Quick! Name three luxury items you would love to be able to afford.
- Infinity pool.
- Yacht with a slide.
- ValuMart grapes.
Since A&P closed its refrigerator doors over 20 years ago, ValuMart found itself with a grocery store monopoly in a small town, with plenty of fairly affluent folks. Combined with high shipping fees to traverse fresh produce down the 17, taxes, and inflation, the cost of food meant that sub-$100 grocery trips were a thing of the past.
Staring-down the hefty ValuMart receipt, you notice something startling. The first half of your grocery trip, through the produce and meats section, is much more expensive than the later jaunt through pre-packaged, processed foods aisles.
The grocery price disparity weaves its way into the food-decision-making process. “My kids like the $2.39 canned vegetable soup more than the vegetable soup it cost me $17.56 and a Sunday morning to make.” The temptation to eat canned is financial. Eating “clean” is expensive.
My friend experienced the grocery dilemma first-hand. Since she started eating clean (basically, eating real food with no additives, sugars, fillers), her grocery bill has doubled. “No wonder people don’t eat this way!” she complained. She felt her food bill was jacked-up because it was fresh.
Fairly or unfairly, this is the repeating chorus I’ve heard since I moved back to Deep River: ValuMart produce is too costly to make eating fresh food a financially smart decision.
I disagreed with my friend. All food is expensive. Real food at any grocery store still gives way more bang for your buck than the cheaper aisles. Here is how I proved it to her:
Fresh Soup and Chicken Breasts (Meal A)
Canned Soup and Kraft Grilled Cheese (Meal B)
The cost of our real food, Meal A, is approximately $30. Feeding the canned soup, Kraft Singles on white bread, Meal B, to a family of four costs less than $8, all-in. However, Meal A’s price per nutritional unit is actually cheaper.
The real food in Meal A packs important vitamins, nutrients, and protein into everyone eating it. 100% of the foods will be helpful to the body. Bodies will not only “feel full”, but will actually be satiated. Later that day, when bodies want to exercise/think/sleep/function, real food can only help.
Meal B’s nutritional value is miniscule. In the canned vegetable soup, we see that only a fraction of the ‘meal’ has real ingredients. The rest: salt, refined sugar, water, and chemicals I struggle pronouncing. The white bread and butter leaves little for a body to capitalize on. Do not get me started on the Kraft Singles. After Meal B, you’ll be hungry again in an hour, so you need to price-in an inevitable post-dinner snack.
Eating is fuel. Cheap processed food is like burning chemicals and garbage in your woodstove. Sure, this fire is quick and easy, and will flame bright and hot at the start. However, it will burn out quickly, you will be constantly replenishing it, the chemicals from the garbage can impact your health, and you’ll end-up reeking of its by-products. We are better-off to use quality wood to fuel a lasting, useful and pleasant fire.
Let’s turn to price per unit. If we say that 15% of canned Meal B ($8) is giving you nutrition vs. 100% of real Meal A ($30), then we can figure out what the food actually costs. To get the same 100% nutrition from the pre-packaged foods in Meal B, I would need to buy more of it, to the tune of $53 ($8 ÷ 15% … do I have that right, Mrs. Van Wagner?)
The worst part of pre-packaged food is life imposes additional extra costs to eating garbage. The remaining 85% of non-beneficial ingredients in canned Meal B will make a body lethargic, cause weight gain, and maybe even contribute to medical problems. We must add-on costs like gym memberships, Spanx, and sick/unpaid leave from work.
Adding-up costs: $53 in product for same nutrition + $100 gym membership + $15 Spanx, cheap food is the more expensive alternative.
I am not a mathematician. I suspect my numbers need tweaking. I’m also not an investigative journalist. I have no idea why groceries cost what they do, why Food Basics is cheap, or why I can’t afford to eat grapes most weeks at ValuMart. I suspect that the reasons are far more complex and boil down to logistics, franchise agreements, and the quality of the produce. In fact, this might be a great piece for the NRT to investigate…
I am a realist. Bailing on nutrition isn’t going to make your life less expensive, no matter what grocery store you shop from. Food is expensive. Good food is no exception. My friend will have to find an alternative to lighten the grocery load: potlucks, sending the kids to friend’s houses for dinner, waiting for the infamous $1.99 grape sale week at ValuMart.
Instead of crunching numbers, consider treating yourself to a little luxury once in a while. Dine on expensive ValuMart grapes! Go for broke: enjoy some fermented ones at the LCBO at the same time.