A Curious Culinary Interlude

I like to cook, and I’m pretty good at it, but that doesn’t mean I like to read about it, or blog about it. That said, I’m willing to make the odd exception, if there’s good reason. So, yes, this post is about food, consider yourself warned.

There is this phenomenon that people spend less on food during recessions and other periods of economic hardship, and it’s pretty undeniable. The assumption seems to be, however, that people are avoiding what are perceived as expensive foods in lieu of cheaper alternatives – or at least what are perceived as alternatives.

I wonder just how absolutely true that really is, though. Or, more importantly, I wonder just how justified that actually is.

One of the things I hear a lot is that sales of ham and pork – themselves traditionally considered “cheap” protein sources – are down considerably, and sales of things like Spam are up, because it’s cheaper.

Huh? What?

Around here, actual name-brand Spam is about $2.39 USD for a twelve-ounce can, which works out to about $3.18 a pound. Occasionally, I’ve seen store-brand (i.e. generic) “potted ham” as low as $0.99 per twelve-ounce can, which works out to about $1.32 a pound, but that’s on sale, and the normal price is around $1.99 per twelve-ounce can (or around $2.65 per pound).

At my local butcher’s, fresh bone-in pork chops are normally $2.34/pound, and boneless are $2.74/pound. At my local Aldi market, frozen hams are regularly priced at $0.99 – $1.39/pound.

…yet Spam sales are up significantly.

Are poor people just bad at math? Are a lot of stupid people poor? Or is the apparently widespread narrative about food purchasing trends just wacky? I really am confused.

One of the other things I keep hearing is that people are making more “simple” and “cheap” meals, doing without things like side dishes, and not buying what are traditionally considered more luxury food items, like seafood, all because they’re trying to save a buck or three.

Again, I really wonder about that.

Last week, I made dinner for four – broiled salmon, rice pilaf, steamed green beans, with dinner rolls and strawberry danish for dessert.

Salmon! Growing up, we never had salmon, or any kind of store-bought seafood, because it was “expensive”. (We did eat a lot of self-caught perch and bass, though.) In a recession, surely, this is the kind of food you should be avoiding if you’re trying to watch your budget?

Think again – total cost for dinner for four: less than $15, all told:

Two pounds of salmon fillets: $7
Marinade and glaze (from this recipe): maybe $0.50

Rolls from the bakery: $2

Rice pilaf (from this recipe): maybe $1.50 (mainly the mushrooms, $1.09 for 16 ounces)

Fresh green beans: $1.25

Danish: $1.75

…and there was leftover pilaf and danish, even.

Salmon for dinner, for four people, at less than $4 a head, including sides and dessert.

And people are buying Spam like it’s going out of style, why, exactly?

For Sunday dinner (an outmoded patriarchal tradition, et cetera et cetera, yes I know) recently we had beef rouladen with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables, for, again, less than $4 per person.

Assuming we ate that well all the time, we’d be spending something like $500 a month on dinner for a household of four, which isn’t actually too bad, but… we don’t. Usually we’re having soup or sandwiches or (homemade) stir-fry or fried rice or curry or something like that – in part because it’s really rare that all four of us are home and awake at any given time that could reasonably be considered “dinner”. Most of our meals are under $2 per person, sometimes even less than $1.

Austerity measures? What are those, again?

I mean, okay, I get that if you used to eat out all the time, you might want to save money by cooking your own food at home, but you don’t need to resign yourself to a life of fried Spam, Wonder Bread, and Easy Mac, you know?

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General | on October 5th, 2009| Comments Off on A Curious Culinary Interlude

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