Lately I have had several people ask me to write about ways to save money on groceries or more on budgeting for food. This is something I want to do, because there are some legitimate ways to save money on healthy food that works for my family, but it did get me thinking about how little American’s spend on food compared to other countries.
Keeping The Numbers Low
Sometimes when I listen to food budgeting conversations I am shocked at how little people spend. I’ll hear numbers as low as $10/week per person in a family and I have a hard time seeing how a healthy, varied diet of real, nutrient-dense food can come from such a tiny budget.
Here is the disclaimer folks: Please note that I am NOT writing this to criticize people with insufficient funds for their needs, mocking people whose budgets are strapped. I understand that we live in an incredibly expensive world, and especially with growing families, most of us can’t go to Whole Foods or the farmers market and purchase all of the groceries.
I fully recognize that with many mouths to feed and financial stressors, people need to make certain decisions and compromises when it comes to their food purchases.
I do this myself. I know what I believe are the best foods to eat, and I also don’t purchase everything according to that mental list, because we simply can’t afford it.
What’s In It?
So often people comment on how expensive good quality, real food is, but no one questions why you can get a full meal at a fast food joint like Rally’s or even McDonalds for a few dollars. Why is that food so cheap?
There are so many additives, preservatives, and fillers in most cheap, highly processed food. They make the products cheaper to manufacture, stretch farther, or last longer, but that doesn’t guarantee that they’re safe. Many of these ingredients are linked to a plethora of issues from inflammation to cancer.
We spend less on food than any other country in the world. Most of Europe spends over 10% of their income, while we are spending just 6% on average. But as you can read about in this article, “America Spends Less on Food Than Any Other Country” we are able to produce so many calories for cheap thanks to highly subsidized crops like gmo corn and soy, yet usually these cheap calories aren’t good for us.
I pride myself on finding a good bargain. My wedding dress was a $1500 designer sample gown found on Ebay for just $200. I cloth diaper my daughters saving thousands. If I need something I check the thrift store or the Facebook Marketplace first. Almost every item of clothing my kids wear are generous hand-me-downs, or lovely finds from kiddie resales where I get the average piece for $1 each. And I wear thrifted clothing outside of my nursing items.
I want to be a good steward of the money my husband works so hard to earn.
But one place I cut way fewer corners with is our food.
I believe food can be medicine or poison.
My toddler has eczema and food allergies, so that reason alone is enough for us to spend more. Junk oils like vegetable, canola, and sunflower seed are all inflammatory oils. The same goes with lots of additives like various “gums” or carrageenan. Those cause her to flare worse, are terrible for our gut health, and are found in most cheap, processed foods.
I’ve talked before how sugar is an anti-nutrient and despite the fact that it really isn’t good for anybody and should be a rare treat, it’s found in so much pre-packaged food, sweet or savory.
Sheesh, even “health” foods like nut butters can be loaded with cheap oil and sugar. Reading your labels is the only way to know what you’re getting. And believe me, you’re almost guaranteed to pay more for the purer nut butter containing only the ground nuts and none of the cheap oil and sugar.
Does It Matter?
Some people find it almost ridiculous or flat out confusing how much someone like me spends on groceries, but I also find that we live in a world where few question how indulgently many Americans live in regards to other things.
iPads, designer bags, frequent eating out, brand new clothes from the mall, fancy phones, huge flat screen t.v.’s, expensive hobbies and more are often considered part of life these days by many in our consumeristic society, but spending more on the food that nourishes our body is seen as a waste when you can eat so cheaply.
But what are the repercussions of cheap food? Certainly chronic illnesses are on the rise. How about our daughters getting periods younger and younger and ecological breastfeeding working less and less, likely in part because of all of the hormones in cheap meat? (I talked about all that here last week.)
The rise of antibiotic-resistant “super bugs” is linked by many to the heavy use of antibiotics in cheap meat that we are then consuming ourselves.
We already know that some kids are incredibly sensitive to sugar and nasty artificial food dyes, yet these two ingredients are in almost anything cheap marketed as children’s foods.
A lot of the repercussions of eating this way are simply unknown, since the explosion of processed and packaged food happened less than a hundred years ago after WWII.
But I do know for certain that we only get one body. ONE. I would rather have fewer electronics, buy my clothing used, eat out less, give up expensive hobbies and more, and instead have higher quality food for the only bodies my family and I get to have.
Everyone’s budget for food will be different and only you know what you can afford for groceries.
But I still think it’s important to have a conversation about why the nation with the highest obesity rates is also spending the least amount on food.
I think we should be wondering what those cheap foods are doing to our bodies.
I think we should consider the value of what we eat in light of the big picture, knowing that our health is something we can’t buy, but can support by the food we choose to consume.