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The Economy & Your Eating


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Current topics on lower dessert sales and eating out in the UK got me to thinking about the changes I've made to my own eating habits in the last few weeks. Some are pretty typical: making larger batches of easily leftoverable meals; eating out only at the tried-and-true favorites and avoiding costly risks; being more cautious about using stuff that's about to go bad instead of just tossing it.

Others are more quirky, and even counterintuitive. For example, I've been having more and more tea at work instead of grabbing a cuppa in the car on the way. (The option of making coffee at work is out; I have a Rancilio Silvia and Rocky grinder combo at home that makes most work options untenably unsatisfying.) Since I'm not spending a couple of bucks each morning, I realize that I have greater flexibility about quality options for tea, and I'm slowly replacing my existing bag tea collection at the office, moving from single servings of Tazo, Ahmad, Twinings, and Republic of Tea to whole leaf teas.

I've just gotten started, but I'm realizing that my "cost-cutting measure" is also resulting in a far higher quality brew and experience. (This is obvious, I'm sure, to regular tea drinkers.) For example, each cup of Tealuxe Blue Flower Earl Grey I make costs somewhere around a quarter or so, and the preparation fetish involving my morning beverage is nearly as satisfying as the preparation fetish involving my evening beverage. I feel both frugal and sated.

What about you? What sorts of changes are you making to your eating and drinking habits to keep costs down?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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My husband and I have both cut out sodas and also eating out. I am cooking with less meat and more vegetables and starches. (stir frys, soups, and curries are great for stretching meat).

I have started growing some of my own produce and put up all I could from my summer garden. I find that if I have a wide variety on my plate, I am more satisfied with less meat. i.e.- if I have small servings of three different vegetables, I can be happy with little or no meat

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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I personally think that unless your job is potentially in peril (e.g. you work in the restaurant business near Wall Street) or that you personally face economic constraints (e.g. you have to renegotiate your mortgage over the next few months) it makes sense to spend your money with the businesses you want to help. Saving money by buying large quantities at Wall Mart or another superstore seems like the worst option for the economy as a whole and for your community.

That being said, I am trying to make ends meet on a daily basis and will often go for the cheap meat on special at my local supermarket (I'm weak :wink: ). Recently, I bought two large turkeys, here's what I did with them:

- 4 half breasts wait patiently packed individually in the freezer

- 4 legs have been boned out and stuffed with cheese, chipotle sauce and coriander leaves (also all frozen individually)

- Tiny bits of meat that were salvaged from the carcasses were used for a fondue / hot pot

- The carcass were simmered to make stock

- The boiled carcass were plucked again of any bits of meat left which was then added to noodle dishes, made into chicken salad for sandwich, and added to a large soup.

Edited by Magictofu (log)
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Oddly enough, the daily fearmongering has gotten me to eat more. I'm contemplating a trip to New Orleans for Thanksgiving (before the Saveur article).

Part of it, I suppose, is that I apply food when I am unsure.

Part of it, I suppose, is sort of dance band on the Titanic-ish.

Part of it, I suppose, is that I do little else that thrills me like all things food does and based on what's going on for me at work (more, more, more!) I need a thrill.

All that being said, Costco seems more interesting to me, as well as the making of soup from finds at the Farmer's Market.

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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Sort of allied question and reality check.

What percentage of your monthly income (net, after taxes) do you spend on sustenance? That is food, drink, eating out and so forth.

I suspect that its a reasonably small percentage. I know we spend less than 20% on average. Thus saving on sustenance won't make a big difference to our overall monthly budget.

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I was cutting back on travel and high expense dining even before the economy tanked as I now am paying one full private college tuition and anticipate a second next year. With the economy down, much of the funds that I thought I had set aside have disappeared with the market crash. As such, my discretionary dining and travel budgets have taken even greater hits rendering much uncertainty for the future. I don't plane on totally missing out on fine dining and travel, however, I will have to select opportunities carefully. When I do get to indulge, I will need to keep a closer eye on the tab. A clear and easy casualty will be scaling back on wine options. One thing that seems to have already happened is that we are dining out less frequently at more routine type restaurants and cooking in more.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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But for many people that's the flexible portion of their monthly expenses. True for us, at any rate.

True for us too. Almost every bill is the exact same every month, regardless of what I change. Food is the one that flucuates.

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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Although we have never been big diner out folks because of Heidi, we are even doing less of it. Like Chris, I am paying more attention to what's in the fridge, and certainly appreciate the free venison I get every year from my FIL (I'm expecting one or two).

But, one of the big differences is my driving habits. I'm more thoughtful when I drive anywhere -- this stems from when gas was $3.59/gallon, but now that it's "only" $2.05/gallon (gasp choke from someone who remembers gasping and choking when it went to $.69/gallon!), I'm keeping up with that habit. Combine errands. Double check that grocery list.

But, as fuel prices have decreased, I'm not nothing that the food prices that increased because of increased fuel costs have decreased.

So, add some extra beans to that pot of chili. Check that grocery store ad on Sunday. What's on sale and dirt cheap and add it to the grocery list. Pork butt on sale for $.79/lb? Well, I'm figuring a smoked butt (leftovers for posole) and perhaps some rendang on the menu. Chickens on sale for $.9/lb? I'm thinking a roast chicken and stock, chicken salad, a pot pie, etc. are in the works.

In addition, the price of a lunch in the school cafeteria has risen rather dramatically, so the kids are taking their lunches, so I'm baking more bread. The killer is the beverages. Here, a carton of milk (one pint) at the school caf is $.50. For a cup of milk. Yikes.

We, too, anticipate a child (young adult) in college this coming fall, and believe me, that's a driving force.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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. . .

With the economy down, much of the funds that I thought I had set aside have disappeared with the market crash.

. . .

As retirees we find ourselves in much the same position. The income we had expected has been quite drastically reduced and as someone else has said, about the only flexibility is the amount we spend on food.

It's not easy to change the habits of a lifetime and I tend to be an impulse shopper so I have curbed this to some extent by taking advantage of my daughter's offer to do my grocery shopping! With a list from me there is no impulse-buying to play havoc with the budget. (Mind you I just spent a week on a working vacation with a fellow eG member (she worked, I vacationed) and that led to many, many impulse buys!) :biggrin:

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Please come visit us in NOLA! The weather is generally great this time of year, the oysters are in, and the city needs some loving'.

As a poor college students, I am already eating rather frugally. I'm lucky in that, unlike my peers, I know how to cook and thus can throw together cheap meals that taste good rather then adhering to the Kraft Easy Mac and Ramen diet my peers must follow. I always bring my lunch from the previous evenings leftovers (I live off campus) and I feel I'm getting a much better deal then everybody else. I'd rather eat steak chipotle chili I made myself then yet another 8 dollar substandard Quizno's sandwich, please.

Far as grocery shopping goes, I am very down with the cheap meats...buy em' on sale, toss them in the freezer, done. It helps if you happen to be the sort of person who will happily eat ham hocks and turkey wings for supper. (Guilty as charged.) I am still appalled at the high cost of produce, however. It sucks that I pay 5 bucks for a box of grapes whereas I could buy a few economy sized bags of potato chips for the same. This Northern California native is also missing very much the produce variety and ease of access I enjoyed back home.

NOLA seems to have a distinct lack of "quick/casual" restaurants, beyond of course Po-Boy shops, at least in the upper Garden District where I live. This means I definitely do not do a lot of eating out...which is torture considering the excellent (but pricy) nearby options. Sigh.

(Tulane campus dining is ridicuous...a freakin' chicken salad costs nine bucks, a package of sushi costs 6.50, a frozen yogurt is 3.50...jesus!)

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What percentage of your monthly income (net, after taxes) do you spend on sustenance? That is food, drink, eating out and so forth.

I'm trying to get that number down from about 90% to about 80%. But seriously, I have been looking at the possibility of a prolonged period of reduced income and have been trying to hedge by reducing expenditures. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that one of the first things to go were most natural/organic/whatever groceries. For the past few years, despite my doubts about the merits of these products, I've been buying a lot of them in part because having become a parent I'm now more likely to make decisions on a "just in case" basis. But now I'm back to regular meat, milk, eggs and such. That move alone is saving probably $20-$30 a week on the grocery bill.

The other night, for the first time in a long time, I rejected a dinner proposition because I knew it was going to be expensive and I felt that it would be irresponsible to spend the money. In the past I'd have just gone for it and tried to compensate later somehow. But I feel I don't have as much flexibility if indeed we are headed for a prolonged recession. If we're not, well, it never hurts to economize anyway.

As a thought experiment, the other day I was thinking about how well it would be possible to eat for free in New York City. When you consider all the free samples, happy hours and the like that are available here, I think it would be possible to do pretty well. I mapped out a few eating itineraries that could yield several thousand calories a day of decent quality food. I imagine that won't be as easy to do if the economy stays really bad for a really long time, though. And really, anywhere you live, if you have a Costco membership you can live off the free samples.

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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I grew more of my own produce this summer than I have in years (which isn't saying much actually). I still have lettuce, onions, scallions, parsley & brussel sprouts growing & potatoes still in the ground. The parsley overwinters, as does the sorrel, I'm not sure if the lettuce will or not. Helped a friend pick her fruit (berries, plums, cherries, grapes), so she gave me some, I froze, dried fruit & made some plum chutney. She made some grape juice & gave me a quart, plus some apple butter & she'll probably give me some of the apple jack or cider she's working on now. I did a little hazelnut picking (picking up from the ground) & some shelling for the same friend, so I may get some of those (I did last year). Some more berries from my own garden or picked at another friend's place. I won't be buying any dried fruit for breakfast (on cereal) this winter & probably into the spring--what I dried will be enough--first time I've managed that. What I've frozen will be desserts or treats over the winter & into the spring.

I was given two red currant bushes this spring--they yielded about 7 berries this year (but they tasted really good!), I hope for a larger harvest next year.

I've paid more attention to sales, I kept checking a local store's ads to see when wild sockeye & a little later, coho (I think it was coho) went on sale in September so I would be sure to buy enough for the winter. Didn't even think about buying halibut because of the price/lb. Between the fish & the one whole chicken I bought from a local farmer, that's my non-legume/bean/nut protein for the winter, including dinner for a few friends from time to time. That's more long term planning then I did, say, 3 years ago.

I can & do order organic flour, a case of canned tomatoes, lentils, etc., in bulk through my local food co-op & I've done that off & on as, especially if you split items like a 25 lb bag of lentils between 3 or 4 co-buyers, you can save a fair amount of money (lower markup), even if you're buying organic.

Have had a Costco membership for years--been buying their OG evoo & some other items for the past year or two, after first checking to see if the prices really are less (sometimes the local supermarkets can match or even better Costco prices for TP & a few other groceries).

I am definitely sticking to my lists much more consistently.

azurite

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When I'm trying to be frugal, I look at the ads and plan my weekly meals around what is on sale and then I force myself to use everything I bought. As far as going out goes, I've mainly switched from high priced gourmet to low priced gourmet. Gourmet in the form of great sandwich places, etc. I have no intention of staying home all the time so I'm finding compomises and treating it like an adventure. Of course, I live in the Chicago area and we have all sort of great ethnic places to choose from that are modestly priced.

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My personal economic disaster just happens to be coinciding with the global economic mess so I am very conscious of cash flow at the moment. We have never been much for going out except for cheap ethnic eats, but our at home eating is evolving. That evolution seems to be towards avoiding waste in a much more aggressive way.

In the past I have perhaps let the last part of a head of cabbage which was dirt cheap end up in the green bin. Now I am thinking of how to showcase it. I am also taking stock of the refrigerator and freezer stores on a more regular basis to make sure things do not deteriorate. This week the result was a big bowl of vegetable soup and an aggressive use of gifted, fresh off the tree apples. I know they would last a while in the fridge, but space is limited. Meat trimmings and even extra cooked bits are being labeled and frozen for future stock or soup usage. I am trying to see the masses of swiss chard in my vegetable garden with new eyes and have a list ready for experimentation. I had let the original plants overwinter twice with giant stalks but lots of leaves and using them only for my animals, then going out and buying greens from the markets! I was doing the same with my beautiful recurring cardoon. Let the experiments begin.

I feel excited to begin actually implementing ideas that I only gave lip service to in the past.

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I doubled my gardening space for this growing season (just now underway in our climate) and although I wouldn't certify organic, I am pretty darn well organic in method and it is certainly locally sourced. I've always been a firm believer in growing your own, just putting more emphasis upon it right now.

Also, I am revisiting some of the strategies of my huge southern family. My parents had me rather late in life, and attained adulthood (or what passed for adult at the time, Mom married at 15 first child at 16, Dad in the CCC's at 17, although he was really 16 and falsified his age) during the Depression. Exposure during family gatherings to my grandparents, aunts and uncles and to the foodways of that region, and loving the food that they produced, have helped a great deal. Meals were designed to feed a large family group (necessary because your children were actually your field hands) and the emphasis upon a balance of calories and nutrition, kept everybody fed and there were no fat and lazy people in that crowd.

Isn't it amazing that new home construction and design over the past several decades has not allowed for a pantry? I have one now, though it is smaller than I would like and the conditions are less than ideal for storage, but I have purchased pieces of furniture in the past to compensate for the lack of appropriate household square footage space dedicated for food storage. I suppose that I was fortunate in the previous few years that my two youngest were in college at the time, and are just now graduated, so I have had the opportunity to adjust to money leaving the household that will now be restored somewhat. Now, if I can just wean them off the cel phone bill that I still pay for each of them, that would be cool. :biggrin:

All that being said, there will still be a ham and two turkeys at Thanksgiving. But I think I will go frozen this time.

Sometimes I think that it is only natural that these concerns are raised from time to time within our collective consciousness. And, after all, we are not receiving ration cards for sugar, coffee and laundry detergent that a couple of generations back had to live with for an extended period with small children to support. It's important that we all be aware of where our food comes from - The Good Earth.

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We've really cut back on dining out. When we do head out it is mainly breakfast or lunch, which are much easier on the budget. The vegetable garden was a money saver, especially since a lot of the bounty came from free seeds. Food expenses are pretty low since we very rarely eat meat. Most of our grocery shopping is done at Sam's Club and Trader Joe's which also helps keeps costs in check. With just two of us to feed, it's easy to cut back. I feel for the folks trying to feed their families, especially young and growing children who may not be as willing to give up their favorite treats.

KathyM

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It seems many are cutting back their expenses but given that the crisis, even in the United States where it is pretty bad, is affecting only a few sectors of the economy, I wonder why most people feel that they have to change their habits at this time... perhaps eGulleters are being hit harder that others (restaurant business, etc.)?

This matters because the more people save and avoid spending the deeper and more widespread the crisis can be.

It matters also because the recent rise in popularity for farmers' market, nice restaurant, etc. could be reduced to almost nothing ultimately impacting your local food scene.

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It seems many are cutting back their expenses but given that the crisis, even in the United States where it is pretty bad, is affecting only a few sectors of the economy, I wonder why most people feel that they have to change their habits at this time... perhaps eGulleters are being hit harder that others (restaurant business, etc.)?

This matters because the more people save and avoid spending the deeper and more widespread the crisis can be.

It matters also because the recent rise in popularity for farmers' market, nice restaurant, etc. could be reduced to almost nothing ultimately impacting your local food scene.

The market has eroded my savings. Who knows how long it will take to recover, if it would even get back to where it was? I'd be foolish to spend as though nothing has happened. My health insurance is going up over $100 a month in 2009, property taxes have risen, the season for high heating bills is upon us and the cost of gas for the car is still high. Discretionary income is tight these days and dining out is not a necessity. We try to do our bit by dining at the locally owned businesses, but there are bills to be paid first and uncertainty about the future causes me to not spend money that might not be there.

KathyM

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The market has eroded my savings.  Who knows how long it will take to recover, if it would even get back to where it was?  I'd be foolish to spend as though nothing has happened.  My health insurance is going up over $100 a month in 2009, property taxes have risen, the season for high heating bills is upon us and the cost of gas for the car is still high.  Discretionary income is tight these days and dining out is not a necessity.  We try to do our bit by dining at the locally owned businesses, but there are bills to be paid first and uncertainty about the future causes me to not spend money that might not be there.

I guess I forgot those who saw their savings disapear. I guess my comment should be directed at those who are not too close to retirement or who had been saving for a specific project.

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