How Much Does it Cost Me To Choose Organic/Local Food?
diet and weight loss | money
Cara Mae Cirignano
To find out how much it costs for me to eat organically and locally, I tracked every single food item purchase for 28 weeks. For each purchase, I identified the price of the conventional, non-organic alternative. The resulting cost difference extrapolated over a year surprised me.
So I decided to gather that information. I started tracking all my food. For 28 weeks, I wrote down every food item that I had bought. By the end I had tracked 267 unique food items at least once. Where I bought sustainable and bought sustainable 60% of the time by cost. I found that conventional equivalent and wrote that down too so that I could compare the two.
So that allowed me to begin to compare on multiple different levels, starting a the meal level. So the examples about to come up, red lentil soup, I would write down the ingredients, and if it was sustainable of conventional version of the ingredient, how much each ingredient weighed. And then I could draw from my database to find out how much did it cost me, how much would it have cost me if I bought the conventional equivalent.
So for this soup it cost me 3.50 more to buy the sustainable ingredients, and jumping the scales to the annual level I spend about $600 more annually on the sustainable food to the conventional equivalent.
So that was a really useful result and it allowed me to say all right I can afford that. It means at least $600 to buy sustainable. I will never again make the decision when a sustainable option is available to me. I’ll just buy it. I won’t stress about it and that’s what I have done ever since.
Even more useful results that came from this project has allowed me to crystalized my thinking about this thing that really interested me, which was that I still didn’t know what that $600 bought me. How much healthier was I, how much healthier was the planet, how much happier are the animals were.
So I went and got a Master’s degree in Environmental Economics. I did my thesis on the American beef cattle system, and how much ammonium emissions that comes from urine impacts the American public. It turns out it costs us around $1.5 billion annually, mostly in healthcare cost, respiratory disease from air pollution. That’s another story.
So it was a tremendously useful project in terms of sending me on this professional trajectory. On a personal side I spent an enormous amount of time tracking this data. I put it into Excel manually, and by the end of 28 weeks it definitely started to become a drag. But overall, I didn’t really mind it and the reasoning is that although I had this budget question I also really wanted to spend substantive time with this issue that really fascinated me, my own global food system in my own participation in it.
Every day I would buy and consume food but this felt like a really ephemeral act to me, that part of my life I couldn’t be in its entirety or put my arms around until I started tracking and make these pretty lines, the graphs and charts and so forth, which made it feel knowable and tangible to me which was really satisfying and to me really beautiful.
At the same time I questioned the sentiment, this skepticism that it’s summarized well by a Nabokov quote I found in a novel from 1941. He said, that the collection of daily details is a poor method of self-preservation. And I think that this well summarizes this criticism of Quantified Self, which is that it’s largely a reaction to a sort of existentialist crisis. Maybe that I’m just afraid that I am ephemeral and seeing evidence of my being in the world makes me feel less so and therefore it’s like an emotional crutch.
And upon further reflection on this I decided, well actually the data that I collected allowed me to draw on that. it gave me direction. It answered a question for me and therefore it was useful of me to be more aware of my being in the world.
And also in terms of the time commitment, this is where I will shamelessly plug my talk I’m giving tomorrow at my company with – these are images from that talk. I could have gotten this data and the answer to this question more so if I had randomized my experiments instead of all the laborious tracking.