2 People, 15 Days, 30 Meals, 35 Bucks

Readers, once again, thanks for indulging me as I take a break from writing to work on other projects. This was one of the most popular posts in CK's history.
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The purpose of today's post is to show a practical example of how you can eat a low-cost, healthy diet over an extended period of time, without having to spend hours in the kitchen every day.

Below is a recipe list, menu list and itemized grocery list you can use to feed two people a wide range of simple, healthy dinners for fifteen days. It can easily be scaled up for larger families, or used as a template for your own collection of favorite, low-cost recipes. And this is no hypothetical menu that looks good on paper but fails miserably in practice. I actually used this exact menu, made these exact food purchases and cooked these exact recipes during an actual fifteen day period a couple of months ago. This was a real 15-day trial carried out in real life.

It's deceivingly easy to assume that eating involves unavoidable tradeoffs: Healthy food has to be expensive. Cooking at home means spending hours slaving away in the kitchen. There's not enough time or money to eat well at home.

Forget all those phony tradeoffs. This 30-meal plan proves that things can be easy: Cooking low-cost, healthy food at home can be done efficiently, with surprisingly little effort and for a tiny fraction of the cost of eating out. Keep reading to see what I mean. At the end of the post, I'll explain some of the behind-the-scenes factors that helped make this trial much easier to execute than we expected.

The bottom line is this: cooking and eating healthy, low-cost meals for weeks at a time can be done--and it doesn't have to be hard work.

Recipe List:
Garden Gumbo - 1.5 batches
Black Beans and Rice - double batch
Viennese Potato Soup - double batch
Fresh Carrot and Cabbage Curry - double batch
Chicken Mole
Easy Lentil Soup with Chicken

Grocery List:
Produce aisle:
2 Green bell peppers: $2.05
Celery, bag: $1.99
Onions, 3 lb bag: $2.99
Garlic: 50c
Carrots, 2 lb bag: $1.79
Cabbage head, ~3 lb: $2.47
Potatoes: 5 lb bag: $3.49

Canned Foods/Beans/Dried Legumes aisle:
1 14.5-oz can red beans: 67c
2 lb bag brown rice: $1.79
4 14.5-oz can black beans: $2.68
3 29-oz cans stewed tomatoes: $3.00
1 lb dried lentils: $79c

Meat aisle:
Package bacon: $3.99 (note: we used about 1/3 of the bacon)
Value-pack chicken breasts: 5 lbs: $6.91 (we used 1.5 lbs in the Chicken Mole and we added 1.5 lbs as an extra ingredient to the Lentil Soup)

Grand Total Food Cost: $35.11
Schedule of Dinners
Day 1: Garden Gumbo
Day 2: Black Beans and Rice
Day 3: Garden Gumbo
Day 4: Black Beans and Rice
Day 5: Viennese Potato Soup with Fresh Carrot and Cabbage Curry
Day 6: Garden Gumbo
Day 7: Viennese Potato Soup
Day 8: Black Beans and Rice
Day 9: Fresh Carrot and Cabbage Curry
Day 10: Chicken Mole
Day 11: Fresh Carrot and Cabbage Curry
Day 12: Chicken Mole
Day 13: Easy Lentil Soup
Day 14: Chicken Mole
Day 15: Easy Lentil Soup

A few final notes:
1) Was this your entire food expense for the full 15 days?
No. Just dinners. However, the recipes in this meal plan will also cover quite a few lunches here and there from leftovers--at zero incremental cost. Your mileage (and caloric intake) may vary.

2) No, seriously, you actually ate all this food for just $35?
Look, no way was I going to lowball my costs and then crush the dreams of an excited reader who tried this meal plan but found his costs to be way out of line with mine. Admittedly, the de minimus cost of some common pantry items (spices, olive oil, bouillon cubes, optional white rice, etc) aren't included. More importantly, however, after the trial ended, we still had 2/3 of a package of bacon, about 2 lbs of chicken, most of a bag of onions, most of a head of garlic, several carrots, most of a 5-lb bag of potatoes, 1/3 of a bag of celery and the bulk of a 2-lb bag of brown rice still sitting in our kitchen. Had I calculated the meal costs based on the actual portions of the food we used, the total cost would have been as much as $9.00 lower.

In other words, technically, I could have titled this post Two People, Fifteen Days, Thirty Meals. Twenty-Six Bucks. There are always going to be errors and variability estimating exact food costs, but I made sure my error factor would be from overestimating the costs, not lowballing them. Many readers could do this trial for much less money.

3) Why did you say that the trial was easy? How could it possibly be easy?
Mainly for one reason: we made liberal use of CK's list of Best Laughably Cheap Recipes. Further, we took advantage of the fact that nearly all of the recipes here at CK are extremely scalable, meaning they can be made in double (or even triple) batches for very little incremental work.

One more trick you can use: cook double batches of dinner on two successive nights, and then alternate the leftovers over the following days. Face it: reheating food you've already made is by light years the easiest way to get healthy food on the table. And when you alternate two sets of leftover meals, you won't get sick of eating the same damn thing every night.

You'll notice one more thing about our meal plan. There isn't that much meat in it. Surprise! You've stumbled onto one of the unsung advantages of a low-meat, part-time vegetarian diet. Nevertheless, our protein requirements were easily met with this meal plan.

Finally, this 15-day schedule could easily be repeated with two or three other mini-collections of recipes culled from CK's Best Laughably Cheap Recipes. In theory, you could create a meal template for an indefinite period of time: just rotate in a new batch of recipes every two weeks. Result? Hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year saved on your food bill.

4) I'd feel like a total loser if I had to spend this little money on my food.
Ha! I'll go you one better: I built a spreadsheet to calculate my food costs--just for this post! Set aside your ego for a moment and understand the central point: there's actually no sacrifice involved here. This trial shows that you can eat extremely well for very little money--and even less time spent cooking. Try it, see for yourself... and feel free to spend your leftover money on something else.


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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!

That Time Michael Ruhlman Was an Appalling Food Snob

Readers, once again, thanks for indulging me as I take a break from writing to work on other projects. This post got a lot of attention when it first ran, as it describes an act of disturbing and un-self aware snobbery from a much-admired figure in the world of food.
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Several years ago there was a dispute between Michael Ruhlman (author of Ratio and the bestselling French Laundry Cookbook) and NPR food writer Kelly Alexander. It all started when Alexander penned an article earnestly celebrating the miso salmon entree at The Cheesecake Factory.

Ruhlman made fun of her.

Alexander then offered a bet: if Ruhlman actually went to The Cheesecake Factory, he'd like the food there too. Irony of ironies, she won. Ruhlman liked the food!

What's interesting about this story isn't that The Cheesecake Factory's food is good (of course it's good, its engineered that way). Rather, what's interesting is the behavior of Ruhlman and his friends while eating there. In particular their appalling condescension:

1) One of Ruhlman's dinner guests asks, "Do you think the Roadside Sliders are made of possum?"

2) Another dinner guest wolfs down a plate of pasta carbonara, but excuses himself by saying, "it's a guilty pleasure, liking bad pasta."

3) And when asked if he'd like chicken on his pasta carbonara, Ruhlman responds, "why would I want chicken on it?" (the waitress gave a flawless response to a question that I can only describe as existentially condescending).

Presumably, all of this banter is tres funny to Ruhlman and his pals. It must be a blast to join a group of foodies on a journey to the culinary hinterlands where you can sit around a dinner table, condescend to your waitress and make hilariously witty comments mocking the food! It's as if they fail to realize that the people and the environment around them are real, rather than some movie about the Midwest that they happen to be watching.

I like Ruhlman. I really like his thinking about food. But if this is how he typically behaves when he steps outside of his food bubble, the vast majority of Americans will never accept his ideas. And that's the real shame.

Finally, if I had a nickel for every food critic who gets "sad" when he can't find haute cuisine at a national restaurant chain... well, I'd have a lot of nickels. Is it really so difficult to grasp the idea that normal people occasionally enjoy casual meals at casual restaurants?

Look, the food at the vast majority of American restaurants is casual, often mass-produced and typically contains staggering amounts of calories. It's often delicious. Understand this for what it is, and don't expect to find things where they shouldn't be.

It goes without saying that you don't have to eat this food, or even like it. And you are more than welcome to campaign against it (heck, campaigning against overpriced, hyperpalatable, over-salted food is one of my favorite pastimes here at Casual Kitchen). You are welcome to like what you like, dislike what you dislike, and explain (on your own food blog, even!) exactly why.

But when you deliberately set foot inside a national restaurant chain, try to recognize that the food should be judged in the context of its genre. Stop recoiling in mock horreur when your pasta carbonara comes with peas or existentially optional grilled chicken. Don't be quite so oblivious to the fact that the rest of the world may not follow your obscure rules of food decorum. And at least try to be nice.

And that joke about possum? Come on.

What's your opinion?


Read Next: Food Absolutism
And: On the True Value of a Forgotten Restaurant Meal







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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!

Conspicuous Consumption and Thorstein Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class"

Readers, once again, thanks for indulging me as I take a break from writing to work on other projects. Here's a bit of an eggheaded (but surprisingly popular) post from four years ago. Enjoy!
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Readers, if you've ever wondered why so many people presume that branded merchandise and high-priced consumer goods are somehow "better"--even when they're not--Thorstein Veblen gave us the answer back in 1899 in his seminal book The Theory of the Leisure Class:

"But the human proclivity to emulation has seized upon the consumption of goods as a means to an invidious comparison, and has thereby invested consumable goods with a secondary utility as evidence of relative ability to pay.

This indirect or secondary use of consumable goods lends an honorific character to consumption, and presently also to the goods which best serve this emulative end of consumption... The consumption of expensive goods is meritorious, and the goods which contain an appreciable element of cost in excess of what goes to give them serviceability for their ostensible mechanical purpose are honorific.


The marks of superfluous costliness in the goods are therefore marks of worth... This indirect utility gives much of their value to the 'better' grades of goods."

--Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class

Veblen's writing is, uh, difficult (he was an academic and it showed), but his logic goes something like this: An item's price is a signal of your ability to pay, which is a signal of your wealth, which therefore signals your place in the dominance hierarchy of our society. The more needlessly expensive an item (its "superfluous costliness" as Veblen phrases it), the greater the wealth signal.

This is where Veblen came up with the now infamous phrase conspicuous consumption: consumption literally meant to be seen as overt demonstrations of social status and wealth.

In the modern era, we see this at every level of society. It exists at every branding tier and market segment of nearly every consumer product category. Every consumer goods retailer we shop at, every brand we choose, and practically every product we buy, collectively play some role in our identity construction and our place in society's status hierarchy.

Veblen then goes on to make an even more striking converse argument: Inexpensive consumable goods aren't just less expensive, they're also "cheap" in a deeply pejorative sense:

"While men may have set out with disapproving an inexpensive manner of living because it indicated inability to spend much, and so indicated a lack of pecuniary success, they end by falling into the habit of disapproving cheap things as being intrinsically dishonourable or unworthy because they are cheap."

The circularity here (as well as the financial waste) would be downright laughable if there weren't so many obvious examples of it in everyone's daily life. If you catch yourself presuming an expensive wine is better, that expensive branded products are better, or even that organic food is worth a large price premium, please recognize you're being played... by your own subconscious need for status.

Veblen takes the concept still further:

"So thoroughly has the habit of approving the expensive and disapproving the inexpensive been ingrained into our thinking that we instinctively insist upon at least some measure of wasteful expensiveness in all our consumption, even in the case of goods which are consumed in strict privacy and without the slightest thought of display. ...Any retrogression from the standard of living which we are accustomed to regard as worthy in this respect is felt to be a grievous violation of our human dignity."

Written a hundred years ahead of its time, this passage helps explain why so many middle- and upper-middle class Americans feel vaguely icky shopping at Wal-Mart, why they feel too culturally superior to go to chain restaurants, and why they pay significant price premiums for branded merchandise without even a second thought. Veblen saw it all more than a century ago: these things reflect our status.

We all like to think we don't buy things with our status in mind--that we're somehow above being so transparently status-conscious. But we do it without thinking, and worse, we rationalize it after the fact with plausible-sounding reasons justifying our actions. Of course the rationalizing is the most important step of all, because it protects us from truly seeing our own ugly status-consciousness for what it really is.

This neatly completes the circle of consumerism, to the intense delight of all the companies profiting from our freshly stroked egos.

One final thought. It's not a stretch to say that the average consumer hasn't read The Theory of the Leisure Class. It ain't exactly a page-turner, so I can see why. But how much would you bet that the people selling and marketing to us do know, intimately, all the concepts at work here?







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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!

The Sad, Quiet Death of Campbell's Low-Sodium Soup

Readers, once again, thanks for indulging me as I take a break from writing to work on other projects.
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A while back, Campbell's gave up and killed off their line of lower-salt soups.

Why? Because consumers hated them.

Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few food bloggers and public health pundits who are spinning this into yet another tale of corporate greed. Hey, Campbell's--just like every other food company--will do anything to increase their profits. Including killing off their own customers by adding salt back to their soup.

Maybe it's just me, but isn't it at least somewhat understandable that a food company would stop selling food their customers clearly don't want to buy?

Here's the problem: when you use a paranoid lens like "they'd do anything to increase their profits, including killing off their own customers" to consider a situation like this, you also adopt a fundamentally disempowering view that corporations are too powerful for us. You adopt a view that these companies, with their enormous advertising and marketing budgets, can tell us what to buy. And it presumes, condescendingly, we consumers are powerless to resist all those billions of dollars in ads.

Of course there's a hilariously huge hole in the logic of that lens. If Campbell's (or any other food company's) marketing was really that powerful, they could easily convince us to buy low-sodium soup. And they could make us like it too! With so much power, corporations could effortlessly persuade all those mindless lumpenproletariat zombies that their low-salt soups were delicious. Right?

Hmmm. But yet they couldn't. People still hated them--and didn't buy 'em.

Which proves an inconvenient truth: that we consumers actually decided that these soups would be unsuccessful--by not purchasing them. As with every other decision about what corporations sell us, we choose everything on our store shelves by making the final decision: to buy or not buy.

There's one more appalling logic error that comes flying out of the mouths of public health pundits whenever a major food company makes a seemingly anti-consumer decision like this. The flawed logic goes something like this: Yes, our culture has an obesity problem, a hypertension problem, and we are getting fatter and fatter as a nation as we effectively eat ourselves to death. And every public health pundit has an obligation to at least appear to care about these important and serious problems.

Well, there's no better way to appear to care about these issues than to virtue-signal in the media, pointing out new examples of food companies greedily putting profits before the health of their customers. In other words, a pundit can easily say "Campbell's should sell soup with less salt, but they won't, because they only care about making money." Somehow, this message seems vaguely logical, and it gives the pundit's audience a tasty and easy-to-swallow message that goes down very easily.

Except that any company that insists on selling things its customers don't want to buy will flop faster than Lehman Brothers. The bottom line, however, is that this anti-corporate, easy-to-swallow message is so easy to articulate, and it resonates so well with the average consumer, who wouldn't say it? Especially if doing so will burnish your reputation as the next Eliot Spitzer of food.

Uh, whoops. Wait. That was a really bad error. I meant the next Eliot Ness of food.

But here's the problem: despite the highly visible virtue-signalling and tsk-tsking about corporate greed, what that public health pundit is actually saying "Campbell's: stop selling foods that people like, and start selling what I think people should like. After all, I'm a food expert."

If this seems vaguely arrogant and condescending to you, good. Because it is.

To me, selling a hyperpalatable message like this--a message that encourages consumers to give away their power, and a message that appeals to consumers' emotions at the expense of their intelligence--is way more greedy and unethical than selling a can of salty soup.

Okay. There's another, better, solution--and CK readers already know it.

Let's face it, it's just as easy and far cheaper to make your own soup at home. Sure, with Campbell's you can easily get 1-2 servings of soup on the table in just 10-12 minutes. But take a look at any of the amazing soups available here at CK's recipe index. With a few incremental minutes of work, you can get three, four or even five times as many servings of a delicious, healthy, homemade soup or stew on your table, and enjoy leftovers for days afterward. You'll have healthier, better tasting food on the table for a fraction of the cost and time commitment.

And then you can control the sodium level in your food yourself, rather than letting some company control it for you.

Resources:
Campbell Adds Salt To Spur Soup Sales.
Reuters
Campbell Soup Fights the Salt Wars.
Food Politics
There are no good studies linking salt to hypertension.
Scientific American
But wait! There's NO DOUBT about the dangers of salt.
NewScientist




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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 Get the Benefits of Organic Foods... Without Paying Organic Prices

Once again, thanks for indulging me as I take what's turning out to be a *ridiculously* long break from writing to work on other projects.
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All frugal cooks wonder whether organic food is worth the extra money. But did you know that you can capture almost all of the benefits of going organic without having to pay inflated organic food prices? All you have to do is make a few minor changes in how you purchase and handle the produce you already buy. Here’s how:

1) Don’t think organic, think local.

When we think about the benefits of organic food, the environmental impact of pesticides usually comes to mind first. However, there is an even bigger negative environmental impact embedded in your produce that most shoppers don’t even consider: transport costs. Transport costs drive up the both the price and the carbon footprint of your food. If you can source a meaningful portion of your food from farms within a reasonable distance from home, you’ll save money and help the environment at the same time.

2) Don’t assume food lacking an organic label is grown unethically or unhealthily.

Many farmers find it extremely burdensome to meet all the government requirements to qualify for organic labeling. If you take a bit of time to visit with the growers and vendors at local farmer’s markets in your area, you may find they grow their food more sustainably and responsibly than the letter of the law.

On the other hand, if you insist on having an official-looking little “organic” sticker on your produce, you’ll quite often pay a 50-100% premium, and yet your food may still be trucked in from thousands of miles away with a significant and unnecessary carbon footprint. There’s no need to fixate on a little magic sticker. Instead, find opportunities to buy local and support responsible food growers in your region.

3) Local means in season and cheap.

Everybody knows that the cheapest produce is whatever's in season at the time you buy. Which brings us to an enormous and underappreciated advantage of going local: when you buy your produce locally, you’re guaranteed that all your fruits and veggies will be in season–because that’s the only time they grow! Best of all, your produce will be at its cheapest and most plentiful.

Consumers are fully conditioned now to see tomatoes, apples, citrus and many other fruits and vegetables in grocery stores all year long. And consumer who fixate on magic organic stickers and insist on buying out of season produce are simply asking to be separated from their money.

Don’t get fooled by the artificial reality of your grocery store. It’s not normal, quite frankly, for a North American shopper to buy apples in the spring and grapefruit in the late summer. It shouldn't need to be said, but it's completely acceptable to eat some foods only at certain times of the year! Humans have been doing it for millennia.

Take advantage of your community’s seasonal foods as they occur over the course of the year. You’ll pay a lot less and enjoy healthier, higher quality food.

4) For many fruits and vegetables, the benefits of going organic are negligible.

Many fruits and vegetables are equally healthy whether they’re grown organically or not. Fruits and vegetables with thick rinds or peels (melons, grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, etc.) will be well-protected from any pesticides because you remove the rind before eating. Likewise, fruits and veggies that you peel or husk (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, onions, garlic, etc.) will have several layers of protection between the food and any pesticides. You can eat these types of fruits and vegetables without worrying about ingesting any toxins.

Furthermore, many sturdy vegetables (turnips, beets, collards, kale, parsley, etc.) don’t require much in the way of pesticides, simply because they taste so terrible that insects refuse to eat them.

Whoops, wait! That was my inner five-year-old talking there for a second. What I meant to say was these veggies are already bug resistant and extremely hardy.

Finally, with fruits or vegetables where you eat the skin (apples or green bell peppers, etc.), just take care to wash the produce thoroughly with a scratchy sponge and warm soapy water. This will eliminate any potential pesticides from the food, allowing you to eat it entirely safely.

Don’t buy organic just to buy organic! You can get most of the benefits–and avoid all of the extra costs–by following these four simple tips.

Readers, share your thoughts!


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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 Be a Biased Consumer

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I take a break from writing to work on other projects. Today we're featuring another popular post from CK's early days. 
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I want big companies to compete intensely for my readers' spending dollars. I don't want them to get those dollars by default because of our preconceived notions. But when we make purchasing decisions based on our biases and preconceptions, we give away all our power as consumers.

Read the following three statements:

1) I only drive American cars.
2) I only buy organic.
3) I never shop at Wal-Mart.

Do any of these sound familiar to you? I'd bet most of my readers have made at least one, if not all, of these statements at some point in their lives.

My goal in today's post is to show that statements like these hurt us more than they help us. In fact, many widely held shopping- and purchase-related biases, despite sounding reasonable or ideologically agreeable, actually do considerable damage to the average consumer's choice and power.

All people have biases--it's fundamental to the human condition. But when our biases become unthinking, we hand over our consumer power before we even walk into a retailer's place of business. Let's go over each example:

1) I only drive American cars.

I heard this statement regularly in Syracuse, NY when I was growing up. And if I had a nickel for every gas-guzzling, rusted out American car on the roads up there during the 1970s--well, let's just say I'd have a lot of nickels.

People back then who held this ideologically comfortable bias thought they were being loyal to American automakers (uh, oh--there's that dangerous word "loyal" again). The awful irony, however is this: because they refused to consider other products on the market, not only did they limit their own choices, they also wasted money, energy and environmental resources. Worst of all, they rewarded Chrysler, Ford and GM for making substandard cars.

Those of you too young to remember, watch a classic 1970s-era movie like The French Connection or Taxi Driver to get a sense of the monstrously large cars everybody drove back then. And if you want to imagine what we all drove in Upstate New York, imagine those same monstrous cars covered in rust and falling apart.

The new competition from international automakers actually helped everybody. The US automakers had no choice but to respond to the superior Japanese imports, and they grudgingly improved their product lines, finally making cars that had fewer defects, ran better and got far better gas mileage. Foreign automakers built plants and dealer networks here, providing hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Best of all, American consumers had more choice, and they ultimately ended up getting better, safer and more fuel-efficient cars for their money.

2) I only buy organic.

Let's set aside for the moment all the recent questioning of the nutritional and health benefits of organic food. Do you realize that paying to meet all the government requirements to qualify for organic labeling can be onerous, especially for small farmers? It's quite likely that you have local farmers in your community who grow all of their food responsibly, yet they can't label their foods as such because it's too expensive or time-consuming to follow national organic standards to the letter of the law.

Don't assume that food lacking an organic label is by definition grown unethically. By holding that assumption as an article of faith, I guarantee you will miss out on the opportunity to buy local and support many ethical food growers in your community. Is this any different from thinking a Givenchy bag is superior just because it has a label?

One more thought, a highly counterintuitive one. When the government sets onerous rules and regulations on any industry, it usually has the perverse effect of limiting competition. A particularly painful recent example: Altria Corp. (the former Phillip Morris tobacco company) was happy with the recent FDA decision to expand its authority and regulate tobacco. Why? Because heavy FDA regulations meant significantly increased costs for the competition.

The largest players in a market can always bear new regulatory requirements. But those extra requirements typically create gigantic barriers to entry for potential new entrants, and they increase the cost of doing business for smaller, marginal players to a point where many will give up and exit the market. This means fewer choices for consumers... and maximum market share for the big guys. Don't get me wrong: I support intelligent regulation, but not when those regulations create outcomes that hurt the consumer.]

3) I never shop at Wal-Mart.

This one is going to get me in trouble, I know it.

There are lots of things I don't like about Wal-Mart, but their pro-consumer pricing strategy isn't one of them. This company simply decided to build a business based on lower operating margins than other retailers. Excuse some finance-speak for a moment: Wal-Mart's operating margins tend to be in the 2-4% range, while most other department store retailers charge higher prices so that they can achieve 5-7% operating margins. Those higher profits come directly out of consumers' pocketbooks.

Granted, there are plenty of other issues Wal-Mart faces, a discussion of which is far beyond the scope of this post. But few people give Wal-Mart credit for this highly pro-consumer strategy, a strategy many other retailers could also follow--if they chose to be equally pro-consumer.

Readers, what are other biases that hurt our consumer power and limit our choices? What else did I miss?

READ NEXT: Why Spices Are a Complete Rip-Off and What You Can Do About It

AND: Stacked Costs and Second-Order Foods: A New Way to Think About Rising Food Costs


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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!

Eight Shocking Myths About Vegetarians

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I take a break from writing to work on other projects. Today's post comes from WAY back in Casual Kitchen's archives.
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Long-time readers know all about Casual Kitchen's predilection for what we call part-time vegetarianism. Since vegetarian cuisine is typically very inexpensive, one great way to stretch your food budget and make your diet healthier is to replace two or three meat-based meals each week with vegetarian dishes.

However, since we straddle the world of meat-eaters and meat-avoiders, I'm often shocked by the many misconceptions that otherwise perfectly normal people hold about vegetarian cuisine. This post is an effort to put these myths to rest once and for all.


Myth #1: You can't get enough protein eating vegetarian food.
Nonsense. The standard Western diet contains several times the amount of protein the human body needs, thus those of us who embrace part time vegetarianism and eat two or three veggie meals a week have absolutely nothing to worry about. Moreover, full-time vegetarians only need to eat a well-balanced diet with a serving of dairy or eggs every day or so to meet their protein needs. Vegans have a bit more work to do here to get enough protein, but a diet containing generous servings of grains, legumes, and nuts will easily do the trick.

Myth #2: There isn't enough fat in a vegetarian diet.
Anyone who's ever met up with a big tub of delicious guacamole knows that fat is hardly limited to meat-based meals. And the standard Western diet is so fat-laden that we can easily ingest far more fat than we need. The fact that most vegetarian meals contain much less fat than most meat-centered meals is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Veggie cuisine makes eating healthy a lot easier.

Myth #3: Vegetarianism has to be all or nothing.
Here at Casual Kitchen, we embrace and enjoy vegetarian cuisine, but we are not--and probably never will be--vegetarians. Nobody says you have to make a one-way, Do Not Pass Go, permanent-for-all-time conversion to vegetarianism. Try veggie cuisine with an open mind once in a while, enjoy the health and cost benefits, and just see what you think. And then feel free to go right back to your regular meat-based diet.

Myth #4: Vegetarian diets are limited and boring.
Actually the exact reverse is true: so many meals depend on meat that cutting it out as the centerpiece of your diet literally forces you to vary your diet more. In my experience, vegetarians and partial vegetarians generally eat a much wider range of foods than the typical meat-eater.

Myth #5: You can't eat junk food on a vegetarian diet.
Heavens no. Not even close. Remember, Oreos are vegetarian. So are Doritos, potato chips and ice cream. Heck, so are Krispy Kreme donuts. You can eat a hellaciously bad diet and still call yourself a vegetarian. If you want to.

Myth #6: Vegetarian food never fills me up.
Count us among the people who used to think this--until we tried some amazing, mind-opening recipes like Groundnut Stew from the amazing Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, or Smoky Brazilian Black Bean Soup, or Spanish Chickpea and Garlic Soup. Try out these recipes in your home, and when you find that you can't get up from the dinner table, you'll also change your mind about how filling vegetarian food is.

Myth #7: Vegetarian culture is too weird. And I don't want to wear tie-dye.
You'd be surprised how much the demographics of vegetarianism have changed over the years. Sure, thirty years ago, back when vegetarianism was a smallish clique of crunchy communities in places like Berkeley, CA and Ithaca, NY, you could make the argument that crunchy behavior and tie-dye clothing used to be the standard. But the typical vegetarian today is more Sex and the City than crunchy--in other words, the modern vegetarian is the type of person who wouldn't be caught dead wearing tie-dye. Unless it was some kind of ironic statement.

Myth #8: Vegetarians are freakish militants intent on banning all meat.
If you took the time to actually get to know some vegetarians, you'd find the vast majority of them are quite peaceful, and they certainly don't lie awake at night worrying about what you just had for dinner. Yes, you'll find a few proselytizers here and there, but you can usually scare them off by waving your leather belt in a threatening manner. Most vegetarians quietly go about their business eating a healthy and perfectly satisfying diet, and they are okay with you eating meat if that's what you choose to do.

Readers, what other myths did I miss?


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