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October 13, 2010


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The whole exercise smacks of privilege.

A latte? For both adults? These folks are not working poor, and are not thinking as if they are. Their "tiny budget" of $10/day/personis approximately twice what we spend as a family of four in San Diego. we would have so much food here on their budget we wouldn't know what to do with it.

There is little addressing of scratch cooking, accommodating food allergies or children with eating issues, using in moderation, or averaging a budget over a week or two.

There seems to be a "don't bother" tone if you must ration specialty foods, rather than the truly budget-minded person's thinking, which is really more along the lines of "Today we can eat ____, but we don't get any more for the rest of the week." We buy fruits and preserve them, refrigerating apples and oranges, freezing any bananas or strawberries that are threatening overrripeness for later use in smoothies. I bake, so we can afford specialty breads or foods that everyone in the house can eat. We cook meats and reserve stock, drippings, leftovers for use in other things like soup or casseroles. I grow my own herbs or buy bulk herbs in small amounts from a a local grocery. I buy one bag of beans every six weeks and grind and make my coffee drinks myself - for the price of two or three lattes, I can have good coffee every day of the month. And we DO think about nutrition and work hard to make good food for everyone. When we go out we patronize small local restaurants (my fish tacos I had two weeks ago were $3. How much were her swordfish ones?).

It's a compelling argument, indeed, and probably causes some introspection in folks who don't normally have to think about their food expenditures, BUT - big but! - it's a flawed exercise.

I appreciate your response, but to say it "smacks of privilege" is a little harsh.

The lattes? They are made at home. They are not bought in a cafe. So your argument about the "price of the lattes" is moot.

As for not addressing food allergies--that does not apply to them. The Eating in 3D blog is not about addressing every single concern under the sun. It's a personal experiment.

And the author never said they were "working poor." Nor did I. They obviously aren't, or this project probably wouldn't have come to be.

It's one family trying to see what they can manage for the amount allotted. And to see if they can do it healthfully. It is not a comprehensive look at money and food and health. It is a niche experiment. To cover things like allergies and "eating issues" that don't apply to them would be overreaching.

I think it is great that you grow your own herbs. This family grows their own vegetables. You both deserve kudos.

The reason I mentioned the allergies/special needs is that we do accommodate allergies and two AS kids on half their minimal budget. And we have to avoid most prepared foods, because the big food allergy is eggs, which are in everything. We still cook nutritiously, and cheaply, in limited time. My time is limited, even if I don't work - two special needs kids means that I don't get to go to work, I have my whole day scheduled tightly from 6 am to 11pm. I know all about limited time for dinners.

The tone of the intro posts (see part 3 of "What is Eating in 3D") is very dismissive of the ideas of prepping ahead, baking, shopping carefully, or growing things for yourself.

It's possible to bake once every couple of weeks or start a no-knead loaf and bake it while cooking something else, and possible to shop carefully without spending hours clipping coupons or driving all over town. I grow my own herbs by watering them 1x a day when I'm getting the kids ready for school.

Her attitude is what I'm objecting to. A quote: "You could do all of these things [grow things, shop thriftily, prep ahead]. Or, you could spend time with your kids and take a run. It’s up to you."

Really, I expect to be shut down or called a neglectful mother if I post over there.

Agreed. That one line you quote could be taken the wrong way. I'm with you on that.

But, overall I enjoy the exercise and like that this family is considering both money and health and sharing their results.

Glad you spoke up, Maura. Your insights are much appreciated.

I am one of the family that is eating in 3D, and I appreciate your comments but I would like to echo Brittney's statement that we are not and were not trying to simulate the experience of the 'working poor'. We are both executives and, if anything, we were symptomatic of the other end of the scale - eating out often, with little regard for a food budget or the overall nutrition of our eating and a steadily growing waistline. We wanted to test if the recommendations for healthy dieting were even possible on a budget an 'average' family could afford, with assumptions that the 'average' family with two working adults doesn't have lots of free time to make lots of food from scratch to fit within a budget. For that audience, the recommendation to bake your own bread and can your own fruits and vegetables is a non-starter.
I would say one of the most surprising discoveries for us was how possible it was to hit (and actually come in well below) the budget, while eating more healthily than before without committing lots of 'personal/family time' to food prep, so you are right that it is feasible. That may have been obvious to you for a long time, but from where we began (and from the perspective of most friends and colleagues), it seemed like a big stretch.
Anyway, your comments are well taken and appreciated for your perspective and honesty. The intent was never to be condescending, but I can see how it could have been interpreted that way.

It seems to me that $10 per day per person is a generous food budget. That's $210 a week for a family of three. $840 a month... I don't know where this experiment took place, but that is not "eating cheaply" where I come from. For example, in New Jersey, if a family of three is on foodstamps, their maximum benefit is about $400 per month (which adjusts according to income, make more money, get less stamps) - so that goes to show according to our government you should be able to feed your family with an average of less than $5 per person per day.

I definitely don't buy the "it's cheaper to eat fast food" meme, I think that's something people tell themselves to rationalize giving in to it.

I mean, yes, it's probably cheaper to eat fast food than to eat a super-diet filled with fresh vegetables. But a rice & bean based diet starts at pennies a day, and if that's all you ate, sure it wouldn't be as healthy as eating vegetables, but I'm hard pressed to believe it isn't still much better for you than living off fried salt, sugar, and industrial byproducts.

And if you take that diet as a base but expand it to include low-cost staples (onions, potatoes), frozen veggies, oatmeal, etc, it's not hard to make a reasonably balanced diet on $3 or so a day. (I'm at about $4 a day on a comparably indulgent version of that diet including coffee.)

Of course I don't discount the truth that corn subsidies and the dominant power of the fast food industry to shape the food industries HAVE grossly incentivized unhealthy eating -- just that it isn't really *the* cheapest option. It's more that it sits at the optimal cross-point between cheap, easy, and addictive.

We're relatively well off, and eat pretty well (buy organic when possible, expensive convenience foods, and so on) and I personally don't see how you could live on this planet and think that $10 a day per person is a challenge. I just bought a week's worth of groceries at Trader Joe's this morning, and it came to $155. That's for a family of 4, and a large chunk of it came from junk food and my husband's orange juice addiction. It included a ton of fresh fruit, organic meats, veggies, dairy products.

To give you an idea of how we eat: For breakfast we have cereal or oatmeal or bagels: on a weekend day we'll do something "fancy" that involves eggs and bacon or waffles or something like that. Lunch is a sandwich (deli meat, pb&j, humous & veggie, etc), with yogurt, fruit, veggies, dried fruit, usually something junky like a cookie or pretzels. Dinner is along the line of meat and two veg, soup with bread and salad, crepes with veggies, pasta with salad. So we don't eat the fanciest diet in the world, but it's hardly bleak. We eat out about once a week, and that probably brings us close to the $280 per week that we would be allotted under this ridiculous "challenge."

I definitely don't make my own jam and while I did buy "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day" with every intention of daily baking, it's never once happened.

You have to be either really bad at math or really disconnected from reality to think that a $280 weekly food budget for a family of 4 is some sort of challenge.

I want to know what sort of universe you have to live in to think that $40 is an "incredibly low" amount to spend on a day's worth of grocery for a family of four. We could eat out every night for that kind of money, and not at McDonald's, either.

I agree with many of the comments above that $10/day is not impossibly hard to hit. I also took away from the blog that $10 was the upper end of the budget and that the real target was to be closer to around $6/day.

But I think the more important lesson to take away from the experiment is whether a person eating on this kind of budget can also hit all their recommended daily allowances. No one above has commented on whether a daily food budget of $6 or $3 or fewer dollars actually hits all the recommendations provided to us by the FDA.

Healthy eating really need not be expensive, you can even grow your own veggies in your backyard. Sometimes it really amazes me as to how processed food can be cheaper than making the same thing yourself (organically) when they even have more overheads that they need to pay.

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