The Cost of a Paleo Diet–and the Value Received

Robb Wolf, the current “It” boy of the Paleo movement, posted about the (mis)perceived high cost of eating a caveman’s diet.  This got me to thinking about how much money I spend feeding my family on a weekly basis.

I don’t skimp on food.  We are doubly fortunate in having in the means to purchase high quality food and having access to it as well.  Even though we live in Chicago, where “seasonal” produce means cabbage and potatoes for the majority of the year, specialty and ethnic markets provide an embarrassment of riches to those willing to seek them out.  I have a very part-time job that requires me to drive around different areas of the city and it’s easy for me to pop in and out of places to pick up king oyster mushrooms, shiso leaves, whole fishes, and various types of offal not usually seen in sterile suburban markets.

Some things are quite expensive.  I have two teenage sons at home, so I feed them copious amounts of meat.  I try to buy grass fed beef when I can, but I will buy leaner cuts of meat at Costco.  The less fat the meat has, the less problematic the omega 6:omega 3 ratio becomes.  Regardless of where I purchase it, animal protein is probably about 70% of our food cost.  I love seafood (crab, lobster tail, jumbo wild shrimp, and wild caught Alaskan salmon) and if chocolate is going to take a back seat in my life, then dammit, I want something I can savor with impunity.  Another luxury item is coffee;  although I buy the organic coffee at Trader Joe’s and World Market (join their frequent purchasing club and for every ten pounds, you get one free–plus double credit for coffee purchases on Wednesdays!), I am a sucker for Intelligentsia.  Whenever I go in for a cup of joe, it’s unlikely that I’ll leave without a few bags of single varietals from small growers.  At $1 per ounce and up, I usually wind up taking forty or fifty bucks worth of beans home (and yes, they are worth it).  Finally, it makes me laugh when people blog about going to farmers’ markets to save money.  At the ones around here, you can spend your paycheck on twee microgreens and jewel-like veggies that will fit into one bag.  Nevertheless, I go and spend because not only do I enjoy talking to the farmers and getting excited about their produce, it’s that same hedonistic mentality–I want to ENJOY my food, and why not get the best I can find?

In spite of all of these indulgences, I do think that we are spending less money overall on our diet.  The food we eat is more filling and satisfying than a highly processed diet, so we eat less of it.  I’ve noticed that it’s all to easy to overeat sugary and starchy foods, not just for myself but for my family.  When there’s not a package of cookies to scarf down, no one is scarfing, and even though the strawberries for dessert may have cost as much as the cookies, if not more, they last longer (I know, strawberries are perishable, but I live in a house of scarfers, myself included).  I love the way the food I cook tastes, as does my family, and we rarely go out for dinner because we simply don’t enjoy it as much as eating at home.  Not only does this save us considerable expense, it adds valuable, albeit non-quantifiable, quality time together as a family, something that will become more rare and precious in a few years when my kids leave home.  And finally, in my higher-carb days, I don’t even want to think about the waste factor.  Vegetables are perishable, as is non-frozen meat, and if you buy with the best of intentions, veggies liquefy and meat rots while you’re eating frozen pizza and Oreos.  Today, I eat my food before it goes bad (most of the time) because I love it.  I’ve spent the money and gas and footwork on search and prepare missions, and since I buy what I love, I love what I eat.  It’s an acquired taste and habit that didn’t manifest overnight, but on days when I don’t have at least one serving of both a cooked vegetable and a raw one, I feel cheated.  Another non-quantifiable bonus is the time and money I save in not having to scrub out the fridge when the rotten produce grows hair or creates its own juice.  Yuck.

So the upshot is that this Paleo yogini is probably saving money.  I’m not sure.  But what I do know is that I’m moving toward a place where I can make peace with food, which is more valuable than any savings I might find in a “buy one, get two free” special on Twinkies at the market.  I don’t have to be scared of food anymore, and I don’t have to keep shelling out money for therapy sessions to help me figure out why I’m so messed up with my eating.  For me, this is worth the time, money, and energy I expend on my diet.  And sometimes, instead of focusing on the cost of something, it’s better to focus on the value.  The pricier option may nevertheless be a bargain in the long run.

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