I’ve ranted about the problem with the over-simplification of food insecurity before but I’d like to expand on that rant. Someone recently shared a link to a recipe for Spicy Tuna Guacamole Bowls on Budget Bites. I thought that they looked yummy so I bookmarked the recipe. The recipe does look great, and I do plan to make it, but I have an issue with the costing.
The cost for each ingredient is based on the quantity used in the recipe. Obviously, most ingredients cannot be purchased in such exacting amounts. Thus, the cost presented for the recipe is not an accurate reflection of what the meal actually costs to make. Yes, you may already have some of the ingredients in your pantry, but let’s assume that you don’t.
I priced out the ingredients needed for the recipe at my local grocery store. It may not be the least expensive place to shop but we also need to bear in mind that if you are food insecure you may not have a car, or the time, to afford the luxury of shopping around. In cases where there was more than one option available I selected the least expensive item. Here is my costing:
Brown rice: $3.99
Cucumber: $.99 (this is not the lovely English cuke, but the kind with the skin you need to peel and the tough seeds because the English cuke was $2.99!)
Frozen shelled edamame: $3.69
Carrots: $2.89 (there were no loose carrots so I had to buy a whole bag even though the recipe only called for one)
2 cans of chunk light tuna: $3.58
Container of guacamole: $4.69 (In this case, an avocado would have been cheaper at $.99, on special, so we’ll go with that option.)
GRAND TOTAL: $23.61, or $5.90 per serving.
That’s not a bad price for a meal but it’s a far cry from the “$7.45 recipe / $1.86 serving” stated on the website.
Out of curiousity, I decided to go back an price out the Bittman infographic that prompted the original rant.
Romaine lettuce: $3.99
Potatoes: $1.89 (these were available singly so I weighed four of them)
Whole wheat bread: $2.69 (I cringed to choose the cheap “whole wheat” not “whole grain wheat” variety. I also question the inclusion of this in the meal. Potatoes should suffice as a starch.)
Chicken: $14.30 (ouch!)
Milk: $2.28 (for one litre)
Olive Oil: $5.99 (This was the smallest, most affordable option. Fortunately, it was available in extra virgin.)
GRAND TOTAL: $39.11, or $9.78 per serving.
Bittman had this meal priced at $13.78 total.
While many people will have some staples in their pantries, others will not, and these items will need to be replaced at some point. It’s also important to note that there is the hidden cost of labour incurred when preparing meals at home. The time spent grocery shopping and cooking and washing dishes is all time for which you are not being paid. It is time that would be saved by picking up a fast food meal.
This is not intended to discourage you from eating healthy and cooking meals at home. For those of us who are not food insecure, cooking for yourself (and your family) is probably the single most important thing that you can do for your health. It can also be a great way to bond with family members or housemates and involving children in food prep encourages them to enjoy new foods. With planning and budgeting, healthy home cooked meals are attainable by most of us. However, for those of us who are struggling to make ends meet, and for whom time and calories may outweigh cooking and nutrition, these calculations of meal costs are erroneous.