 20 meals per month! If I was to make my lunches each day of the week, I would probably have to double my budget for food. (which actually puts me similar to you, at about 10% a month for a grocery budget)

    It't not so much that I am forced to spend only 5% per month on food due to bills, its just that it works out to only be about 5%

    I started out by tracking my spending prior to making my budget, and saw that this was the perfect amount for me budget wise. I found was able to purchase the food items that I wanted and needed to have a healthy diet on this amount.

    So maybe I was a bit misleading in my statement "5% is a perfect amount for one person" (because your right, for many people that is a small amount) and I 100% agree with you when you say:

    "If your budget is really so tight that 5% is all you have, then I am not advocating starvation. But I would rather have my health than premium cable. "

    So I guess my mistake I made in that post was not fully explaining that amount, but I am really happy you pointed this out. In no way did I want to give off the wrong impression. So much thanks for bringing this up! Hopefully though with a bit more information, my budget can make a bit more sense.

    All in all, everyone is different and what may work for one person, may not for another!


  2. I spend about 5%, but that's on a fairly large salary. I rarely eat out. Once or twice a month and with friends for lunch. I grow vegetables, and do some canning. I buy bulk and store things long term.

    My vices. Good beer and chocolate bridge mix.

  3. Wow - I had no idea about where tons of our foods come from. I think I need to start paying attention!!! Thanks for stopping by! I will definately be visiting your blog :)

  4. I totally agree with this. I mean, I used to live on mac and cheese (granted it was Annie's) for practically nothing. But where were the colorful veggies and healthy foods?

  5. great post. i recently posted about joining a CSA in my area and paying closer attention to where my food originates. again, great post.