Six Good Things About the Awful Economy

Wait. Seriously. Is the title of this post for real? What could possibly be good about the terrible economy right now?

On one hand, not much. Consider:

1) The average investor lost anywhere from 30% to 60% of his wealth over the past year or two.
2) Unemployment in the U.S. just ticked over 8%, a multi-decade high, and it's probably heading towards 10%.

3) Consumer spending is down and likely going lower.
4) Interest rates are nearing historic lows, so even the people who were lucky enough to have their money in cash and CDs are earning next to nothing on their savings.

So why did I title this post "Six Good Things About the Awful Economy?" What good can possibly come from the current economic backdrop?

Here's what good can come of it: If we're lucky, our priorities will change.

Perhaps we'll start to eat out less often and cook better, healthier food at home. There is nothing wrong with eating out in restaurants per se, but isn't it worth thinking a bit more about the incremental quality and value you get from the extra money you spend on a typical restaurant meal? Too often restaurants rely on high levels of sodium and saturated fat to make their food taste cloyingly "good" to us. And one restaurant meal at even a casual restaurant can cost more than a week's worth of groceries. Eating out less is a classic example of a win-win in food: you save money and eat healthier at the same time.

Perhaps we will start to grow more of our own food. Anyone can garden in their back yard, or even grow herbs and simple veggies in a pot on their porch or windowsill. It's a great way to save money and a great way to eat better. Many home-grown plants, especially herbs and spices, grow and grow and provide many years' worth of produce essentially for free. Other plants, when harvested, will provide you with seeds for next years's crop. There is no better way to increase your self-sufficiency and save a little money on food than to walk over to your little garden and harvest something you grew yourself.

Perhaps we'll bias our diet toward first-order foods and away from less healthy second-order foods. Second-order food are foods with greater costs baked into their production, either because they are prepared foods, heavily marketed foods, or foods that have traveled a long distance to get to your shopping cart. First-order foods are simple, basic, building block foods that are generally much healthier for you and usually cost a lot less too. If you're curious to learn more about this unusual way of thinking about the food industry and food costs, I've gone into the subject of first-order and second-order foods in much greater depth in a separate post.

Perhaps we'll start to eat less meat, making our diets both healthier and less expensive. The average American diet contains much more meat than any human being needs, and meat is one of the most expensive food items in our diets. Worse, the production of meat is particularly hard on the environment. We can help our pocketbooks--and our arteries--by embracing part-time vegetarianism and substituting healthier veggies and legumes into our diets.

Perhaps we'll take more control and ownership of what we eat. The necessary corollary of all of the above points is that we will know more about what we eat and we'll exercise more control over what we eat. This gets at the very foundation of what I'm trying to encourage here at Casual Kitchen.

Perhaps we'll collectively become a bit less consumerist. Admittedly, this particular point goes a bit beyond the food-based scope of this blog. But I believe it is worth asking this very simple question: what good came of the last few decades of our cultural imperative of keeping up with the Joneses? We created an over-indebted, consumption-based economy that, uh, well, let's just say it wasn't quite all it was cracked up to be. If we collectively rethink this point and only this point, I believe we'll be much better off as a culture.

Perhaps all of these things will cause us, as individuals and as a society, to eat better, live better, and be healthier. If that starts to happen, then I consider that a really good thing about our current economic situation.

Related Posts:
41 Ways You Can Help the Environment From Your Kitchen
15 Creative Tips to Avoid Holiday Overeating
A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food
Cooking Like the Stars? Don't Waste Your Money

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Deborah Smith said...

I'm with you all the way. You're preaching to the choir with me. Can't wait to get my garden started this year. Last year's tomatoes were amazing.

Deborah Smith

giz said...

Here Here!!!! The more people say these things, the more they'll integrate them into their thinking. It's time.

Joanne said...

I love the points you make in this post. As a college student who thinks about what food costs every week while standing in the grocery store aisles debating on whether or not to buy something, I can definitely attest to the fact that your predictions carry a whole lot of weight. I only eat out things that I can't make myself (either because of time/skill/etc). I also use very little prepackaged food and eat a TON of whole foods. I am also a flexitarian and try to eat vegetarian around 80% of the time. Great job posting this...maybe it will open people's eyes to the things they can do that will benefit both themselves and the world.

Daniel said...

JB: there is no better example of the superiority of homegrown food than the tomato. Great to hear.

Giz: thanks for stopping by! I hope you are right and I'm definitely trying to do my part.

Joanne: thank you for your comment and for your positive vibes. There's a saying: "never let a crisis go to waste"--hopefully we as a society won't.


jules said...

great post. especially love the thought of people growing more of their own food and knowing more about where their food comes from. I've also been thinking it's the perfect reason to get back to more economical dishes like banger and mash and lamb shanks

Pam said...

Great post. I plan to grow some of my own food this summer - let's just hope I have a green thumb.

Daniel said...

Hi Jules: Yep, one of the ironies of the food industry is that in many cases the most expensive foods, like many prepared foods and many manufactured snacks, have the LEAST information about where the ingredients come from. Thanks for your comment.

Pam: I have a feeling you might surprise yourself. Good luck!


pixelgal said...

I thought I was the only one who ranted about things like this. I like your positive attitude and speaking as one from another generation where they actually lived simpler, it ain't half bad! The Diva's (Beacheats blog)brother has a garden in my yard that we look forward to every year and much as I love eating out, this way is better.

Daniel said...

Hi Pixelgal, thanks for your comment and for the feedback. I think in large part I owe much of my thinking to my parents--who grew up in the Depression! My parents knew how to live well on very little, and I'm lucky to have them set an example for me.