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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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September 24, 2013

Cavemen Ate $12 Burgers: A Historical Perspective on Food Prices

By Guest
110 Comments

Eggs Prices Over TimeWhile I maintain that eating according to the Primal Blueprint doesn’t have to be expensive, it is generally true that with food – as with most other things in life – you get what you pay for. We’re one week into the 21-Day Challenge, and I imagine the cost of healthy food may be on some of your minds. So when our friend David Maren of Tendergrass Farms offered this guest article, I took him up on it.

As a percentage of your income, how does your grocery bill compare to the grocery bills of people in different countries and eras? Are ever-lowering food costs always a good thing, or do they tend to come with trade-offs? Enter David…

One of the greatest challenges facing small grass-based family farmers today is the American expectation of low priced food. As a culture, we’re now accustomed to spending only about 6.8 percent of our income on daily nourishment1 the lowest figure in human history. At the same time, health problems and obesity rise every year. These two realities create a striking correlation between wellness and food investment. Studying U.S. trend lines over the past century shows a direct link between cheap food and poor health.

While historical meal price comparisons can be tricky due to changing exchange rates, inflation, or even currency availability, finding a consistent unit of value can help our understanding. For the sake of discussion, let’s use the value of work as that unit. We’ll measure the value of food in hours worked and real prices – prices adjusted for inflation. While this comparison may not be perfect, it can help us understand historical food prices in today’s context.

For example, if workers today earn about $15.59 per hour (Census Bureau’s average per capita annual income statistic of $27,915 divided by the OECD’s average annual hours worked per US worker of 1,790) and spend an average of $1.75 on each meal (based on the fact that Americans now spend only 6.8% of their income on food according to a report by Washington State University), we could say they spend about 7 minutes working for each meal.

About That $12 Burger

Before we get down to the real analysis of food prices over the last century I thought it would be fun to take a playful look at hunter-gatherer Grok to see how much he “spent” on food. Bear with me if this seems a little bit silly. It’s just my creative attempt at a way to show how hard Grok had to work for his food.

The numbers would vary but it’s safe to assume that Grok hunted and gathered at least 3 hours per day for a bare minimum of 5 days a week.2 That’s an extremely conservative estimate of 15 hours of work for his 21 weekly meals. This translates to almost 45 minutes spent working for each meal instead of the 7 minutes mentioned above. If we convert those 45 minutes that Grok spent “on the job” hunting and gathering food for each meal into modern day wages of $15.59/hour we could say that Grok spent about $11.69 on his primal burger and fries instead of the $1.75 that we spend today for ours off of the Dollar Menu.

Yes, I know Grok didn’t eat three meals a day and he may not have eaten hamburgers with ketchup. Just hang with me, mister anthropologist. Those numbers are imperfect, but the stark contrast between today’s food spending and that of Grok is undeniable.

“Okay”, you say, “So Grok spent a lot on food. I spend less because I’m not a hunter-gatherer. Agriculture makes stuff cheaper.” Sure. But let’s not stop with Grok. Simply consider the fundamental principle that when it comes to food, you almost always get what you pay for. This is true even in agricultural societies. Let’s take a look at more recent times for comparison’s sake.

The 20th Century and Industrial Food

Consider the early 20th century American. In 1913, feedlots didn’t exist, so cows ate grass and the fat composition of beef was more balanced and rich in Omega-3’s and CLA. Crisco and margarine hadn’t inundated the market yet, so everyone had lard in their larders. If you ate chicken at all, your mother cooked up her laying hen that was pecking around near her doorstep eating clover, crickets, and table scraps. Sausage ingredient lists were so short that the butcher could tell you his recipe by memory without mispronouncing a single word. Modern GPS-driven 18-row corn harvesters and government subsidies didn’t exist yet, so grain was expensive and you generally didn’t feed it to animals. Farmers grew vegetables regionally and seasonally without the use of off-farm chemicals like Roundup and anhydrous ammonia. Hired hands picked tomatoes when they were ripe because the gassing technology used to make them red today was not available. Pre-packaged, brand-name foods were unknown in the supermarket. In fact, in 1913, supermarkets didn’t exist.

But here’s the shocker: that stuff wasn’t as cheap as you think. A dozen eggs in 1913 cost about $8.73 in 2013 dollars versus about the $1.93 that they cost in Wal-Mart today.3 Changes in price vary dramatically, but on average food prices have come down a lot.

What Work Buys

That’s a decrease of 82% in hours worked for groceries.

Why Is Our Food So Cheap?

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that average food prices have dropped as much as 82% over the last century. What could possibly have caused such a dramatic change in real food prices? In short, food prices have fallen because the composition of our foods has been compromised by the industrialization of our food system.

Ham, which averaged (in 2013 dollars) about $5.90/LB a hundred years ago averages only $2.69/LB today.3 Doesn’t the fact that we now pay less than half the price that our great grandparents paid for “ham” seem to suggest that we’re possibly not eating what they ate? Taking a closer look at this example, it’s not hard to see that the very definition of “ham” has indeed changed significantly since the early 1900’s. Genetically modified Roundup Ready corn and soy laced with ractopamine is now fed to the pigs from which the ham is made. Huge 2,400-head confinement buildings house the pigs before they are taken to centralized slaughterhouses that kill them by the thousands. Ham recipes now include water, Sodium Phosphates, Carrageenan, Sodium Erythorbate, and Sodium Nitrite. I’d be willing to bet that your great grandmother would notice a significant difference between our 2013 “ham” and the hams that she ate that were cured by a trusted neighbor with salt and brown sugar. Simply put, the changes in the American food system that have enabled food prices to fall as much as 82% over the last century have, as an unintended consequence, altered the composition, lowered the quality, and decreased the healthfulness of our food. Let’s take a little walk through the last 100 years and see how this gradual change occurred.

Lard Consumption

The effect of cheap margarine and Crisco on lard consumption in the US. Lard is now known to be one of the healthiest fats available to man, surpassing even olive oil in terms of healthy fat composition.

Beginning in the 1930s and 40s, increasing mechanization of food production and the advancement of food science technology started to change the American foodscape. At the turn of the 20th century a process was developed for the hydrogenation of liquid oils and by the 40s margarine had taken the place of butter and lard in many American homes. Chemical fertilizers became popular which, in conjunction with the advent of the self-propelled combine harvester, increased crop yields and lowered the prices of grains which eventually lead way to the feedlot model of beef production that we have today.

The signing of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 enabled the construction of the Interstate Highway System which made national food distribution possible. This created a need for further advancements in food technology as Americans were, for the first time, buying huge amounts of foods from thousands of miles away. Preservatives were needed to keep foods tasting like they came from just down the street. National markets justified staggering investments in food processing equipment now that food companies could operate at a much larger scale. As the supply chain got longer, customers lost the direct ability to hold their farmers, butchers, and bakers accountable. Transparency of production was now a thing of the past.

Fierce competition between national food corporations arose which lead to price wars fought with cost cutting measures that often lead to lower quality ingredients. These cheaper ingredients didn’t taste like the real McCoy so food scientists concocted additives, dyes, and artificial flavorings to make up for the difference in taste and appearance. Companies found that product shelf life and margins could be increased by adding chemicals like BHT to packaging. Industrial food processing required processing aids like silicon dioxide to be added to spices to help them flow through the production line. The USDA did its part by allowing these additives to be treated as non-ingredients and therefore not requiring them to be listed on labels. Meat products were infused with water to reduce their price per pound and stabilizers were added to make up for the loss in texture.

Eventually international sourcing of foods became the norm because produce from Mexico, fish from China, and even grass fed beef from Tasmania was cheaper. With this development, even less accountability was possible and fears about food safety became the norm. Americans voted with their forks for cheaper food at any cost and prices continued to decline while rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and hypertension exploded.

You Get What You Pay For

This is where we find ourselves today.  The effects of our modern food system touch nearly every part of this country from ecology to economics. But in short, we got exactly what we paid for: cheap food that wasn’t good for us. Food that wasn’t good for our rivers, our fields, our farmers, or our bodies. But this new “food” was indeed cheap. Very, very, cheap.

But there are alternatives. As I mentioned, Americans spend about 6.8% of their income on food. That is an anomaly from both a historical and a geographic perspective. In Portugal, most people spend twice that much on food. In France that figure is nearly at 13.5%. In both Japan and Italy, it’s more than 14.4%. And these countries are, in many other ways, quite comparable to the US.1 They just make eating good food a higher priority than we do and this choice is reflected directly in lower rates of obesity.4

You may say that you can’t afford those pastured eggs for $7.50/dozen at the farmers market. I’d be willing to bet that with your current lifestyle choices, that may be true. For some people, scraping together enough money to eat three solid meals of meats, eggs, and veggies of any kind at all is very difficult and after all it is much better to eat low quality meats, eggs, and veggies than Chef Boyardee. But for most of you reading this, there are choices you can make in other areas of your life that will make those delicious pasture raised orange-yolked eggs affordable. Do you really need two iPads? Would you be better off going on another vacation this year or staying home and spending that extra 5% of your salary on food that makes you feel good? We talk about the ancestral lifestyle rather than just the ancestral diet. Lifestyles are comprised of a series of choices that go far beyond not eating Frosted Flakes for breakfast. I can assure you that grass fed beef raised by American farmers who are struggling to survive in the modern marketplace will hands-down cost more than any other option you have. And it’s worth every last 2013 penny.

It’s up to you. You get what you pay for. As one Tendergrass farmer, Joel Salatin, puts it, “Have you priced cancer lately?” Joel may be blunt, but he makes a very good point. In the long run, cheap food might not actually be quite as cheap as we think.

David Maren is one of the founding farmers who created Tendergrass Farms, an online grass fed meat shop that makes it easy for you to support family farmers – one order at a time. He lives with his wife, Ann, and daughters Ruby Joy and Anna Claire in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Please consider supporting Tendergrass Farms in their endeavor to sustain family farms by placing an order today at their online grass fed meats shop for grass fed beef, pastured pork, pastured chicken, or pastured turkey.

1According to data from this Washington State University report

2Some would give higher estimates. That estimate came from Robb Wolf.

3The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps records of US food prices over time in their Consumer Price Index. To calculate real prices I used their inflation calculator.

4The CIA has world obesity stats here.

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110 Comments on "Cavemen Ate $12 Burgers: A Historical Perspective on Food Prices"

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[…] While I maintain that eating according to the Primal Blueprint doesn’t have to …read more […]

Stevemid
Stevemid
3 years 5 days ago

Mind you, Grok’s mobile-phone / electricity / insurance / gas / Internet / laptop repair bill etc. was a lot lower.

Whilst it’s true, some of these additional modern expenses aren’t strictly necessary (eg: Netflix subscription), others on the above list are necessary to allow us to work, to make that $15.59 per hour to pay for that cheap meal, so if that’s all factored-in, I wonder how similar we actually are.

I bet he never did overtime though 🙂

Aria
Aria
3 years 5 days ago

HAH! Funny you should mention that, I’m working overtime as I’m typing this. 😀 I’m working 16.5 hrs of overtime this week in total. It’s a good thing I like my job. 🙂

Alain
Alain
3 years 4 days ago

It must be so hard to work that OT and read Mark’s daily.

Tekshow
Tekshow
3 years 5 days ago
The thing is if you look at the time period from 1980 to present it’s been on a pretty steady rate since then shifting slightly up and down. I’m not discrediting the fact it’s cheaper than people think to go primal, but it isn’t fair to compare the household income to 1919, nearly 100 years ago. When in fact, the last 30 years have been trending the same way since the post industrial food complex of the 1950s. We’ve been able to feed people more cheaply, but at what cost? I’d take higher rates if I could bypass GMOs, chemicals,… Read more »
Karen
Karen
3 years 5 days ago
What a great article and good points. I live in Alaska and even then food is not too expensive when I crunched the numbers. My biggest problem with spending too much money on food comes from NOT MENU PLANNING. Each week I have this intention and each week I fly by the seat of my pants. This means that some things might get wasted or that I have no idea what to make so I end up eating take out from the best options I can find. I have found that menu planning and menu plan following cut my grocery… Read more »
SB
SB
3 years 5 days ago

I try to keep track of what I have in my fridge when I make my grocery list (at top of the list: have pack of ground beef, cabbage, etc.) so that I don’t overbuy.

Pure Hapa
Pure Hapa
3 years 5 days ago

Yes, if I don’t plan I end up with wasted food and un-balanced meals. I started keeping a food diary to make sure I am getting the nutrition I want, and to help with the planning. I shop at multiple places to get what I want at the best price.

Stacie
3 years 5 days ago

I find it easiest to have a week’s supply of protein and grab produce on my way home. I waste less this way (and I live in AK too! I find that produce does NOT last up here for more than a day or two). This post, however, has me feeling like I should make the farmer’s market more of a priority.

Captain Competition
3 years 4 days ago

Menu planning is a major issue in my household. I am sad to say that we throw out produce that we had every intention of incorporating into healthier meals each week. While I have seen menu planning as a great tool for using what we have I guess I never looked at it as a way to cut the grocery bill. It is logical now that you mention it.

Rhonda the Red
Rhonda the Red
3 years 4 days ago
I have to confess my sins here. I am the world’s worst about buying great ingredients with no clear plan of how to prepare them and then letting them go bad. Or I have a wonderful plan all magnetized to the fridge to make “Primal Pizza” complete with the page number of the recipe book to use, but when push comes to shove in the evenings I’m just not in the mood to cook. Clearly, I need to get to the root of this problem and do some serious damage control so that we eat better for less. I’ve tried… Read more »
Charlayna
2 years 11 months ago
So many Alaskans in one post! 🙂 Go us! (Although I guess I’m not one anymore… 🙁 Dang graduate school in Texas.) Anyhow, I find meal planning ridiculously hard when I purchase 90% of my groceries from the farmer’s market. I NEVER know what’s going to be there when I arrive due to the various farmers, seasons, weather, etc. I’m usually coming up with meals on the fly while purchasing. And I HATE food waste, so unless it’s moldy and rotten, I’m still going to cook and eat it, even if that means a huge feast for my friends to… Read more »
Charlayna
2 years 11 months ago

OH– And my freezer is my best friend for things on the cusp!

Dave
Dave
2 years 11 months ago

leftover items toward the end of the week is how many soups and stews and one-pot meals got born.
as for where to get the recipes, google and youtube are your friends.

Shary
Shary
3 years 5 days ago

My grandparents cured the hams they ate. I was pretty young then, but I can still remember that they were delicious. Incidentally, you can still buy additive-free ham cured the old-fashioned way, but you have to search for them, and you can expect to pay a hefty price. We sometimes do this around the holidays and, believe me, you can really taste the difference.

Malita
Malita
3 years 5 days ago

I think, unlike previous decades/centuries, we expect to eat more often, I eat when I’m hungry, period, some eat when hungry or bored or lonely…etc. I know my mother, grandmother etc ate when they were hungry AND when food was available. I expect food to be available when I’m hungry, therefore food has to be affordable in order for it to be available at my whim

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 5 days ago

The modern SAD does not satiate well. Hence eating more cheap food. What we consider real food today, as in real food relative to his community, was “normal” food pre WWII.

In reference to the article: Sadly comparing purchasing power over the past century requires more math than most people want to do but it is necessary. A quick and dirty method is to relate consumer products manufactured then and now via the Producer Price Index (PPI). PPI has inflation “baked into the cake” and dollars, i.e. purchasing power, can be readily compared.

mm
3 years 5 days ago

Well said, sir.
I’ll be seeing you in theaters!

OT:
http://reason.com/archives/2013/09/24/replacing-street-lights-with-glowing-tre/1

Charlotte
3 years 5 days ago

Huh, this is very interesting. However, personally, i’ve been told i need a class in spending less on food- way too much of current salary goes to buying the good stuff. i think im addicted to it:)

Erin
Erin
3 years 5 days ago

ditto. and I’m starting a new job on monday, which I took a pay cut for so now I seriously need to stop spending so much on food!!

Ham-Bone
Ham-Bone
3 years 5 days ago

I’ll add that what we spend our time on is equally as important as our money. Americans need to spend more money and time on what goes into their bodies and minds. Cheap, quick, or good. Pick 2? I’ll pick good twice thank you.

Aria
Aria
3 years 5 days ago

Nice post! I admit, I am not willing to shell out for all organic produce. I simply cannot afford 2 dollars a bell pepper, 3 dollars a tomato, considering how many of the suckers my family consumes. I do prioritize clean meat, though. I get it from a local, grass-fed farmer and I buy some pretty expensive fish. So I’d say I might be paying what Grok did for my meals…

KD
KD
3 years 4 days ago

Where do you find orgainc for 2 a pepper, 3 a tomato? That’s the price of regular at my stores! (and why the backyard is now a garden lol)

Graham
Graham
3 years 5 days ago

A huge portion of my earnings goes towards food, and I have zero problem with it. I don’t go out to eat, don’t own a 60″ TV, etc. I prepare everything I eat, and it’s the highlight of my day. Besides that’s all $$ going to something very tangible—ME.

Q
Q
3 years 5 days ago

Having a husband that purchases meat in his job, he has a hard time purchasing meat at more than $6 a pound for home. With grass fed upwards of $12 a pound, he gets a little tyrannical if I suggest that we change – I’ve tried in the past. So when I shop I just choose the best cuts that I can and buy the organic veggies when I can since there are no labels with prices. 😉

EdP3
EdP3
3 years 5 days ago

I agree that eating organic costs more money. However, when the nutrient value of commercially farmed fruits and vegetables can be upwards of 80% less than organic is there really any savings? How much are we spending on that must have cell phone data plan, the multi channel cable plan or the leather seats in the new car. Point is you’re not saving anything by not buying organic because you are not getting what you think you’re getting. What you are getting is typically toxic, putrifying, energetically dead non-food. Yum!

ingvildr
ingvildr
3 years 5 days ago

I would say as a family of five living on a $15/hr job we spend about 25% of our income on food and it isn’t grass fed and organic. That stuff is so expensive it might as well be gold plated. Pre-recession our income was much greater. And no we aren’t lazy. All of our working age people in the family have been job hunting, some of us for over a year and not finding work.

Aria
Aria
3 years 5 days ago

And that’s exactly why the government subsidizes food. High food prices are guaranteed civil unrest. Of course, if you’re primal, even non-organic vegetables are not much subsidized… no, they just encourage us to eat grains and corn.

mm
3 years 5 days ago

I don’t know if that’s why they waste their money on subsidies, but if it is then it’s not working. Supply and demand even with a distorted 1st world economy will make it so the distributors gain from farm subsidies by paying subsidized farmers less. But don’t worry… African farmers have no subsidies and can’t compete against 1st world subsidies and 1st world protectionist tariffs, so you can sleep easy knowing your grocery store isn’t “offshoring” any of their cereals to those greedy 3rd world Big Agra fat cats

psl
psl
3 years 4 days ago
I guess the way it works is this: 1. Government subsidies encourage Agri-business to produce as much wheat, corn, soy, etc. as possible (and makes GM grains seem like a good idea). 2. Food manufacturers buy this cheap stuff and use ads to encourage us to buy/eat as much of their wheat-HFCS-veggie-oil products that they can. 3. Farmers feed this cheap stuff to their animals which in turn are sold to fast food joints. 4. We eat the processed and fast food and get sick. 5. Our health care costs get out of control so we have to buy cheap… Read more »
Cathy M
Cathy M
3 years 5 days ago

Whenever I get a little frustrated about the amount of money we spend at the grub store each week, I remind myself about how much money we DON’t spend on doctors’ visits or meds. I’d say it’s money eminently well spent.

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 5 days ago

Agreed.

Food for thought: Investments are judged by the rate of return. What is the compounding rate or return on good health? What is the mariginal utility for good health?

mm
3 years 5 days ago

I don’t know but I have a feeling it appreciates in value exponentially as the product ages…

Nocona
Nocona
3 years 5 days ago

Yes, we are like a fine, aged raw milk cheddar. Or a nice 50 year old Bordeaux.

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Susan
Susan
3 years 5 days ago

Since moving to a Paleo diet, my food bill has actually decreased even with buying organic and grass fed as much as it’s available. Only buy meat, fish, eggs, veg, and occasionally berries. No more wasting money on processed, packaged food, including condiments other than mustard. My splurge is occasionally some wine and vodka.

Artemis67
Artemis67
3 years 5 days ago
I’ve had a very similar experience, Susan (except my indulgences are really good cheeses and organic dark chocolate). It took me a while to get over the “sticker shock” of pastured, organically-and humanely-raised animal foods. But ever since I started eating primal, I’ve been eating much smaller quantities of food. IF helps, but even before I started doing that I’d long since quit snacking, quit buying myself “treats” (candy, coffee drinks, pastries), and was no longer grabbing fast food or deli food at the supermarket because I didn’t feel like cooking. I spent an awful lot of money on that… Read more »
Will Cook
Will Cook
3 years 5 days ago
I work at a specialty grocery store. People spend the bulk of their food income on frozen food, baked confections, and sometimes wine and beer. Those are big money makers for the store, and high pleasure, low nutrition items for the customer. Since they are low quality and low price, the customer buys more, and eats more. You could not afford to fill a shopping cart full of local organic food, nor could you eat it all before it spoiled, because you would get full faster and be satisfied for longer! You will make up for the higher price of… Read more »
Pure Hapa
Pure Hapa
3 years 5 days ago
Great guest article – thank you. We do live in a throw-away culture now. In the past you bought a suit that you expected would last a lifetime. Ditto a watch, your home, furniture, shoes, etc. Now everything is disposable and quickly obsolete or out of fashion. If we went back to the mindset of buying quality items that we keep for a longer time – a cashmere sweater, a pair of beautiful leather boots in a classic style, better quality furniture that will last – and stop the insane consumption and compulsive acquisition behavior rampant in our times, then… Read more »
Issabeau
Issabeau
2 years 11 months ago

Agreed.

But with the majority of 20-30 year olds on this web site you’re talking to a wall. Common sense doesn’t kick in until later in life…and for most – never.

Teri
Teri
3 years 5 days ago

When I was thinking of the cost, I thought, hey I spent $8 at Chick Fil A without batting an eye, why should I wince at $8 per lb on grass fed beef.

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 5 days ago

Agree. Although one difference is the Chick Fil A sandwich is a finished good ready for immediate consumption. The grass fed beef requires more inputs: time, work, and energy before the finished good can be consumed. Value is subjective.

BarefootBrad
BarefootBrad
3 years 5 days ago

Paleo Ron – only an avatar linking to Mises would bring up inflation, marginal utility, and subjective value in relation to price (food price here obviously) Love it. Grok On!!!

Alex Jefferson
Alex Jefferson
3 years 5 days ago

It’s hard to spend more than $1.75 on a single meal when that’s all you can afford to do so. However, I don’t think this was specifically targeted for poor college students. Great article nonetheless.

Stacie
3 years 5 days ago
There are still some great options for college students, and with being primal you’ll have the added benefit of sleeping better, being less stressed, and feeling a little (for me, it was a LOT) sharper throughout the day. My personal favorites are sardines in olive oil, tuna, nuts and seeds, eggs, eggs, and more eggs, and whatever produce is on sale at the store (don’t buy a lot and shop often to save money and not waste anything). Even not buying grassfed, you’ll be better off with protein from the store than from anything you get in a drive thru.… Read more »
Alex Jefferson
Alex Jefferson
3 years 5 days ago

I’m already primal, so you don’t have to pitch it to me. I follow an 80/20 guideline. I don’t really touch grains anymore, unless I feel a desire on the weekend or a special occasion.

And no, I’m a broke college kid. I’ve had $40 a week for food for the past month so far. I still make it work with my staples of chicken, broccoli, eggs, milk, and sweet potato. I wish I had money for grass fed anything for a daily basis, I really do. Maybe when I can get a decent job.

hiddenrelic
hiddenrelic
2 years 11 months ago

You could see if there are any local farms. Sometimes farmers are willing to exchange manual labor for foods from the farm, it never hurts to ask! Even if it is just one day a month, that’s some tasty quality food that didn’t fit in the budget before.

Sofie
Sofie
3 years 4 days ago

Look for odd meats like oxtails, liver, hearts etc. That’s cheap & good eating 🙂

Tobie Johnson
Tobie Johnson
3 years 5 days ago

This is excellent! Bravo! I take so many supplements and this gives me the fuel I needed to say I would rather spend my money on good food versus pills to digest the garbage that is cheap! Much less support the local farmers I know so that hopefully someday we may revert back to at least some of the basics.

Bono
3 years 5 days ago

Oh come on, when 90% of the people still eat SAD, is it really helpful to focus on fringe details like how was the meat raised? Sure, if you’re a fan of “organic” or other mass-media cattle manure please do eat it (I mean the organic stuff…), but for most people avoinding the wrong food TYPES will be quite sufficient to get the benefit of the keto/paleo/high-fat diet.

mm
3 years 5 days ago
That’s true. The differences between ketogenic* organic vs non-organic are slim, and mostly have to do with taste and environmental/animal treatment ethics. All you need to do is buy some, or buy more, O3/multivit. supplements. Or eat more fish, liver and eggs. Either way, the argument that CAFO meats have residual chemicals is a myth; I learned that by reading the website of an organic rancher that was apparently tired of hearing it – turns out thorough studies were done when American CAFO beef got exported to Europe. *ketogenic paleo… because that’s what I do and if you can get… Read more »
Abby
Abby
3 years 5 days ago
If you’re referring to just the immediate benefits to your individual health, you may have a point (although I have noticed substantial differences in my own body with the shift to higher quality meat/produce), although if you’re really eating the grok way and getting your fill of organ meats you’d be better off going grass-fed there and I personally think the quality of the fat you’re consuming also matters. If, however, you’re thinking about environmental health as a key contributor to your personal health, which it is, you might want to rethink your stance. I view a large part of… Read more »
Kelly
Kelly
3 years 5 days ago
Took my mother to a local farmers market recently. She was excited to see all the “beautiful” things available. I encouraged her to get some. She considered the peaches…until she saw the price and was shocked. I told her “well, they’re cheaper than doctors or cancer” (she had breast cancer). She thought about it for a minute and then she said “actually, no, my Medicare paid all of my cancer costs, so the cancer is cheaper.” WTF! I was so stunned I actually had no response. She would endure the surgery, chemo and radiation to not spend extra money for… Read more »
mm
3 years 5 days ago

Ironically, those peaches won’t protect her from cancer, it will feed it instead so that was a bad argument to begin with. Cancers are addicted to alcohol, growth hormones and carbs; the most easily digestible & insulin-producing, the better.

If you seriously want to help your mother tell her to go ketogenic and buy yourself Gary Taubes’ GCBC (read the cancer chapter) & Nick Lane’s Sex, Power, Suicide.

Humans are the only multi-cellular organisms that can get killed by cancer. That means even a toe fungus is better at being a multi-cellular organism that we are. THIS IS NOT NATURAL!

Feather
Feather
3 years 5 days ago
Wut? Cancer is perfectly capable of killing other multicellular organism too, you know. Rats, cats and dogs just to name a few. There is probably a horse owner here that lost a four-legged friend to the big C and some cattle-farmers that can chip in. And in case someone starts to think it only happens to domesticated animals, that live an unnatural lifestyle: the wild Tasmanian devil population is at risk of dying out due to a transferrable cancer (1/3 gone in just 2 decades) and plants can get cancerous growths after being infected with bacteria like Agrobacterium tumerifaciens (yes,… Read more »
Nocona
Nocona
3 years 5 days ago

Sorry to say, this is the norm. Just like people still wanting to take Abilify with side effects that include…fill in your own blank…

Wenchypoo
Wenchypoo
3 years 5 days ago

Why is our food REALLY cheaper now? Production shortcuts + subsidies. The producers are actually getting paid by the government (via the Farm Bill) to take whatever shortcuts allowed by law to get food to market faster and cheaper, but not better.

Like medicine, farming/ranching is now a numbers game–go big or go home. The more land to produce with, and the more heads of cattle/heads of cabbage, the more subsidies flow their way. So how is medicine subsidized? Research grants from NIH.

Wenchypoo
Wenchypoo
3 years 5 days ago

I read in some article somewhere that the Victorians spent upward of 30% of income on food (even though income was vastly lower than it is today). Today, we’re lucky to spend HALF of that! Yes, incomes are larger than Victorian times, but the quality of the food we’re buying has also dropped by half or more.

Nocona
Nocona
3 years 5 days ago

I’d rather go broke buying the healthiest foods, than go broke by the U.S. healthcare system.

hiddenrelic
hiddenrelic
2 years 11 months ago

Funny thing is, even before paleo i was spending between 30% to 50% of my income on food. Something about having to go soy free causes prices of any packaged goods to go up. Now that I’m on paleo, it’s still between 30 to 50%, but it’s more whole foods than packaged anymore.

Taylor Rearick
3 years 5 days ago

Personally, food shopping, cooking, and eating are all enjoyable for me; therefore, it makes sense to spend extra money on these activities. My woman and I go to the store every day and buy only what we will need to cook the food for that particular day. Its quite nice going to the store and thinking of what we’re going to cook up together, daily.

We decided to live without Iphones and TVs and just spend the bulk of our income on good food and student loan payments.

Rad article, super fun to read!

-Taylor

Kurt B.
3 years 5 days ago

Someday, when I am retired I guess, I plan on shopping almost every day for fresh ingredients and making a hobby out of cooking great food. I envy you!

Kurt B.
3 years 5 days ago

I very much view food as preventitive maintenance costs paid up front. I’d rather pay a little bit more to eat healthfully now than pay a lot more to deal with heart, digestive, etc., issues later in life.

I focus mostly on clean proteins and fats, and I wash my fruits and veggies. As others said, I can’t justify paying $2 for an avocado with an “organic” sticker on it, but there are good clean/dirty lists out there that talk about what to buy organic and what not.

Mark B
Mark B
3 years 5 days ago

The thing people don’t seem to think about when talking about not being able to afford good food is that if you eat the good food in a paleo lifestyle you tend to eat less overall so you probably will not spend more overall. ie. That bag of chips and pop between lunch and supper and that beer and pretezels in the evening are adding a lot of expense.

Meredith
Meredith
3 years 5 days ago
Sorry, but I have to comment on this post. While all this is well and good, and some of us can AFFORD to eat well, lots of people just cannot. They don’t make enough money to cover all their bills and expenses and then the food quality suffers. Eating well costs money period. In defense of modern food, without it we cannot feed this world’s population. Sorry, but we cannot feed the world on local, organic food. There is not enough LAND left to support these farmers even if more people wanted to take up farming as a profession. Also,… Read more »
mm
3 years 5 days ago
So we meet again, Nietzchean slave morality concern troll. Paleo is a choice, no one is forcing you to do it if you feel you can’t. Also, if all farmers gradually stopped farming cheap low-nutrition, low-protein plant foods and raised dairy herds, grazers and chickens to feed the poor, there would be less people around but even the poorest poor would be healthy, as “peasant” food would mean cheap cheeses, eggs, easily harvested fish & low-quality sausage meats as opposed to potatoes, corn, rice & wheat. People would not just drop dead instantly; they’d simply not get born as poor… Read more »
Derek H.
Derek H.
3 years 5 days ago

Getting over $200 wasn’t difficult. The site was very user friendly and nothing I wanted was out of stock. Excited to receive my order! Thanks for putting this together on your site for us Mark!

Pastor Dave
3 years 5 days ago

Wow Mark– pretty involved post today! Thank God I live in Tennessee where we can remain primal by eating all the roadkill — which is pretty inexpensive as long as it’s fresh and not killed by my own vehicle. Of course, you have to watch out for all the cars when dining!

Madeleine
3 years 5 days ago

It’s a question of value over price. You can compete in products by value (perceived benefits by the consumer) or low cost. For us, we value good food.
This is the real issue, most people don’t recognise the true value (or benefits) of real food. They’ll spend more to get a designer handbag or the latest phone but baulk at an extra dollar for an apple.

Sharon T
Sharon T
3 years 5 days ago
While this may be true of some people, not everyone can afford the high prices of grass fed meats and organic veggies. I don’t really get every ones attitude, sometimes it can be a turn off for people to even want to try paleo/primal. People should start off with what they can afford to buy and not be pressured to buy the absolute best when it’s not in their budget. A lot of familys can’t cut anymore from their budget to allow for the higher prices of grassfed/organic. Shouldn’t we encourage them to try switching to just eating fruits/veg/meats/fish/chicken and… Read more »
Pastor Dave
3 years 5 days ago
Well Hell Sister– you have a point about eating primal if not organic. I once passed up a Whole Foods chicken that was a whopping 14 bucks and would barely feed me and my wife, for about 14 dollars worth of chicken that had no added hormones or solution– and we ate about 6 meals! However, if you truly cut out the crap– pretzels, soda, empty calories, grains (bread ain’t cheap) you probably could afford to eat more organic and much more naturally. Wait– the oven timer went off- I hear my roadkill rabbit is ready. Told the wife not… Read more »
Sharon T
Sharon T
3 years 5 days ago

Is there really much left of the poor rabbit after being smooshed by that tractor trailer? Rabbit stew is one of my favorite meals.

Dena
Dena
3 years 5 days ago
I live in Alaska, and only wish I could pay 6.8% of my income on groceries. I spend about twice that amount. I could eat cheap if I ate SAD crud, but to eat primal it’s expensive. And most of the meat I consumer is still CAFO. As a point of reference, standard ground beef is a little more than $6 pound. The prices go up on CAFO beef from there, based on cut. The pricing for grass fed free range is about 40% to 100% more. What helps is we do supplement with wild Alaska salmon. And I’ve been… Read more »
Primal_Alex
3 years 5 days ago

And that’s the reason why I have an agreement with some local farmers.

They save all the internal organs (some of them would be thrown away like chicken stomachs, feet, beef spleen, tail, cheeks, mouton brain, liver, pork’s tongue, etc). I pay almost nothing and have nutritious grass fed beef/sheep and free-range chicken organs.

Sometimes I still have my filet and ossobuco, but I am so used to offal now that I start wondering which of the two is the real treat 😉

Darcie
Darcie
3 years 5 days ago

Any “awful” recipes to share? ????

Primal_Alex
Primal_Alex
3 years 5 days ago

Sure, coming soon.
I am preparing the texts and the pictures already.

2Rae
2Rae
3 years 5 days ago
Interesting article. It’s funny that my lunch, in comparison to my co-worker’s lunch, is smaller and fills me up. Her lunch is huge, filled with grains and she seems as though she’s hungry all the time. Plus, she runs marathons but still has what she calls too much body fat, a little roll around the middle. No thanks, I’ll take my grain free lunch any day and NO hunger until the next meal time. It seems that I eat less now, as a primal eater, than I did when I ate small amounts of grains before. Maybe my food bill… Read more »
Ed B
3 years 5 days ago

I sometimes struggle with this…paychecks fluctuate for me because I am in sales…so, sometimes finances can get tight and I buy the $2.69lb ground beef from Trader Joes and the $1.99 eggs and cheap bacon….I can tell you, when I buy my 100% GF beef from our local creamery, Traders Point, and buy the pastured bacon and good eggs…dude, my family can tell a huge difference…so, to spend an extra few bucks and know that its benifiting me and my family healthwise, eating high quality food and helping local farmers and economy, its way better for us all

Bev
Bev
3 years 4 days ago

Yes, it’s amazing how much different grass fed meat smells and tastes! It’s a completely different food.

I feel the same way about the veggies I grow in my garden–the taste is incomparable to store bought, my own lettuce has real flavor and depth, and we can easily tell the difference between store bought cardboard tomatoes and the real ones.

It’s sad really, how much the palate has been numbed by frankenfoods.

Chris
Chris
3 years 5 days ago

If you wanna eat crappy burgers at exorbitant prices paired with bad service, come to Australia…

Skylar
Skylar
3 years 5 days ago

… The scientific logic in this one was flawed. I understand that “you get what you pay for”, but price does not effect quality nor does it effect nutrition; it is the exact opposite: Quality effects price and nutrition. The firms compete for prices (like you said), so in order to cut production costs, they make a lower quality product because it’s cheaper for them to produce. In doing so, the quality goes down and the price goes down. Price effects nothing.

Malandro
Malandro
3 years 5 days ago

You’ve got your “affects” mixed up with your “effects”.

trackback

[…] While I maintain that eating according to the Primal Blueprint doesn’t have to be expensive, it is generally true that with food – as with most other things in life – you get what you pay for. We’re one week into the 21-Day Challenge, and I imagine the cost of healthy food may be on […]… Mark’s Daily Apple […]

Ariel
3 years 5 days ago
I’ve kept track of food costs for over six months and I’m feeding people (I cook for a lot of different people) for about $3.50 per person per meal. That’s for everything made from scratch. And as I love to cook, it’s a lot of fun too. Though my grocery bill is still large due to the number of people I cook for, often providing over 120 meals per month, for some big and hungry guys, I think $3.50 is a pretty good deal for a meal made of real food. If you have room to store it, buy in… Read more »
salixisme
3 years 5 days ago
I try to buy seasonal, local and sustainably grown produce over organic… don’t forget, a lot of the smaller producers can’t afford the organic certification, but are still growing excellent quality food. And I would much rather buy local food at it’s peak of freshness than stuff that is technically organic but grown on a HUGE farm miles away and shipped to the grocery store while underripe and then artificially ripened.. It tends to taste better and I am sure it has a higher nutritional value than produce that is picked early and chilled on its way to the market… Read more »
Debbie
3 years 5 days ago

I love this post!!!! It makes me feel much better that my food budget is so dang high 🙂

Rhys
Rhys
3 years 5 days ago
I feel extremely lucky that there is a well organized farmer’s market within a 30 minute drive of my house that accepts EFT debit for tokens as well as has a grant program in place that will give EFT users tokens (half of their EFT debit amount) specifically for fruits and vegetables. Yes, its far for people who don’t have a car, or public transportation. However, if they could get to a farmer’s market, that would be the one to get to. That being said…things like CSA programs (either produce or meat) can help with managing costs. For me and… Read more »
Jessica R.
Jessica R.
3 years 5 days ago

Sounds like my neck of the woods in Ravenna/Kent, OH. 🙂

Erik
3 years 5 days ago

The lard consumption graph is crazy! I must of been the reason for the large uptick in the 2000’s. Joking!

Bev
Bev
3 years 4 days ago
This is an awesome article, and I really enjoyed it. However, there’s a part of it that’s a bit delusional, although I suppose it’s really directed at this audience. “Do you really need two iPads? Would you be better off going on another vacation this year or staying home and spending that extra 5% of your salary on food that makes you feel good?” Most of the people on my street live on welfare and can’t afford A/C. More than half the jobs in the U.S. pay less than $30,000 a year, and they are exhausting manual labor or–on your… Read more »
JM
JM
3 years 4 days ago
I agree… I actually really do agree with this article, and was just ranting with my husband the other night about throughout human history, we spent a majority of our time working (in so many variable ways.. both for money and doing things like farming, hunting, gathering, whatever!) for food. And now we spend most of our time working for “stuff” and food is one of the first, if not THE first, thing to get the axe in our finances. But– and despite reading for the last year, I guess that I am not the main audience for these blogs.… Read more »
Paulie
Paulie
3 years 4 days ago
Wow! Of all the things you have ever written, that was the most Inspirational thing yet. Being from Canada it is very tricky to eat well. But I have found with a little bit of time and research it can be done. We have things here that still grow in the wild. Like fiddleheads, berries, and some fish we can still fish some fish for free. Like I said,”Time and research”. I found and farm that feeds their animal grass in the summer. I grow my own veggies and freeze them for winter. People ask me all the time, “Why… Read more »
D-Tay
D-Tay
3 years 4 days ago

IMHO, it is pay now or pay later.
It is just a matter of priorities.
Do you want to feel good and live a longer disease free life? -or- Do you prefer the alternatives? Cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, etc…
It would have been interesting to see declining food costs over the last century compared with rising health costs.

Neal
3 years 4 days ago

Pretty solid economic analysis. But we must remember that correlation is not causation.

Oh, and if you have a back yard, you can raise a lot of chickens for $7.50 a week.

KD
KD
3 years 4 days ago

Is today’s food really cheaper when you factor in all the subsidies our taxes pay? Not to mention all the tax breaks those big food corporations get?

Matt
3 years 4 days ago

We may have higher rates of obesity and diabetes but it’s an interesting comparison that Japanese spend more for better food yet have higher rates of stomach cancer.

Albeit their overall life expectancy is a few years longer than ours. So that begs the question, is it worth it to live only a few years longer?

Warren Dew
3 years 4 days ago

With regard to the Salatin quote: unfortunately, treating cancer is free for most people, because treatment is paid for by the government or by employer paid health insurance.

If everyone paid for their own health care, I think we’d see a lot more emphasis on eating healthy.

trackback

[…] Closing: I like “will cost much less than expected”; perspective; I bet more of us use math regularly than play football regularly; “The Tithe” is worth […]

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