“Would Someone From the Year 1900 Recognize This as Food?”

A really short post today. Readers know I've been on a bit of a heuristic kick lately, and the other day I stumbled onto a really good one.

For a quick rule to differentiate between food to avoid and food worth eating, just ask this question:

Would someone from 1900 recognize this as food?

It's not my idea, not even close, and unfortunately I can't remember where I found it. But I'm definitely going to steal this question and use it whenever I'm in doubt about whether a food is good for me or not. And of course the answer will be a clear negative for any processed, heavily advertised, manufactured second-order foods.

What about you?


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Four Frugality Heuristics [That Will Make You Rich If You Use Them]

Frugality tips are nice, but frugality heuristics are better.

Heuristics--rules of thumb--let you function on a strategy level rather than on a mere tactical level. A few well-thought-out heuristics can take the place of a million specific tips and tactics.

Look, we know retailers and consumer products companies become more and more sophisticated by the day in persuading us, manipulating us and extracting money from us. It is my hope that today's post will help you avoid most, if not all, of the traps and pitfalls awaiting us in the consumer marketplace.

Frugality Heuristic #1: Don't use money to solve problems.

This rule helps you consider alternatives to solving a given need without automatically defaulting to the marketplace to make a purchase. If it's an item you need: could you borrow it, freecycle it, or use something you already own? If it's a service, can you learn to do it yourself, or trade/barter for it? Better still, can you just "don't want!" it? And so on. Bonus: by using this heuristic over the long term, you'll build enormous adaptability, flexibility and resourcefulness.

Frugality Heuristic #2: If they're offering it to you, it's profitable for them--and unprofitable for you.

Notice that things are sold to you if and only if it's worth doing so. It must be meaningfully profitable to the entity doing the selling. Faithfully using this heuristic will protect you from products and services like extended warranties, upsells, excess insurance, most high-fee investment products[1], etc.

Frugality Heuristic #3: If it's advertised, you don't want it.

Remember: You the consumer pay for all advertising. Ad costs are always passed through to the end customer in the form of higher prices, yet despite this, the advertising-consumption model is perhaps one of the best systems ever devised for triggering desires and then separating us from our money. Do not play this game. At the very least, find an equivalent product that isn't advertised. A savvy and intelligent consumer thinks about the enormous cost of heavy advertising, knows that she ends up paying for, it and thus lets advertising become a stimulus not to buy.

Frugality Heuristic #4: Avoid all payment plans.

Payment plans obscure the true price you pay for something, and they almost always substantially increase your final cost[2] while substantially increasing profits to the company offering the payment plan (see Heuristic #2). This heuristic will also save you enormous amounts of money over the course of your life by stopping you from buying things that, if you're honest with yourself, you can't actually afford.

Readers: What other frugality heuristics would you add?


READ NEXT: Good Games


Footnotes:
[1] Note that this goes double for investments, and triple!!!!11! for complex investments like variable annuities, universal life insurance policies, unit investment trusts, etc. Which gives us Investment Heuristic #2a: Do not invest in any investment that is sold to you.

[2] This includes those seemingly attractive 0% financing arrangements from car dealers that calculate your monthly payment by way of a complicated and opaque process. You think you're getting a great deal on a too-good-to-be-true interest rate, while they are likely arranging things such that you pay more than you think. Once again, see Heuristic #2 for the real reason these plans are offered to you in the first place.


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Fallacy: Extreme Reach

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I took a bit of a break from writing. I'll be back with brand new articles beginning next week. Stay tuned! 
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1) Count calories? Who has time for that?

2) Keep track of what I eat? Nah, I don't want to watch my diet that carefully. Can't I just enjoy my food?

3) There's no WAY I'd track my expenses to the penny. What are you, anal?

Readers, can you see what these three sentences have in common?

Each involves shooting down an idea by jumping to the extreme. In all three cases, the speaker makes a potential solution seem more difficult than it really is, which gives him a gift-wrapped justification for ruling out the idea.

This "Extreme Reach" fallacy is an excuse script that lets us rationalize and maintain our prior unsuccessful habits.

Let's put the sentences above in context by imagining a conversation that might surround them:

Person A: I'd really like to lose 20 pounds.
Person B: Really? Well, I managed to lose 45 pounds by counting calories. It really worked well for me.
Person A (defensive): Count calories? Who has time for that?

See what just happened there? Person A opens a conversation by claiming he wants to lose weight, but then when presented with a possible solution, he makes the absurd claim that counting calories takes too much time.

Never mind that counting calories actually doesn't take much time at all, and never mind that some have found it to be astoundingly effective. The point, of course, is that Person A gets to act like he wants to lose weight, while creating a ready-made rationalization for not taking action. And if Person B is a member of polite society, she'll smile wanly and change the subject. Which completes the circle of rationalization.

Hard to believe all this can happen in such a short conversation, right?

Okay, let's move on to our second example:

Person C: How in the world do you stay so thin? What do you do?
Person D: Oh, I struggled with my weight for years. But in 2010, I decided to keep a notebook where over three months I wrote down everything I ate. Literally everything. Man, I couldn't believe it when I saw it all in my own handwriting--how many sodas I was drinking, how much ice cream, how many snacks. It forced me to really accept what I ate. After that I started making big changes to my eating habits.
Person C (defensive): Keep track of what I eat? Nah, I don't want to watch my diet that carefully. Can't I just enjoy my food?

Person C leaps to an extreme conclusion too: keeping track of what she eats means she has to watch her diet more carefully than she'd like. Worse, it will interfere with her enjoyment of food.

This claim is of course exactly backwards. It's actually more plausible that keeping track of what she eats would help her enjoy her food more. Further, what does "watch my diet that carefully" mean, exactly? There are lots of ways to track your diet, some of which are probably easier than she thinks.

Sadly, she didn't leave the door open for these considerations. This idea died the moment it collided with her mind.

Do you see the pattern here? Now, to our last example:

Person Y: How did you manage to retire at such a young age? Man, I'd love to quit my job and retire early.
Person Z: Have you heard of this book Your Money or Your Life?
Person Y: Yes! I saw something about it on some guy's food blog that I read every so often. He wrote some series on it. It was kind of long and boring, so I didn't read it.
Person Z: Well, we basically followed the steps of the book, starting several years ago. We started by tracking our expenses to the penny for a full ye--
Person Y (defensive, interrupting): There's no WAY I'd track my expenses to the penny. What are you, anal?

Ouch, right? Person Y spontaneously murders the conversation with an extreme reach excuse, and he also gets in a bonus dig at Person Z. (Well played!) Person Y knows for sure that tracking your expenses is "anal" and therefore unworthy of consideration.

But wait. What if tracking your expenses is just another minor daily habit, like brushing your teeth? That's what we found here at CK: within days of adopting our expense-tracking habit, we were doing it in a fraction of the time we spent brushing our teeth.

Or is brushing your teeth anal too?

Either way, instead of considering a new idea that might be congruent with his goals, Person Y employs the extreme reach fallacy to rationalize taking no action. And he likely walks away from this conversation with an improved opinion of himself.

Watch for this excuse script in and around your daily life. Believe me: now that you're familiar with it, you'll see it and hear it all over the place. Don't complete the circle of rationalization.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Ramit at I Will Teach You To Be Rich for helping me think through some of the ideas in this post.


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

A Paradox For Locavores

Readers, please enjoy this post from Casual Kitchen's archives. I'm taking a break from writing for the next few weeks to work on other projects.
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I was reading through Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu's provocative book The Locavore's Dilemma (I highly recommend it to readers interested in giving their critical thinking skills a workout) when I stumbled onto a fascinating question. I'm paraphrasing:

If we decide to embrace locavorism across the country, how many millions of acres of forest and wildlife habitat should we therefore sacrifice to do so?

I never really thought about this aspect of the local food debate, but this is a serious paradox. It's a terrible conundrum for locavores who also care about the environment.

Here's why: You don't want to use land that just happens to be located within 100 miles (or whatever arbitrary distance you choose) of a given major population center. You want to use the most productive and most efficient land you can for farming. By using the most productive farmland available, almost regardless of where it is, you'll be able to use less land per unit of food.

Think back to 200 years ago. Back then, we pretty much didn't have a transportation infrastructure to transport anything... anywhere. It's quite striking to read how it could take weeks, even months, to get from, say, Boston to Philadelphia--a drive that you can do today in a matter of hours. And in wintertime, forget about it. (Read, for example David McCollough's excellent biography of John Adams, or his recent book 1776, for striking anecdotes on how impossibly time-consuming travel was in the early days of the USA).

In those days, by definition, all food had to be local. That's why we essentially clear-cut all of North America, denuding it of trees, habitat, whatever. Habitat didn't matter to anyone back then, simply because people needed to use all land--even the most rocky, unfit, and poorest quality land--to feed themselves. And keep in mind: in 1800 we had a measly population of just 5.3 million, 1/58th of our current population of 309 million!

Whether we liked it or not, we were all locavores back then. Every community needed to grow whatever it could to survive.

Enter our transportation system, which started initially with the use of waterways and canal systems, and then with the dramatic expansion of railroads. In a matter of just a few decades, you could begin to get food not just locally, but from practically anywhere across the east, south and midwest regions of the continent. Suddenly, that crappy, rocky soil in Vermont, with its short growing season and unpredictable early and late frosts, just wasn't worth plowing any more.

This is why, when you drive across Vermont, New Hampshire, and Upstate New York, you see a tremendous amount of forest. Everywhere. That's land that long ago was completely stripped of trees to be farmed, but has since fully returned to basic forest habitat. Yes, of course, there is also some agriculture in these regions, but it's centered mostly around foods that these regions produce best (to give a few examples, apples, dairy and sweet corn among many others). There's no longer any necessity for each of these regions to grow everything they eat, and that's why they no longer use all the available land to do so.

Instead, we can use far more productive farmland in the midwest, in California--or in other places all over the world--to grow far more food with far less land.

So what's important to you? Locavorism? Or prudent, efficient land use? Are you willing to sacrifice forest and habitat in order that you and others can eat local?

Readers, please share your thoughts!

Related Posts:
Ending Overeating: An Interview With Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler
Interview with Jayson Lusk, Author of "The Food Police"
A Cup of Morning Death? How "Big Coffee" Puts Profits Before People
Consumer Empowerment: How To Self-Fund Your Consumer Products Purchases






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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

How to Avoid Negative Self-Talk... And Have Far Better Health

Readers, please enjoy this post from Casual Kitchen's archives. I'm taking a break from writing for the next few weeks to work on some other projects.
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Susie* had been careful and disciplined with her diet. For the last three weeks, she'd been paying extra attention to what she ate. She cut out sugary drinks and reduced her between-meal snacking. And what little snacking she did do was on healthier foods like unsalted nuts, fiber-rich fruit, and so on. She was starting to find real success changing her eating habits.

Everything was going great.... until last Friday.

That's when Susie went out with a big group of coworkers after work. It was fun. She had a couple of big, sugary frozen margaritas. Somebody ordered a big platter of chicken wings, and she ate... several. And then, for dinner, she had a huge burger and a ton of fries.

So when Susie woke up Saturday morning, this is what she said to herself:

Great job Susan. Really good. You really blew it with your diet, didn't you? Jeez, you are such a glutton. Absolutely no self-control. You've just ruined your diet.

Readers: what is Susie likely to do next? Do you think the odds are good that she'll return to her prior habit of cleaner eating? Or will her diet go off the rails?

Would you believe that Susie's own words play a gigantic role in determining the answer?

One of the most important insights in Martin Seligman's striking book Learned Optimism is the strong link between what Susie says to herself and her future actions. Let's take a moment and analyze her self-talk:

You really blew it with your diet
Jeez, you are such a glutton
Absolutely no self-control
You've just ruined your diet

What do these sentences have in common?

For one thing, they're judgmental and pessimistic. Deeply so. Dr. Seligman would say they are permanent, pervasive and personal. Sure, admittedly, Susie experienced a setback in her diet. But what she's doing here is taking a one-time mistake and extrapolating it into permanent negative traits. This is a single instance of poor eating, but according to her self-talk, she views it as "proof" that she's a diet-ruining glutton with no self-control.

Look, we all screw up occasionally. We're only human. And from time to time, we all use negative language when we're angry at ourselves for screwing up. Take it from me, an expert negative self-judger: it is really, really hard to avoid doing this.

The problem is, this negative explanatory style sets us up for future failure. Our negative explanations usually become self-fulfilling. With her negative self-talk, Susie is actually increasing the chances that she will revert back to her old, unhealthy eating habits.

So what's the solution? The solution is to train yourself to dispute these negative statements--and to do so instinctively. Here's an example of what Susie could say next:

No, wait. Stop. Just because I overate on a single Friday night does not mean I "blew it" with my diet. It does not mean I am a glutton. In fact I've eaten really well for three full weeks! If anything, that is proof that I do have a lot of self-control. I just had a one-evening letdown in my eating habits. There's no way my diet's "ruined." It's up to me to decide how I eat going forward.

Unlike the first set of Susie's statements, all of which are either false or cartoonishly exaggerated, these disputative statements have the benefit of actually being true.

In fact, it's usually quite easy to find evidence to support your disputations. As Seligman says: "most of the time you will have facts on your side, since pessimistic reactions to adversity are so often overreactions." We tend to catastrophize in reaction to our setbacks, and our minds reach for extremely negative conclusions. And once again, our negative internal explanations can lead us into a self-fulfilling prophesy. In Susie's case, it may mean actually behaving in the future like a glutton with no self-control. It's the exact result she dreads.

Okay. You've heard Susie's initial negative self-talk and you've heard her disputation of that self-talk. What do you think her most likely course of action will be now? I'd bet she gets right back to her established pattern of clean eating.

Our minds are always chattering away, constantly making predictions, judgments and explanations. And when we experience a failure or a setback, our minds instantly leap to the most dire negative explanation. Once again, the secret is to dispute that instant negative explanation. Change it.

Our observations of reality are both highly subjective and self-fulfilling. We owe it to ourselves to see ourselves in a positive--and accurate--light.

This post is gratefully dedicated to Dr. Martin Seligman and his book Learned Optimism.

* not her real name--in fact I pretty much made this person up.




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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!