Reconceptualizing the Culinary Cheapskate

Hmmm, it’s been a while since I posted. This is partially because I’ve been busy, but mostly because I got a “real” job that pays me more than the piddly graduate student research assistant salary I’d been making before, and with this job came the freedom to be a lot less careful with my food budget. And since cooking good food and eating good food happen to be two of the great loves of my life, I celebrated this newfound freedom by going a little nuts with my meal planning. I’ve spent the past several months buying whatever food I’ve felt like, and it’s been SO great – not because I’ve been eating better (I hope that this blog has at least proven that you CAN eat well on a very small budget), but because I’ve been able to try out some new recipes that call for pricier ingredients, mostly meat. Plus, it’s just nice to not have to count every penny, and I love that I no longer cringe when the cashier rings up my grocery bill total. In fact, the first time I went grocery shopping after I got this job, I realized hours after the fact that I had absolutely no idea – literally, none – of how much I’d actually spent; I just handed over my debit card and went on my way. You can’t put a monetary value on that kind of freedom.

One thing I’ve struggled with as this blog has evolved over the past year is that my approach to food, and thus, the approach to cooking that I advocate here, is not really about keeping costs as low as possible, but rather about eating the healthiest food possible without going broke in the process. I’ve done a lot of reading on nutrition and dietary topics, and I’ve come to the conclusion that spending money on higher-quality foods – organic vegetables, naturally-raised meats, hormone-free dairy products – is an incredibly sound long-term investment in your health. Even on my crappy $1200/month graduate assistant salary (and even my $800/month + food stamps AmeriCorps salary before that), I made purchasing healthy, high-quality foods my top financial priority after basic living expenses were taken care of. I pay nearly $10 a gallon for grass-fed milk and $6+ per pound for grass-fed meats. I buy expensive organic vegetables (which seem to go for about twice the cost of supermarket fare, on average), and pay a premium to cook exclusively with high-quality, healthy oils, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter and ghee. I truly believe that I have no choice in the matter – knowing what I know about nutrition and health, I absolutely cannot go back to eating (and recommending!) the “conventional” versions of these ingredients. But these ingredients definitely do not lend themselves towards “cheap” cooking, and I’ve struggled to fit recipes containing these ingredients into a “cheap” paradigm.

Nothing made this clearer to me than my post back in October in which I polled readers/random internet people about their weekly per-person grocery budgets. I included an “under $30” category with the caveat that I have a friend who actually does eat on $25-30 a week (he lives in Arizona and shops exclusively at a market catering to low-wage immigrants), and I truly thought that no one – or at least no one who reads this blog – would report surviving on such a small food budget. But I was wrong – three people, or 9% of respondents, reported just that. Back when I was a vegetarian and on a very tight budget, I used to spend $40-50 a week on food. Once I became an omnivore, this crept up to $50-60. Once I became frequent meat-eating omnivore, it was more like $60-70. Today, I have no idea, as I honestly haven’t been keeping track. (Such a wonderful luxury!) Like I said, I buy the highest-quality foods I can get my hands on – organic, naturally-raised, hormone-free – and in that light, these weekly food budget figures are still somewhat of an accomplishment; if you took my weekly shopping list and went to a Costco or an Aldi or even a regular grocery store, there’s a good chance you’d come in at under $30. But realizing that I spend twice as much on groceries as some people has made me rethink whether framing this blog as an inexpensive food blog is really appropriate.

So I’ve decided to rework my concept of this blog to include the pricier ingredients I choose to include in my cooking. In the past, I’ve tried to only post recipes that come in at under $3 per serving (with a primarily organic ingredient list); going forward, I won’t put a cap on the cost of things I post. But I will still approach the recipes I post with a focus on saving money (either by selecting recipes that include inexpensive ingredients, or by making less-expensive substitutions/adaptations), and I will still include a cost total for each recipe at the end of each post. The blog’s focus will shift from eating extremely cheaply to eating extremely well, but in  way that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and that cuts the crap, pretension, and needless complication that you get with a lot of recipes. I will likely post more musings on the cost of food (as I have plenty of these), more cost-comparisons, and more recommendations for where to get your hands on the really good stuff. Hopefully, I will just post more in general!

So stay tuned!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Reconceptualizing the Culinary Cheapskate

  1. Welcome back! Looking forward to reading more.

  2. Sounds good! You are right about that good feeling from not cringing at the grocery checkout. I wish more people could enjoy that feeling. Looking forward to reading more here soon!

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