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Sunday, April 17, 2011

food prices, hunger and budgeting

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So apparently food prices are set to go all bananas on us (I thought about linking to a similar New York Times article, but given that their content may not be accessible to all....due to their lovely paywall....I'm sticking with content everyone will be able to see).

We're definitely a little insulated from this in North America. In Canada, we spend an average of 10.2% of our income on food. In the US, it's about 10.1% (I took the food spending as a percentage of pre-tax income, so it would be comparable to the Canadian stats.). While there certainly is no shortage of food-insecure populations (i.e., people for whom the ability to buy food would be greatly affected by an increase in price), for a lot of us, we'll just do a little belt tightening and we'll be fine.

The Financial Times has an entire section dedicated to rising food prices. In poorer nations, the President of the World Bank warns that poor nations risk "losing a generation." I don't know about you, but that is pretty darn terrifying to me. The United Nations World Food Programme even has a Q&A on their site about how rising food prices may affect their ability to help the world's poorest.

When you look at how some developing countries could be facing mass starvation, it really does start to seem a bit petty to be whining about our own plight (OMG MIGHT HAVE TO CANCEL MY PREMIUM CABLE SO I CAN EAT ROAST BEEF). So I do want to let it be clear that I am in no way making light of the food situation, either here in Canada/North America, or abroad.

I donate monthly to my local food bank (which, btw, is much more effective than donating food.) Food banks can leverage your dollar FAR more than they can leverage the food you donate. I.e., if you donate $20 worth of food (at retail cost) it isn't nearly as much as if you donated $20 cash, that the food bank could then leverage at wholesale/donation prices to get more food (and feed more people) for the same amount of money. My local food bank says that every dollar donated distributes $5 worth of food in the community. A worthy investment indeed.

So I don't donate food to the food bank anymore....just $$. As the founders of the Ottawa Food Bank said, "hunger erodes human dignity, lessens human energy and impairs potential."

All this to say I thought it might be interesting to talk a bit more about the cost of food, groceries and how meal planning can help ease the pain of rising grocery prices (a much more microeconomic view of rising food prices than, say, the FT food prices section).

I was pretty lazy this week and took my meal plan straight from Clean Eating's Money-Saver Menu for April/May (sorry the only online content at this point is the shopping list). They listed the cost of the food items in question at $50. Mine rang in at $57.46...not bad considering the different in egg/dairy/meat prices between here and the states. To be clear though, that is NOT the weekly grocery budget, simply because I need to eat more than just dinner! We also had fruits, snacks, etc., that were not on the Clean Eating list.

So I'm going to share my grocery bill and plan for the week, and every day, I'll post about how well I did in my quest NOT to spend more money on food (have I ever mentioned my lazy lunch habit? ugh).

- 5 lb russet potatoes - 2.47
- cabbage (1.77 kg) - 2.30
- 2lb carrots - 1.77
- 3 red mangoes - 2.64
- butternut squash (2.3's a monster) - 6.51
- celery - 1.47
- bananas (1.36 kg) - 2.06
- pineapple - 1.67
- royal gala apples (9) - 3.40
- radishes - 1.47
- cantaloupe - 0.99
- green beans (1 lb) - 1.78
- 2 cactus pears - 1.00

- 1% cottage cheese - 2.79
- r-f sliced provolone - 3.99
- 1 dozen eggs - 2.37
- pork loin roast (1.8 kg) - 16.00 (I'm going to cut this into small pieces)*
- sirloin steak medallions - 0.5 kg - 10.79*
- tilapia fillets - 0.65 kg - 10.35*

- whole wheat English muffins - 1.69
- whole wheat pitas - 1.29
- ancient grains bread - 2.99
- whole wheat tortillas - 1.50
- select bread (not sure what this is?) - 1.29

- whole wheat pasta - 3 boxes @ 1.49 - 4.47
- Cheerios - 4.49
- light flake tuna - 6 cans @ 0.69 - 4.14
- corn meal - 0.99
- box of l-s chicken broth - 1.67
- ryvita crackers (to keep me from snacking at work) - 2.49

- plastic wrap - 0.99
- aluminum foil - 0.99


*It's worth mentioning that I am picky about meat and will only buy it from the premium store where I have more confidence as to its origins. I generally no longer buy pre-ground meats (hoorah for my Kitchenaid Food grinder) as I prefer to know exactly what's in my food. I usually look for cuts that are on special, even if they aren't exactly what my recipes call for (the centre loin pork roast was on for $8.80 per kg, while the pork tenderloin was $15something per kilo).

It's also worth mentioning that I already had some staples - like milk - and if I run out, I'll pick up more later this week. I hate my fridge with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, as its layout does not offer a lot of room for things like milk (for the record, if you are considering the Kitchenaid KSRP22F, DON'T DO IT. This layout is super narrow. You can't fit a baking pan in the fridge side, and you can't fit a frozen pizza (yes, I know I hate them...most of the time) on the freezer side. It looks fancy, but it is horrible. And it came with my house, so I'm stuck with it until it dies.)

So the meal plan for this week is:
- pulled pork sandwiches with cole slaw
- gingered chicken soup with sweet potato dumplings, carrots and green beans (I already had chicken in the freezer, hence why it's not on the list)
- cornmeal dusted pork cutlets with balsamic drenched raisins and maple squash (my squash is easily 3x the size necessary. I will likely use the rest for soup or freeze it)
- tilapia fish sticks with dill potato chips and mustard slaw
- roasted sirloin steaks with twice-baked potatoes and roasted veggies

All of these meals will make enough for lunch for hubs and I for the next day. Lil Z gets fed at daycare, so I don't need to worry about her for lunch.

In terms of other foods, this week, I'll be making a batch of whole wheat mango muffins (from Clean Eating) and a tofu-egg breakfast casserole (I have tofu in the freezer). For snacks, we have things like tortillas, fruit, veggies, hard-boiled eggs, tuna, yogourt (already had it).

So, aside from the two 99 cent bags of chips hubs insisted on buying last night, it's a pretty balanced, healthy menu, on a reasonable budget. Do I think you (I?) could spend less? Absolutely. This is the start of an experiment. Next week, I'm going to try to design the least expensive, most nutritious meals I can expect waaaay more legumes in that menu.

This is my plan for the week....I'm going to try to post and share every day, though I may not always have time for elaborate write-ups and photos.


Jaya said...

Leslie, we definitely had to cut way back on our meat consumption if we wanted to eat meat raised in a particular way. We also only eat out once a month on our date night, so we feel that we can justify spending a bit more on our groceries. That said, I am really into "boiling garbage" (aka keeping all of my veggie scrap/ends in the fridge until I have enough to make veggie stock) and our big commitment this year was to never let anything in our fridge go bad. We still have a long way to go, but between these few things and joining a community garden where we can grow our veggies in the summer, we're finding that our food expenses are
s l o w l y going down. And thanks for sharing that bit about donating $ instead of food to the food bank - it is so informative!

Anonymous said...

Food is really cheap in North America compared to Europe. Or even Australia: we were there last winter and couldn't believe how expensive everything was! And that was right before the floods, I bet it's even more now...

We have similar grocery bills except I don't usually plan my meals much (I do for lunch because I take it to work).

I hope food won't get too expensive but I'm not worried yet. If veggies and fruits are still affordable, I'm okay.

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