The Cost of Eating

It is midway through the month, and I have run out of eggs and potatoes. We have three hens, but at this time of year, they don’t lay every day, and sometimes I need more than three eggs in one day. We have food enough to get through, unless I want to bake a cake or cookies. Potatoes are a staple here in the River Valley. They are grown on all sides of us. So why are they so expensive?

I am out of white flour, which means I am using whole wheat flour from the big supply I bought last year. If I want finer flour, I sift the whole wheat and dump the millings left in the sifter into a bowl for the next batch of bread. I am waiting for flour to be marked down, but it is still $10 for 10 kilos – about 22 pounds – on sale. Apparently potatoes and flour will not drop below 22-25 cents a pound this year. If I had a bigger capacity hand-mill, or one with a finer blade, I would grind my own wheat. I may have to resort to it by next year, as I can buy unprocessed wheat fairly cheaply. At present,  it is a nuisance and a lot of handwork to turn it into flour. The good mill is $500 shipped, but when we can grow our own corn and oats for feed, it will be worth it.

I am looking through the supermarket sales fliers today. I will have to make a trip to Grand Falls sometime this week, swinging by my landlady’s house to return their flue brushes and pick up the cedar firewood she got for me in Plaster Rock; there will be packages at the post office to pick up. I will drop into one of the markets for the essentials we need, but the non-essentials – which many people depend on because they don’t know how to cook from scratch, or they think they don’t have time – are much too high in price. Most of our meals are vegetarian, or rely on broths made from the leftovers or bones, so we do not count on having meat every day. I buy potatoes, onions, carrots, apples and turnips 10-20 pounds at a time, and sometimes 50 pounds at once of potatoes, if they are deeply discounted. Apples were available as “deer” apples this year locally, mostly windfalls and cosmetically blemished fruit. We ate the good ones and the goats and chickens the rest. Some got made into applesauce. I will use at least 100 kilos of flour in a year, as I don’t buy bread or baked goods; I buy flour in quantity when I can. We have canned and frozen vegetables from the garden, as well.

I always make sure I have several pounds of beans and lentils in the house,  stored in glass jars. It is cheap protein, and if we have a shortage of gas money or a surplus of bad weather, we know we have food. I supplement them with barley and brown rice. I used to be able to get amaranth and quinoa cheaply, but not here.

Here are the latest prices on food locally: Bread is running $3-$4 a pound; beef is at least $4/lb for ground chuck. Bacon is never selling for less than$3/lb for the generic house brand. If soft drinks are on the menu, a 2 litre bottle will be at least $1.25. That seems to be a lot for water, sugar, flavouring and a label. As for snack foods, chips are $2.50 for a quarter pound bag, snack crackers are $2 for about the same weight. Sweetened breakfast cereals are about $4/lb.

The grim fact is that prepared foods are a terrible waste of money, low in nutrition and high in fat, sugar, additives and cost.

I think the best thing to do is to cook and bake at home; I know how hard it is to get started. It also means it is time to cut back on sugars and refined fats. I don’t think I need to say much about those non-food substances, additives and preservatives.

My husband had to learn to eat properly. For years he had lived with microwave meals, take-out fast food, salty and sugary snacks, pop or beer every evening in front of the tv, and refined carbohydrates in commercial white bread and cereals. Despite a calorie-intense athletic schedule, he was fifty pounds overweight. He had lost all his youthful stamina. When he started eating a low-fat, high fibre, protein-moderate diet with me, he dropped the excess fat his body was carrying and gained back his stamina. (His later stroke was the result of a blood clot from a deep bruise, not high blood pressure or cholesterol plaques. I try not to think very often of how bad it would have been if his health was poor.)

The grocery store or farmer’s market doesn’t have to be the enemy.  (Oh, yes, I know the temptations of a farmer’s market well – everything from fat-dripping barbecued sausages to butter-laden French pastry.) Think of it as a sly old grandmother who has set aside the best food for her favourite – you – and this granny isn’t the chocolate chip cookie kind, but the garden fresh salad kind. Poke into the obscure corners of that supermarket and you’ll find the locally grown seasonal produce, the high fibre grains, the lower fat cuts of meat, the beans and rice and whole grains that bring out your creative side.

Market at Easton, Maryland



8 thoughts on “The Cost of Eating

  1. Wow, I bet it took a bit for your husband to get use to eating properly.
    My sister is always trying to get me to take the carbs out of my diet but they are so handy. I love raw veggies but not cooked. Well some cooked but not many. I do crave sweets but do limit myself considerably. I do like homemade stuff and use to make my own hommemade everything even pasta and noodles, juices, etc but with living in a trailer there is not a proper place to store things. And for only 2 of us it seemed cheaper to buy than can.
    I do give you lots of credit for doing it all from scratch and I can relate to the chickens as they only have a certain months total for their cycle right. About 10 months tops and then they become food.
    Love hearing from you. I have gotten a google acct now so we can write.

    • I know about someone wanting you to give up carbs! It was a passing phase here, and all the other clergy were on a high protein diet, but I didn’t give up my whole grains and vegetables. Of course, it was silly, since I weighed about 115 pounds then. Our bodies are meant to eat complex carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes. We can build proteins out of amino acids, and most carnivores can’t. We lived in a travel trailer for about a year, and I baked and cooked from scratch then – there wasn’t much choice as we were very poor.

      I keep chickens for three years and more – they keep producing if they get proper food and light. We are sort of an old age retirement home for chickens – no one ever gets the axe. As long as they can run around the barnyard, they are welcome.

      • I was just going to tell you to give your chickens more light. Our chickens in the barn lay all year round. You just have to give them enough light so they think it’s still summer.

        You mention buying wheat kernels. Please make sure you are buying food grade. A lot of people around here think it’s fine to buy feed grade, they don’t realize the toxins that can be in feed grade. Serious toxins! I’m sure you know that already, but I wanted to mention it anyway.

        I’m surprised potatoes are expensive down there. They are so cheap up here, considering the work to grow them. I’m surprised you can find bacon for $3. Ours is $4.35 and that’s with very minimal profit. Though most of the grocery chains use it for a loss leader.

        I need to get back to making more. I got lazy over the summer for some reason.


      • Our chickens were molting which stops egg production too. They now have a light; I just needed to get to Canadian Tire to buy one. We can get food grade wheat here – I have to be so careful about mold, etc, that I can’t risk low-grade grains. Bacon is $3 only as a loss leader. It is closer to $5 otherwise, but if one wants to shop around it is possible to find it cheaper. I don’t buy commercial bacon because of the danger of additives. I can handle the local home-smoked kind which is much lower in nitrites. I think we pay more for potatoes (as ridiculous as that is) because most all of the potatoes grown here go to McCain’s and the Loblaw’s chain has to pay extra to get some table stock. Quite often the table stock is not grade A, either – but the shipments too imperfect for french fries.

  2. An inspiring post, MJ, as always. And I loved the cost-per-pound on cereal…same as ground chuck!

    I can echo Nicholas’ results: when I got a CSA share a couple of summers ago, it was for a family and it was just me who ate veggies. I was eating veggies breakfast, lunch and supper…and the weight fell off and all my “numbers” my physician looks at all became amazing. He even wanted to re-order the tests because he thought they belonged to someone much younger (not a 51-year old).

    • My doctor took my blood pressure and said rather sharply: “Are you on medication?” after I had told him I took no drugs. No, I’m not. I just have good BP for a grey-haired granny! Poor Nicholas was in a home situation where his nutritional needs were neglected, and since he cannot cook, he tried to get by on processed food. I got him on fish and lamb as proteins (I raised the lamb) and using at least whole grain boxed pasta to make shrimp and veggie sauce with frozen chinese vegetables, a little butter, and a splash of wine. When we married he found out what food is supposed to be.

  3. An interesting and challenging post as always,Magdalena 🙂

    Buying food in South Africa is a funny business. Unfortunately, processed flour, rice and the local “mealie meal” is considerably cheaper than the non-processed versions. This is because, stripped of all their goodness, the processed versions can be stored for much longer (because no self-respecting bug will go near them). This, apparently, has implications for the futures market and therefore implications for the consumer.

    Certain types of meat are reasonably inexpensive – fish is a terrible price because it has to be frozen and transported from the coast and Johannesburg and Pretoria are, I think, farther away from the coast than almost all other major cities.

    If anybody reading this is interested, I once costed out the price of home-baked bread (including electricity) versus the commercial variety. Home-baked bread is slightly more expensive than the government-subsidised bread, but much cheaper than the admittedly very nice health bread you can buy in supermarkets. This may also be the case in America.


    • I can bake a loaf of bread here for one-quarter (or less) than the price of buying it. Our bread is not subsidized.Not much is in Canada, unlike other countries. We pay much closer to the real cost plus profit for the vendor than Americans do. So grain and dairy products are higher here. That, of course, means that the price of meat and processed foods is higher. What governments need to keep in mind is that when the cost of the basics of life – food, housing, transportation, heating – is higher than what people earn, then the people will rise up against the leaders. I believe that prices are artificially high because of the amount of lending and trading in financial interests that it requires now to get commodities to the consumer.

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