Monday, September 24, 2012

138: Playing with food

This week, we spent $103 on groceries.  This included a $60 trip to market to get turkey legs and bananas, plus a $43 trip to the regular grocery store for oyster crackers, root beer, and other pirate-inspired foods.

And so, the 27-week average of our grocery spending is $138/week.  138 is not prime (well, clearly it's even), but it is the sum of four consecutive primes:  138 = 29 + 31 + 37 + 41. Cool.

The USDA keeps track of food costs for U.S. households.  (From what I can tell, they don't track actual spending; they put together a list of what would go into nutritious meals prepared at home, and then track the prices of those ingredients).  Their estimate for a  a "thrifty" family of four is $144/week on groceries, while a "liberal" family would spend twice that much.   On the one hand, there is some restaurant spending I haven't kept track of, particularly on the part of my non-miser husband.  On the other hand, we're a family of five, not four, and we  have older kids than in their model.  (J-son alone ought to count for two ordinary people).  Putting the two hands together, I'd think it's safe to say we're in the low-thrifty camp.

But this past week I've been getting little guilt pangs about my food spending.  There's a sense in which we're playing with our food, and I mean that beyond the Pirate/Prime games I have so much fun with.  I spend so little, but its not because I can't afford to spend more.  Going over our recent budget, I realized that there have been months this past summer when we spent more on telephones/cable service than we spent on food -- clearly, we're reveling in luxury. If we were truly hurting for money, the food would stay and the phones would go.  Ditto for many other things in our life:  the second car; the vacation; our theater tickets.

No, I spend so little because it's a game for me.  How can I snag nutritious local food for cheap?  My food game has a set of internal rules:  Local beats shipped-in.  Plain beats processed.  Vegetables beat meat.  Organic beats whatever-you-call-the-opposite.  Mooching food that would have gone into trash cans scores triple points.  Illegal interference if I directly meddle with the husband's grocery fun.   You could call this morals, if you want . . . but that misses a lot of the competitive streak in me.

Truth is, thrift is sort of a game for me.  A game I'm playing while the newspaper rolls in with headlines of millions of kids in this country going hungry.  Of families in Haiti eating mud.  I've followed the blog of Carrie Hetu, who proudly lives a low-income life with an optimism that I can only admire from afar.  And of The Frugal Girl, who wonders why we skimp on watermelons while splurging on designer coffee.

I've found myself wondering, what would happen if I just resolved to spend, say $200 every week on food -- some on my family, and the rest on our local food bank?   What if the money I save on our family food goes not to our own entertainment, but to feeding our neighbors?  The sermon I listened to last Sunday made me think of this even more.  Even if it's true that my own existence can't fix the whole world, it it is still a noble effort to wish my whole existence could be on fixing this world.

I'm not saying that I'll actually follow through on this.  I'm not a saint.  I'm just thinking about what it would be like to try to actually live like one, while instead, I live like me.

No comments:

Post a Comment