June 27, 2012

Food Choices & Purchases

As I learn more about the environment and related issues the more I realize how connected the many parts of our lives are.  One area I have been reading on and learning more about lately is food and agriculture.  In my efforts to live in a more Earth-friendly way I have been trying to reduce packaged and processed foods from our diet.  This began because I simply wanted to reduce the amount of packaging we were recycling or throwing away.  I've tried to replace these items with unpackaged produce and bulk bin purchases for which I can use my own bags and avoid packaging waste.

An added benefit of purchasing unprocessed, packaged foods and produce has been that I've learned a lot about cooking and how to use these items in various dishes, and about the effects that different foods have on our bodies.  There are many, many foods in the world and I'm just beginning to learn about them but even in a short amount of time I feel that my worldview of food and food production has been greatly changed.  In addition to the culinary uses and health effects of food, I've also learned a bit about the impact that different farming methods and products have on the environment, and directly or indirectly our health as well.

Some things that are of import to Americans I wanted to share, since it seems that we often think that eating more healthy or more organic is prohibitively expensive.  I certainly thought this way but have found that eating more healthy has been a minimal increase in cost, if any increase at all.
  1. We spend a far smaller amount of our income on food today than in the past
    1. In total, Americans today spend 15.3% of our income on food, compared to 40% that we spent in 1949.  In other words, if we paid about 3 times the price we currently pay for food we would be paying a comparable amount to what our grandparents paid for food.
  2. Compared to other countries we spend very little of our budget on food purchases
    1. For the average American household, food accounts for about 6% of all our purchases during the year.  (This differs from the 15.3% above because that figured is in total and the 6% is calculating food expenditures on an average household basis.) The US has the 12th highest GDP per capita in the world, $48,100 per year.  
    2. Compare this percentage of income to a much poorer country like South Africa, which has the 105th highest GDP per capita, $11,000 per year, but where food accounts for 20% of purchases.  Or India, where food accounts for 35% of expenses and the GDP per capita is $3,700 a year - 163rd globally.
    3. In fact, the US spends the smallest percentage of income on food of any country in the world, while being one of the most wealthy countries.  Although it makes sense that food is a somewhat fixed costs in terms of quantity (a person can only eat a limited amount of food) it is telling that our food costs are about half of an average European country which have similarly high income per capita.  For example, Norway has a higher GDP per capita, $53,300 (8th highest globally), but spends 11% of their budget on food.
  3. The percentage of our population that is obese continues to increase
    As of 2009-2010, over one third (35.7%) of American adults are obese.
Although these figures vary somewhat between different studies and sources the overall picture is clear. We spend very little of our income on food purchases, and our health continues to be severely damaged by preventable diseases related to obesity (heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer).

In the future I plan to write more about food and how we are trying to improve our eating habits. Food and health are complex issues with many variables to consider, but eating more unprocessed foods is a simple first step to better health that has been enjoyable for us so far.

 to Honeycrisp

Switching from Golden Crisp . . .


  1. I've found that breakfast is probably the quickest and easiest step to take in switching from packaged foods. Fruit is always a cheap and healthy option, or you could have something like oatmeal bought in large quantities. Reducing the amount of packaging that goes into individual servings.

    1. Rico,

      Completely agree. At least for us breakfast was an easy first step because it doesn't usually take as much prep or use as many ingredients. We eat oatmeal almost every day for breakfast - a big part of that is Eva loves it which can be a challenge with an infant / toddler. Oatmeal is also cheap - we pay $1.50 a pound for organic rolled oats. I actually have a draft post about breakfast / oatmeal that I'll be putting up soon too.