Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More on The Cost of Food

Your Questions Answered

picture photograph or animated gif 2007 copyright of sam breach http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/
Last Night's Dinner of Farro with Green Onion Sauce, Toasted Walnuts and Asparagus, taken from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson, was all local apart from the Farro. This recipe made enough for five healthy meals at an approximate cost of $3 per portion.

Yesterday's post, designed to find out how my shopping list compares to other readers' backfired on me and instead I was grilled by the commentors. I purposely did not add too much extra information to the original because my purpose was to highlight he shopping list itself. But now its clear some extra information will help put it in perspective.

The green onions were expensive (two bunches $3.50): Yes they were, but they were rather large with a more developed bulb and they just looked so beautiful.

Just curious, will that feed both of you b/l/d for a week?
Not exactly. Fred doesn't eat breakfast and he takes care of himself at lunchtime. Aside from the two nights I will be out this week, this (along with ingredients I already had in the fridge/pantry) will feed me for lunch, dinner and breakfast. Mealtimes at weekends are a bit Topsy turvy for us and don't usually fit into a regular mealtime pattern.

What's the average number of meals you eat at home during the week? Also do you only shop once per week?: Evenings we probably average four or five meals at home a week. Apart from the rare time when I absolutely need an ingredient I don't have and have to rush to the local grocery, yes, I only shop once a week.

Does this feed you and Fred without eating out? Fred and I always eat out every week so it is difficult to judge. However, I do believe that I could stretch this bunch of ingredients, in conjunction with what is in my pantry/fridge, to feed us well for a week if we weren't to go out. In fact I think I bought too much here. For example - the avocados will probably last me three weeks in total.

Where is Acme selling the sandwich? Inside?: Yes the sandwich was inside - you'll have to double check which days it is available.

Do you cook everyday? Do you plan your meals ahead of time? If you do cook everyday, What time do you get home from work and what time do you eat dinner?
I cook every day that we are not eating out. Usually when I go to the market I have one or two recipes in mind for which I have a physical list of ingredients and then I pick up what else looks good to make dishes ad lib. When I choose recipes in advance, of course I only [plan recipes I know will be in season. I get home from work at about 7.30 pm. I spend anything from 20 minutes to an hour cooking dinner and we don't eat until after 9pm. (We're European). I make staples like bread at the weekend and freeze it.

[Your List] seems to be lacking in proteins aside from eggs and sausage: Well there are only two of us - I think we have proteins every day and that is a dozen eggs there. That bacon will last us for two meals at least.

I guess during the week you both eat at work: Fred does but I don't. I can't bear to eat at the icky office cafeteria when I could take a healthful packed lunch full of these delicious ingredients instead. I always have leftovers when I cook a recipe - this is a good way to make sure they get eaten.

Not trying to nitpick: maybe Fatted Calf could let you know where their meats come from:
I split the list into the Artisans and Farmers. I could have gone farther by detailing each of their ingredients as you suggest but this would have been difficult, to cover every ingredient in a clairesquare or Taylor's charcuterie. I have talked to Taylor about where his meat comes from in the past, but like you say - it is a mix I believe so it would be too difficult to track in a post like yesterday's. I think supporting local artisans over buying processed foods in a supermarket is a better way to go.

If we drive to the Ferry Building, and the food comes from 100 miles away, are we really eating local?
That's a good point. After making that shopping list I was thinking I should probably support Star Route Farms over Heirloom Organics, because they travel less distance to get to the market.

Oh, how lucky you area: This is something I should remember every day. I realise eating locally is a no-brainer here in California.

How on earth do you find the time for this kind of important examination of your food habits??? If you keep notes as you go along it's not so hard. That said, I'm going to play devil's advocate a bit. I know you guys eat out a fair bit, which probably puts your $104 a little over-budget on a relative basis: Of course you are right. We can easily spend $100 on just one meal when dining out. I originally included a paragraph in yesterday's post about restaurant dining but later removed it because I wanted to keep the focus on the shopping list. However, I do think that I could actually live extremely well on $144 worth of local produce for a week if we weren't to dine out. It seems like more than enough money for two to me. I am not sure about having a family. That question is beyond my level of experience.

© 2007 Sam Breach at "Becks & Posh", becksposhnosh.blogspot.com This RSS Feed is for personal non-commercial use only. If you are not reading this material in your news aggregator, or at the aforementioned url, the site you are looking at might be guilty of copyright infringement. Please contact becks.posh.food.blog[AT]gmail[DOT]com to report any suspected violations. Thank you.
More on The Cost of Food


  • At 27/3/07 10:28, Anonymous Jenna said…

    So please do tell... How was Heidi's Farro dish? I made the same recipe last week, but I can't seem to find farro anywhere, not even at my local Co-op... I made it with barley instead, but I'm determined to try it with the farro as the barley made the dish a little heavy.

  • At 27/3/07 11:14, Blogger Owen said…

    Hi Sam - I'll add a couple of cents here if it's OK - since I DO have a family and have been (somewhat less formally) watching where and what and how we eat for a long time.

    We are a family of four - essentially at this point eating like four healthy non-dieting adults since the two are teenagers and growing fast.

    We subscribe to the Terra Firma Farm CSA for MOST of our produce (not all) and that costs us something like $114 per month for a large box of seasonal and local (30 miles) produce every week. This week was: 3lb potatoes, 5 large grapefruit, four meyer lemons, 1lb roasted pistachios (from their trees - best pistachios you ever ate), three large leeks, bunch of green garlic, bunch of beets (four medium red beets with greens). About 1lb carrots with tops (guinea pigs get the tops), one large bunch of chard, two small cauliflower, 2lbs broccoli, six kiwi fruit. I think that was it - for about $34. Because one of us is a vegetarian we don't eat much meat. We shop in addition at Trader Joes where I shop local if possible but don't worry about it all that much - we do not have time to go anywhere else other than safeway which I only go to as a last resort - and there isn't much else nearby without a significant drive.

    We ARE in the SF Bay Area by the way - but in the burbs not the city.

    I would guess we spend about $180 per week on additional groceries so out weekly grocery bill is about $215 for a family of four. We eat at home a minimum of five dinners and six breakfasts. Lunch is prepared and packed for about 75% of the time. So we eat out pretty rarely - say two meals total per week.

    The significant non-local expenses are coffee and luxury food items (one of the reasons we eat out so little is that in return we allow ourselves to get what we want at the store - we just prefer and believe in fresh local foods when we can). Luxury means things like ginger paste, black bean paste, balsamic vinegar etc. Coffee is more complex than normal since I have started to roast my own. I buy green beans locally (less than ten miles) but obviously the beans are not local. It is MUCH cheaper to roast your own - prices range from $4 to $5.50 per pound for even the fanciest green coffee beans.

    Anyway - even if we had the time to really go all out for only local I doubt we would climb much beyond $270 per week for a family of four for pretty much 100% of our food. It would be things like pasta, flour and rice that I would find hardest (although since we are on the way to the delta, rice might actually be pretty easy)

  • At 27/3/07 11:37, Blogger Beccy said…

    Owen you are very lucky. I have three children, eat out about three times a year and shop on a budget. I spend about €200 a week on food and this is from a large multinational supermarket in which I buy their branded goods. My treat is to buy organic carrots! If I were to buy all organic my bill would increase by 50%, comething I can't afford. My family live overseas so any spare money is used to visit my Mum twice a year.

    I would love to shop at the farmers market and buy organic but the best I can do for my family is to make most things from fresh produce from scratch.

  • At 27/3/07 11:49, Anonymous Fatemeh said…

    Sam, this post, for me, embodies the reason we love you. How you manage to be conscientious, entertaining and informative all at once is really beyond me!

    I think what makes eating on a close budget for me is the protein -- I'm definitely a carnivorous omnivore, and I crave animal protein several nights a week. And of course, I don't want to eat hormone- and antibiotic-laden critters, so my meat bill can get expensive fast.

    I guess I forget how truly wasteful the livestock industry is, and the cost that comes with that.

  • At 27/3/07 12:22, Blogger Jaye Joseph said…

    OK, reading this makes me realize that I have to cut my spending on food immediately and be less lazy in the kitchen!

  • At 27/3/07 12:22, Anonymous susan said…

    sam, i am so impressed with your eating local! i do shop at the farmer's market sometimes but i'm not sure about all the distances. but i usually shop for produce at a mom & pop produce store near my work and then trader joe's. if i need seafood or special cut of meat i venture out to wholefoods. i try to keep a budget of about $300/month (i live at home so give/take groceries with parents) but sometimes when i feel like trying out a few new recipes my monthly spending can climb to $400. great post!

  • At 27/3/07 12:58, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    Cranky and I were talking with a friend yesterday about the upcoming Penny-Wise Local Challenge. He really got into it. He said, "Can you catch your own fish?"
    Well, the fish would be free, but the fishing licence, the tackle and the boat rental? Uh-uh.
    On the other hand, I saw a couple more wild turkeys yesterday...
    (PS: You have made me very interested in Heidi's book.)

  • At 27/3/07 13:30, Blogger Erin S. said…

    To try to partially answer your original question from the previous post: My groceries for the week, for two people, look somewhat similar to yours. 95% of my produce is local and I'd say we spend $50-60 at the farmers' market on produce and local eggs each week, another $20-30 if we need to stock up on beef/pork from the ONE! local/grass-fed meat guy I've been able to find.

    We usually spend another $50-100 at Trader Joe's, depending where our pantry is at. Cans of beans, nuts, dried fruit, yogurt, some frozen lunch items for the week, pasta. Not local, but not processed, mostly organic--the best I can do. We try to eat at home 4 nights a week, and have built up enough of a quick and easy repetoire that our nights of frozen pizza are few and far between. However, long work days and making dinner from scratch seems to leave little time for other pursuits sometimes--I'm curious as to how you balance it.

    The big "local" problem I have in LA is dairy. No Strauss, no Cowgirl Creamery equivalent. I can get both of those products at Whole Foods, but that means three different stops for groceries per week, which is too much. A vendor just started selling locally made goat cheese at the market, but that doesn't address the basics (milk, butter).

  • At 27/3/07 13:53, Blogger ChrisB said…

    Sam I was looking at that recipe and have got to investigate 'farro' and a few of the flours Heidi recommends. Your photo makes it look very yummy.

  • At 28/3/07 03:48, Anonymous Mary said…

    This has been a fascinating discussion. It's funny Sam that you felt the need to make another post today. Yesterday as the comments were building up I was thinking, wow, these people are getting pretty pushy. It was surprising. In any case, I think you have addressed all questions very diplomatically and are doing a find job making your readers ask themselves questions. My husband and I live on a food budget of $140 a week and give ourselves $60 spending money beyond that for other expenses. If we don't spend the whole $140 on groceries or the $60 on things like dry cleaning and fuel, then the rest can go for eating out. We try to stick to that as a budget, but allow ourselves some leeway. I live in the Hudson valley 100 miles north of New York city, near the source of many producers of the New Yorkers could buy under the 100 mile rule if they wish to follow it. Still, we can't get fresh produce here throughout the winter and we'll never have local lemons. I just can't see us living on apples all winter long. I have tried to do more, however, but I'm driving myself crazy thinking this through. Last summer, a friend and I picked loads of strawberries at a local farm. We washed them and froze half of them and made jam out of the rest. I'm still using the jam with my (homemade, local milk) yogurt in the morning, but the frozen ones are long gone. I think I'll try and do more long term storage of foods next summer, but am wondering if running my big freezer to keep the stuff doesn't negatively offset the local effort. I think we could really drive ourselves crazy with worry about this, but many people in the world don't even have enough to eat.

  • At 28/3/07 10:45, Anonymous shelly said…

    Sam, you work in Redwood Shores/Redwood City, right? There are some decent places to eat around here, if you ever want a break from a box lunch (although, I agree, bringing lunch from home is much tastier).

    There's a Thai place on El Camino in San Carlos, whose name I forget, naturally :P. Then there's a very tasty Afghan place at a shopping mall, and a little hole in the wall Middle Eastern place that's pretty good in San Mateo (Alhana Foods, 25 37th Ave.).

  • At 28/3/07 13:35, Anonymous Morton the Mousse said…


    Have you considered an alternative olive oil? Napa Valley has some truly exceptional artisan olive oil producers. I love Dutch Henry in Calistoga (primarily a winery) and Round Pond in Rutherford. Check them out next time you're in Napa, I think you'll be very impressed. Bariani is fine, I used to use their oil all the time, but I noticed a significant improvement in my cooking when I switched brands.

    I wish I could keep my weekly grocery budget under $100. There's just too much great food in this area! Ah well, who needs to own a home when you can eat like royalty every day?

  • At 28/3/07 13:38, Anonymous Lisa said…

    Sam- After seeing Heidi's book everywhere, and also seeing two of your recipes here, I have just ordered it from Amazon. I usually try to eat organic and local (when money allows)and do about 3-4 meatless meals a week. Seems like the perfect book for me.


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