You’re starting the nutrition challenge today. First things first. Go shopping. But then you start looking at all the meat and produce. Grass fed and organic keep popping up. Looks expensive, right? And then you start to waffle and think it’s just easier and cheaper to grab some peanut butter and jelly for some old college style snacking because you’re on a budget.
Well, that doesn’t have to be the case. Read Robb Wolf’s advice on this matter:
Why I went into health & fitness and did not sell vices is beyond me. If this whole Paleo thing goes fanny-up it’s going to be hookers+cocaine+baked goods, finished with a smoke. No one will argue with that buffet but in this health shtick you deal with the mass illusion of “cave men lived short lives, meat causes cancer, this is not sustainable.” Then there is that pesky Evolution thing!
Well, I guess I can be assured of job security. It’s not likely the ADA is going to change course nor will folks like Dr. Melina get a clue anytime soon, so onward an upwards.
Back to the affordability of Paleo: This way of eating, like virtually any way of eating, can be made much more, or mush less expensive. Now, similar to cooking or meal options, I thought this was a pretty straight-forward concept (if you are broke, buy cheap, if you have some cash, kick your heels up a bit) but alas, it is not. So, I’m going to walk through some basic shopping and put an arrow in the head of the “Paleo is expensive” idea, then we will look at some basic finance ideas as I think some folks may benefit from that.
WholeFoods or WholePayCheck?
We ran a piece recently on shopping at Wholefoods which was pretty well received but I wanted to share a recent shopping trip I did and the chow I procured on that excursion. Check out this receipt and then I’ll talk about what I bought and why.
I bought two organic chickens, and a mix of ground beef and chuck-roast. Why these items? Because when I walked into the store they had these nifty yellow “sale” cards on them. Even the color-blind cannot find an excuse for fracking this up…I also bought a “bunch” of chicken, ground beef and chuck roast. things broke down like this:
9.15 lbs of chicken@ $1.39 per lb
16.7 lbs of meat@ $3.99 per lb
Total cost: $81.10
Total carnage: ~25lbs
Here is what that all looked like:
Now, the meat was NOT grass-fed, but when I hit the Santa Fe farmers market I always buy similar cuts of Grass-fed meat for $4/lb. Can you spend $30/lb on New York steaks? Uh, yea, but Keystone needs to eat too, so I go for the inexpensive cuts and just kick my heals up occasionally. When we were living in Chico we routinely bought a half a cow and the average price was $4-5/lb. We have not set that system up here yet, so I make do with the situation I’m in. So WholeFoods (or the Hippy Santa Fe farmers market) can be navigated in a reasonable way. I’ll pause a minute and wait for the inevitable complaint that arises when you are trying to help people….Ok, I think it’s just about here:
“But Robb! That is still too expensive for me!”
Ok, shop someplace else. I’m going to look at some produce shopping I did at one of the big food outlets (FoodMax) but you could buy your meat there and save a ton of money. Sale items will likely range in the $1.50/lb to $2.50/lb and given that the meat I just bought at WholeFoods is not Grass-fed, the quality is likely similar at a CostCo or Food-4-Less kind of location. anyway, take a gander at the produce I bought:
I cannot for the life of me find the receipt for this, but it was about $20 for all that produce. This is one of the reasons it’s hard for me to not bludgeon people when they make ignorant statements about everything from fiber to the nutrient content of eating Paleo. I mean, how much more fiber and nutrients DO you need? If I was really tight I’d ditch the coconut and avocados and cut at least $6 off that bill and put it elsewhere, but it’s still a lot of food for not much money. Was it Organic? No, but it was largely seasonal, and this particular place turns over a mountain of produce. It is amazingly fresh and you cannot beat the price.
Here is another staple, a gallon of coconut oil:
I think the Tropical Traditions Gold Label goes for about $75 per gallon but if I recall I got a “buy-1, get-1″ deal on this. I eat this stuff constantly and 1 gallon last me 6-9 months. So, this may be a significant up-front cost, but you just need to think ahead and pro-rate this over the long haul. Now I’ll wait for the next question…..
“But Robb! How long will that last you!?”
Well…I don’t know. The coconut oil will last over a year, the produce 2 weeks, the meat similar or longer. If I was doing a mass-gain I’d cut those times in half. I have finally come to my senses and being 170-175lbs, lean and strong is plenty good for me. The bottom line is we are talking about ~$100 for two weeks of food for Nicki and I. If I’d bought the meat at one of the big-box mega food places I could have likely cut that bill in half, bringing the bill down to about $60 for two weeks, neglecting the fractional coasts of the coconut oil. Either way, not too bad on the pocket-book.
“But I want to save the world! Shouldn’t we eat organic and grass-fed”
Well, grass-fed and organic are certainly optimal, but if you cannot afford it you cannot afford it. If it REALLY matters to you, make sacrifices and make it happen…but you might need to shelve your idealism long enough to survive, and reverting to bagels is not the way to go. Your health will be better served by eating conventional meat & mega-farmed produce than a largely grain based diet. This reminds me of the following:
Hippy Excuse for Failure #1: I can’t find grass-fed meat…so I’ll eat a bagel.
Hippy Excuse for Failure #2: I can’t find organic produce…so I’ll eat a bagel.
Substitute Afford” for the word “find” above and we have the same story. I can’t tell you where your value system should start or stop, but I will definitely tell you when you are sh*tting the bed with faulty logic.
But I’m a starving college student!
Ahh…the College Student. Let’s take a walk down memory lane to create some framework here!
At the age of 16 my dad became disabled and could not work. It was not until I was 22 that his disability went through and I was freed from largely supporting my parents. Through all of high-school and part of college I worked full time to not just float my families boat, but also to get the things I wanted like a motorcycle, spending money etc. Even in college I sent money home to may parents, while maintaining an academic load of 18+ units. I worked at a vitamin shop and I tutored chemistry, physics and Spanish. I was president of the Chemistry club, VP of the pre-med club and it was a grueling schedule. But I WANTED it. I was the first person in my family to go to school since the time of Socrates. That’s a long winded way of saying I do not have ANY sympathy for the folks in school trying to make ends meet. It sucks, it’s also your opportunity to do something with your life. If eating clean is important, you will find a way to make it happen. If you are better looking than you are smart, become a stripper, they make great money. I’m not that smart, I’m not good looking, but I will out-work just about anyone.
Robb, I’m REALLY broke
Everyone’s situation is different. Many folks are out of work and things are legitimately tight. If I was really tight, I’d do my best to follow the above, and add a 50lb bag of rice (prices range from $25-$50). or, I’d eat a LOT of coconut oil as my main calories. Let’s look at some specific numbers:
Gallon of coconut oil is $75 with a total calorie content (117 cals per serving x 256 servings per container) of 29,952 cals. Cost: $0.0025/calorie
Bag-o-rice is $25-$50 with a total caloric content of a 50lb bag (3600 cals/kg x 22.68 kg/bag) of 81,648. Cost: $0.0003 to $0.0006/calorie.
So, calorie per calorie the rice is indeed cheaper, but both options are pretty damn inexpensive overall. I seem to remember getting a buy-1, get-1 on the coconut oil which effectively cuts the price in half, making them almost identical in price.
There are some solid guides for shopping on a budget, Diane at Balanced Bites has one of the best that comes to mind. Check them out.
That first section is concrete in that smart shopping can make Paleo quite affordable, but again, you need to make decisions appropriate for your situation. Unfortunately, some people are not well suited to modern living on a variety of fronts. Case in point: I received a comment a while back that went something like this “I cannot pay my mortgage because of spending money on grass fed meat and organic produce…eating paleo is MAKING me bankrupt.” I was initially pretty cranky with this person because it seemed a remarkable lack of self accountability (and indeed, it is) but I also understand that this is part of a much larger problem. In the same way that we are not genetically well adapted to resisting the wiles of modern foods, so too do many of us fall prey to the lure of conspicuous consumption, credit and the like. Similar to food addictions, when we sit down to talk about the why’s of these situations we can either turn this into a moral quandary (this person is just stupid, bad, lazy etc.) or we can understand this is yet another example of an evolutionary discordance, with some of us navigating spending and finances reasonably well (like carbs) others…not so much. From an evolutionary perspective spending and budgeting do not make much sense. If we were mobile and carried few possessions why would we need to worry about procuring stuff? If we had food we ate it. ALL of it. If it was more than we could reasonably eat before spoiling we’d give it to extended family, thus cementing social bonds and “banking” on the notion that when those other folks hit it big in the hunting-gathering lottery, they’d reciprocate to us. Credit, cash and spending are a technological and cultural advancement that is obviously very useful, but a lot of people do not know how to handle is effectively.
One of the most popular chapters of my book is chapter 6, the cortisol/stress chapter. I receive more comments about that specific chapter than the rest of the book combined. What folks consistently focus on is not sleep, or work stress, but financial stress. Do they own their stuff or does their stuff own them? For a lot of these people they have simply never thought about things in the way that I present there, and it is (apparently) powerfully liberating because instead of feeling bad about difficulties dealing with finances, people understand there is a reason for it. THEN…they DO something about it. You can be excused of your behavior until you are enlightened as to it’s cause. If you keep doing the same goofy shit after that, then we get to start talking about stupid, bad & lazy.
So, part of the issue whether folks can or cannot afford to eat this way may have some deeper issues related to spending on a macro scale. If this is NOT your issue, fine, ignore all of this, but I know for a fact it’s a pervasive problem based on the emails and communications I receive. If you think this may all apply to you I’d highly recommend checking out Dave Ramsey’s material. He does amazing work and there are a variety of ways you can get started down a better financial path.
1-Paleo is affordable.
2-Everyone has a different situation and must adapt to it.
3-Understanding your finances may liberate some cash you were previously squandering.
4-Many of our problems are an outgrowth of a diet and lifestyle at odds with our genetics.
5-If you really understand #4 we can quit feeling bad and make effective changes.
Steven did a nice reverse analysis in the comments that looks at the costs of these foods in a more intuitive way, here that is:
Random but I think looking at it as calories/dollar is more enlightening to most people then dollars/calories.
The rice ends up being between 1633 calories/dollar and 3266 calories/dollar depending where it’s at in the $0.50/pound and $1.00/pound range.
The coconut oil ends up at 399 calories/dollar
Kerry’s Irish Gold butter is 400 calories/dollar (At $4.00 a stick)
85/15 Ground beef is 960 calories a pound so at $5.00/lb (about grass-fed prices) it’s 192 calories/dollar
Canned Wild Alaskan Salmon is 237 calories/dollar. 34 grams of protein/dollar, and 8 grams of Omega 3
I did a lot of these for a class a couple years ago but the hard-drive with my spreadsheet got formatted unfortunately.