Money for Nothing, Chicks for Free

Okay, so it’s not the Dire Straits song – it’s all about the food. In conversation with friends the other day, they were bemoaning the fact that good food is becoming expensive. I agree – it is. But perhaps it should be. Before everyone gets their WallMart bags in a bundle, let me explain.

In a 2006 article by the Salem Newspaper, Americans spend less than 10% of their disposable income on food. Less than 10%. To quote the paper,

“International statistics provided by ERS only account for the percentage of disposable income spent on food at home. Still, the numbers show huge disparities between the U.S. and other countries.

The U.S. percentage is 6.1 percent. The next lowest figure comes from consumers in the United Kingdom at 8.3 percent. (Note: No statistics are available in the report for Canada, which would be considered a lower percentage country.)

German consumers spend 10.9 percent of their disposable income on food at home, followed by Japan (13.4 percent), South Korea (13.4 percent), and France (13.6 percent) among high income countries.

Middle income countries include South Africa (17.5 percent) and Mexico (21.7 percent). China (28.3 percent) and Russia (36.7 percent) are seeing rapid decreases in food expenditure percentages but are still relatively high. India (39.4 percent) and Indonesia (49.9 percent) are among the highest when it comes to the amount of disposable income spent on food.”

I don’t have a problem with this per se, but I think care should be given to the reasons why these numbers are the way they are. Most of these countries are affluent countries, with incomes on the rise. While not comparable to the US on average, they are not third world nations which struggle for food.

Yet, these countries experience far less of the health problems than we do. Some of these countries spend twice what we spend on food and do not have the obesity or chronic health problems that Americans have. Anyone who has been to Paris knows what I mean.

I think the question is: what are we spending this small income on? Is it the $5 foot long lemoninwaterSubway Sandwich, or is it the sack of oranges that we bring home? Is it the .99 Taco from Taco Bell, or is it a pound of fresh lemons in season? We would all like to think that we’d choose the latter of both of these but the truth is, most Americans choose the former.

I hear a great deal of people complaining about the cost of fruits and vegetables, of organic and sustainably-raised foods. However, have we done a comparison of the physical costs of eating the processed foods vs whole foods? Have we looked at where the money goes when we purchase from a Farmer’s Market vs. when we purchase at Safeway? I think we have to begin to look at the larger picture of what the goal of spending so little on food is. Is it to save money to spend on other things? Is it that we feel we can live off bargain foods and still be able to go out more? I think each of us has to ask these questions of ourselves and see what the answer is.

I also don’t think shifting to spending more on quality food is an easy thing to do. It means being willing to cook more, go out less, and not eat crap when we’re tired. It might mean planning ahead more and freezing more. It might mean the purchase of a chest freezer instead of a jet ski. I believe that we need to strive for quality food in our lives to improve the quality of our lives: length, health, everything. Don’t put crap in if you don’t want to crap out!

I think that what we need to do is to take baby steps. I’m going to post a list of what my own baby steps have been, my journey so far, and where the journey takes me. After that, the ride is unknown. One thing I do know is that it probably won’t be a cheap ride. That’s okay. I hope to enjoy the good stuff for a very long time!


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