Friday, September 23, 2011

The Grocery Envelope

A big pot of peasant food: French style cabbage soup

I have a new favorite blog: Get Rich Slowly, about all things personal finance.

A few days ago, this post, about a rivalry between Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen, really got me thinking. The short version is this- Bourdain criticized Deen for encouraging an already overweight America to eat fried food smothered in butter, cheese, and gravy. The counter-argument was that Bourdain is a food elitist, with no understanding about cooking for a family on a limited budget. Bourdain responded that many of the most beloved dishes in the world are peasant food- made and eaten by generations of hard working poor people.

April Dykman, who wrote the post, challenges the notion that cooking healthy requires spending more. As I am getting more budget conscious, I am asking myself the same question. Obviously, I pay a premium for organic veggies and dairy products. Lean meats are more costly than fatty cuts. Fresh produce costs more than canned.

On the other hand, you can save some money if you're smart about it.  Skipping the processed food is pretty obvious (although I admit I eat a lot of Lean Cuisines). Ditto takeout. I have been saving a little on groceries by eating less meat, thanks mostly to my cooking bible, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Marc Bittman. I was also inspired by The Amateur Gourmet's post on shopping for a week's worth of meals rather than buying ingredients recipe by recipe. And I hate to admit this, but I had to make a personal goal of throwing away less rotten produce from the fridge. My eyes are bigger than my stomach at the grocery store, and I am re- learning the amounts I really need to buy.

Even though I am trying to spend less overall, I am not making big cuts to my food budget. I'm planning to save by eating out less and drinking less alcohol, but the grocery envelope is staying pretty fat. Americans spend a smaller percentage of their income on food than people in any other developed country in the world. Living on limited means is a reality for many people, but if you're not spending money on delicious, healthy food, what are you spending it on? Isn't it worth buying less stuff, so that you can sit down to a satisfying meal at the end of the day?

Anyway, I will refer you to my cooking hero, Marc Bittman, for some advice on cooking easy, quick meals: this article features 101 recipes for simple meals that are ready in 10 minutes or less. Most of them are concocted from pantry staples, and others just require a quick stop at the store for a couple of fresh ingredients.

I want to be just like Marc Bittman when I grow up
If you noticed that this post is just a big compilation of stuff other people wrote, I hope you don't mind too much. I'm still feeling a little uninspired and having trouble finding anything original to write about. Maybe you can tell me about things you are doing to eat well on a budget?

Until next time, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try making some easy meals at home, without gravy, with veggies, and with maybe just a modest amount of butter!


  1. This has been my challenge for the past few months as well. I've also noticed that cutting back on meat has saved me quite a bit. Also, cutting back on rotten produce being thrown out is a huge goal and one that I'm rapidly approaching.
    I think the biggest problem for people shopping is being absolutely realistic as to the PORTIONS of things you are eating. Do you need to buy 5 bananas? Most produce looses its significant nutritional value after about 3 days. So buy produce for 3 days... that doesnt mean 3 heads of lettuce, 5 apples, 5 bananas, 4 potatoes, etc... see how much of that is getting thrown out already?
    Another point-cutting back on meat and proportion. Sure, the organic steaks at the Haille Plantation farmers market are twice as expensive as the one you would buy at Publix. However, by the time you recognize the proportion you SHOULD be eating vs the proportion you WANT to eat, you realize this one 19$ steak is actually 3 servings. That should last you about 2 weeks and, in my opinion, the slight increase in cost is worth the health of the animal, correlating to your health, and support of local farming.
    I've also notice that while organic might be a little more expensive, it also lasts longer. My organic milk lasts longer than conventional milk.
    Realistic proportions, realistic staples, realistic purchases lead to an affordable, healthy, organic lifestyle imo. And that's without even factoring in gardening and composting in your own backyard.

  2. I love the Poor Girl Eats Well blog - she has wonderful and healthy meals that are dirt cheap. Most are 4 servings, so make good left overs!

    Making this one this weekend for the week:

    And it's time to get the backyard garden ready to plant for fall! Can't wait to snack on snap peas whenever I want again!


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