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High food prices driving people to cook?


TAPrice
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I've seen several news pieces saying that higher food prices have caused people to eat out less and cook more (wouldn't you know that I can't find the links at the moment).

Your average eGullet member probably doesn't see cooking as a means to economize, but have you seen friends and relatives move in this direction?

Does this mean that many people can cook but chose not to in the past? Or are we talking about people who lack skills and experience cooking, but are willing to learn when food prices rise?

Assuming that food prices won't continue to raise forever (a big assumption, I know), do you think this habit of cooking will survive a downturn in prices? Or do you think such economically driven cultural shifts reverse themselves quickly when the prices decrease?

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Here's a weird flipside... My husband owns a landscaping business (which has not seen any kind of hit with the economy problems, weirdly enough) but now he's working later and longer than ever...so we're resorting to takeout dinners at 9:30 pm a little more than the previous years, or simple salad dinners, or sandwiches. So, I've kinda been cooking less, because he's working more. I think he's cutting more grass, and doing more odd jobs for people because THEY'RE working more, leaving less time for yard maintainence.

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I've seen several news pieces saying that higher food prices have caused people to eat out less and cook more (wouldn't you know that I can't find the links at the moment).

NBC had a report (which is probably still on their website) that had a different conclusion.

According to their research, people are still dining out except that they're dining out at fast food restaurants. Full service dining has already seen a 25% decrease in business and is likely to see more of a decrease as the economy continues to worsen.

Logically, you would think that more people would be cooking at home but NBC found it wasn't necessarily true. Instead, they said people are buying more ready-made food/meals and heating that up instead of cooking the actual meals themselves. They reported that the ready-made meals segment of retail grocery stores has seen an increase in business since the economic downturn.

Thie reminds me of the discussion chefzadi started ("Cooking classes for disadvantaged folks") where he said::

....We did some research and talked some people. We were told that at a certain level many of these low income folks are used to feeding themselves mostly out of boxes and cans. They have virtually no cooking skills, besides re-heating....

If the NBC report is true then consumers in general, not just the disadvantaged, are finding it easier to reheat something from the grocery store than it is to make it themselves.

Jacques, Sarah, Martha and even freakin' Rachel Ray have shown good food can be made in a short amount of time. Is the home cook a dying breed?

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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If the NBC report is true then consumers in general, not just the disadvantaged, are finding it easier to reheat something from the grocery store than it is to make it themselves.

Jacques, Sarah, Martha and even freakin' Rachel Ray have shown good food can be made in a short amount of time. Is the home cook a dying breed?

When I'm dead tried, or it's too hot to cook, yeah, I'm inclined to go with something that I can zap in the microwave.

Cheryl

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I sure hope the economy leads folks to cook instead of buy cheap fast food.

On another note, a month ago I taught a Basic Thai Cooking Class at my store. Eight participants, Seven courses, $25 in food. If you want to talk money, then diversify your cooking skills and learn "peasant" cooking from around the world.

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I sure hope the economy leads folks to cook instead of buy cheap fast food. 

On another note, a month ago I taught a Basic Thai Cooking Class at my store.  Eight participants, Seven courses, $25 in food.  If you want to talk money, then diversify your cooking skills and learn "peasant" cooking from around the world.

I love Thai food. I'm on the verge of making Tom Yam Kang. (Shrimp Hot and Sour Soup)

Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.
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I sure hope the economy leads folks to cook instead of buy cheap fast food. 

On another note, a month ago I taught a Basic Thai Cooking Class at my store.  Eight participants, Seven courses, $25 in food.  If you want to talk money, then diversify your cooking skills and learn "peasant" cooking from around the world.

Although you have to combat the people who "don't want to buy all that stuff". Yeah, it is a little bit of an investment at first to buy the a bunch of spices (for Indian), or fish sauce / oyster sauce / soy sauce / rice vinegar / etc... for Asian cooking, but a little generally goes a long way. Plus, if people learn to go to the ethnic markets, they may lear that there are other, far less expensive sources for all sorts of ingredients.

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I sure hope the economy leads folks to cook instead of buy cheap fast food. 

It really depends on why folks buy cheap fast food to begin with.

If someone lacks a kitchen, or doesn't have time to run home and cook a meal, cooking is kind of difficult.

I enjoy cooking, but at the same time, I occasionally find myself wanting a Whopper with cheese, no onions, with fries and a chocolate shake. Or if I'm out running errands with the kids and going home to cook is out of the way, McDonalds or Taco Bell are appealing.

Cheryl

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There's something I need to debunk, but I've been told that sometimes it's actually more expensive to cook at home. Of course this doesn't sound plausible, but I wonder if there's some truth to it.

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That probably has something to do with what you're cooking at home versus what you're buying out. There's a lot of variables involved, too.

Sometimes jumping into a new cuisine has a lot of startup cost, like the aforementioned Thai. If you're making a Thai meal at home for the very first time, and have to purchase all the ingredients, it's gonna be expensive. Most of those things, like a bag of jasmine rice, a bottle of fish sauce, etc, will last you through many many more Thai meals. So, initially, yeah going out and buying a bowl of green curry might be cheaper. Your next bowls of curry would be a lot more cost efficient, I'd bet, where all you'd need is maybe some fresh vegetables, herbs, and perhaps a protein. Start growing your own herbs, and vegetables, then the cost goes WAY down.

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Going back to Thai - a basic pantry isn't even needed. For example (from my memory), here's what I bought for the class:

$3.75: 3 cans of coconut milk @ $1.25 each

$1.25: 1 can of Maesri curry

$1.00: Bunch of lemon grass

$1.00: Knob of overpriced galangal

$1.00: Bunch of cilantro

$4.00: Protein (tofu or chicken)

$3.50: Rice

$2.50: Dried thai peppers (not necessary, I could have used New Mexican chiles)

$2.75: Fish sauce

Stock & shrooms - were in my pantry already

$1.95: Noodles for Pad Thai

$1.95: Salad roll wrappers

Various veggies - all were leftovers

These are estimates from memory and I'm sure I'm missing an item or two but this definitely covered the Tom ka gai, Pad Thai and sticky rice dessert. So while I'm not really disagreeing, I think Thai (moreso than Indian) can be done without much of an existing pantry, and can be very fresh, very tasty and very fast. But it takes education and exposure.

HERE'S my blog entry on the class.

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I believe I've heard that the poorer you are, the greater a percentage of your income is spent on food........but I don't know if this correlates to how much of your food is pre-cooked.

I'm a canning clean freak because there's no sorry large enough to cover the, "Oops! I gave you botulism" regrets.

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Here's one link to a consumer survey that found more consumers are trying to prepare meals at home. Note that the statistics are based on "financially challenged adults" -- that is, people who said their financial situation is worse this year than last -- about one-third of respondents.

So, about 55% of that 33% are trying to prepare more meals at home, or about 18% (about one out of every five families).

Edited by SuzySushi (log)

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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For me, it's not so much high food prices, but the high gas prices.

The biggest recent change for me has also been gas price related (especially since I drive a gas hog I can't afford to ditch and there is no reasonable public transport). Some of my favorite economical Asian and Hispanic markets are a 20 minute or more drive each way so I have really been in a creative mode lately so see what I can come up with in terms of similar items, or new items that satisfy.

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Greetings from a complete noobie in the midwest who is just getting acquainted with wholesome ethnic and "whole" foods. I attended a three day Harvard Medical School/ Culinary Institute healthy kitchens seminar this spring, and now know enough to show my ignorance!

I wish that high gas prices would cause people to drive less and high food prices would cause people to rethink the fast food ruts they have dropped into. My sense is that many of these patterns are a consequence of time constraints. Couple that with dollar menus and super size fries and the prognosis is grim.

The drawback with whole foods isn't cost so much as the need to plan ahead to cook those steel-cut oats in the morning or soak the beans overnight. It will always be easier to order a pizza, and more popular with the young ones who dislike the unfamiliar or delayed gratification.

My wife recently opened a generic make-and-take kitchen in our central SD community, and the biggest hit so far with customers has been a takeout salad bar with greens other than iceberg lettuce and hand crafted vinaigrettes. We are holding classes with some local MDs on healthy eating, but the problem we see is that no one will carry the peasant-food, try something new banner as it's not profitable. Someday, I hope our healthcare system will get the word out. For now, we're just trying to demonstrate that healthy foods can be simple, inexpensive and put the joy back in eating. We are attracting interest and our classes are full, but many attendees weren't motivated until adverse medical tests sent them our way.

I hope I'm not threadjacking by asking not whether folks will begin to enjoy real food, but how can we make that happen? Thanks.

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Totally anecdotal observations by me: I've seen far more significant price increases at grocery stores than at restaurants. I have a fairly consistent weekly market basket throughout the year that hovered around $100 for a decade or so, then went to $150 when we had our son and stayed there for a couple of years. But it has recently broken $200, without any real change in contents. Meanwhile, most of the restaurants I frequent have either not raised their prices at all or gone up just a dollar a dish.

Assuming my observations are correct, I don't think rising food costs can explain why people would want to buy more stuff in supermarkets. If anything, in an equation with no other variables, people would be eating out more.

I think there are other variables, however. For one thing, eating out at any but the crappiest restaurants is as an absolute more expensive than eating at home. For another thing, general economic woes mean people are motivated to seek the least cost solutions on balance. And for still another thing, the general mood of economic hardship (less equity in people's homes, fear of future inflation) leads to a climate of austerity in which dining out -- especially at fancy restaurants -- just feels wrong to many people.

I imagine for suburbanites gas prices would be another issue (for city dwellers using public transportation to get to restaurants, it's not really an issue). You only have to drive to the grocery store once a week, whereas you have to drive separately to every restaurant. In addition, urban restaurants are hurt because people don't want to drive all the way in from the suburbs just for dinner. A lot of suburbanites in the New York metro area have told me that between gas, tolls and parking in a lot it now costs well over $50 just to get from the suburbs to a Manhattan restaurant's door.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Totally anecdotal observations by me: I've seen far more significant price increases at grocery stores than at restaurants. I have a fairly consistent weekly market basket throughout the year that hovered around $100 for a decade or so, then went to $150 when we had our son and stayed there for a couple of years. But it has recently broken $200, without any real change in contents. Meanwhile, most of the restaurants I frequent have either not raised their prices at all or gone up just a dollar a dish.

Fat Guy, your observation reminds me of this article in the Times a few weeks ago. I think it's a lot harder for people to accept price increases in restaurant food, so restaurants have been avoiding it any way they can.

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

- Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry), Chef!

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Although I agree with the posts regarding the basics needed for Thai food, and the lesser costs later, there's another consideration.

Most of the American families looking to cut costs are not cooking Thai food. Especially the lower income.

They're looking for more "American" comfort food classics. Lots of casseroles and pot roasts and chicken dishes.

I have not yet had to cut my grocery shopping, but I do dine out a lot less than before. I'm single, no family to feed.

I enjoy cooking and there's no gratuity or gas for the car involved. A decent gratuity can add up, and one should not eat out if they can't afford it. Gratuity for a meal for 4 or 5 persons?

A no brainer.

But I'm feeling the pinch. I'm cooking more. There are other places my income is needed. Gas, electric bill skyrocketing,etc. If I had a family to feed, I would be worried .

This came up in conversation recently at work. Without any exception I heard, everyone is cooking at home more, and eating out less.

Now if we could just get carved-in-stone country of origin certification, I could stop paying $3.00 a pound for damned tomatoes.

I'm furious at the dangerous fruits and veggies in our markets.

If a top ranking FDA official ever shows up at my door, he's in for serious medical problems, broken bones immediately come to mind.

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We tracked it last month. I can feed my husband and myself at home for an average of $5 a day. And we eat very well. That includes his $3 a pint ice cream at least every other day.

Casseroles are in the mix - meat loaf - a roast that turns into stroganoff and later open faced sandwiches. You get the idea.

Much economizing comes from control of the ingredients, I think. You go to a restaurant, and you have given up control.

I have stopped driving to destinations that have some great ingredients. I guess it is a cost/value consideration.

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We're expecting a significantly lower income this year and we've definitely cut back on several levels. Far fewer fine -- or even decent -- dining meals. When we don't feel like cooking, it's $25 for pizza, Ethiopian or Salvadoran, rather than $50-60 for Chinese or Thai or $80-100 for Indian. And we're getting our meat from the butcher, not from the farmers' market where, good as they are, the $10/lb pork chops just aren't in the budget any more; this morning I picked up enough pork roast and onglet to feed ten people over two days for about $35. That's food cost I can live with.

Fortunately, as low-carbon footprint urban dwellers in an ethnic enclave, neither grocery shopping nor dining out involves any significant gas expenditure, and we can buy almost anything we need for an Asian or Latin peasant meal within a few blocks of home (love that $4.99/lb skirt steak) -- we made some fine drunken noodles the other night, and the basil for tonight's pesto is coming out of the garden

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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There's something I need to debunk, but I've been told that sometimes it's actually more expensive to cook at home. Of course this doesn't sound plausible, but I wonder if there's some truth to it.

Living in Toronto, whenever we cross the border into Buffalo, we're always shocked at how cheap your fast food is.

At the most basic level, you have your Mcdonald's $1.00 menu, Denny's $4.99 big breakfast, and Ponderosa's dinner buffet for $7.99 (or around there). This kind of food may not be appealing to people who Love food and everything about it, but for 3.00, you can have some kind of burger, fries and drink, without any more effort than getting to the restaurant and standing in line. Plus, there's no dishes to wash, no clean up to do. I can definitely see how fast food can appear to be more appealing than setting out to cook a meal.

I also think this level of cheap fast food contributes to the obesity epidemic.

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There's something I need to debunk, but I've been told that sometimes it's actually more expensive to cook at home. Of course this doesn't sound plausible, but I wonder if there's some truth to it.

Living in Toronto, whenever we cross the border into Buffalo, we're always shocked at how cheap your fast food is.

At the most basic level, you have your Mcdonald's $1.00 menu, Denny's $4.99 big breakfast, and Ponderosa's dinner buffet for $7.99 (or around there). This kind of food may not be appealing to people who Love food and everything about it, but for 3.00, you can have some kind of burger, fries and drink, without any more effort than getting to the restaurant and standing in line. Plus, there's no dishes to wash, no clean up to do. I can definitely see how fast food can appear to be more appealing than setting out to cook a meal.

I also think this level of cheap fast food contributes to the obesity epidemic.

There is nothing available at a fast-food restaurant that is cheaper than a box of macaroni and cheese and a tree or two of broccoli (shared by two). If you compare aples to apples, crap to crap and haute cusine to haute cuisine, it's always cheaper to eat at home.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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