Meals by the Numbers

A useful ‘metric’ to have in mind is that it takes about ‘one dry pound’ of food to feed a person for a day. Yes, it’s less than that for a 100 lb / 50 kilogram woman and more for a 300 lb / 150 kg male. But it is a useful number for planning things like emergency rations.

That same rule of thumb can be used for comparing the costs of various food items for a subsistence diet. Just figure out about how much you are paying per “dry pound” and you have a fair way to compare different choices.

But turning ‘wet pounds’ into ‘dry pounds’ is not exact. So, for example, a boneless and very fat pork roast has a lot more calories per ‘dry pound’ than a set of lean pork ribs. The water content of fat is near zero, while the water content of the lean is closer to 75% to 80%. The bones are a nearly complete loss anyway, other than making soup or flavoring beans. So many of the comparisons have a significant ‘guess’ aspect to them. I’ll use a general guideline of 4:1 or 5:1 ratio for turning ‘wet’ meat into ‘dry’ pounds. So a 1 pound ‘wet’ steak is about 1/4 to 1/5 ‘dry pound’ while more bony cuts could run up to 10:1 ratio.

In general, the disparity is so large and so much in the same direction that it isn’t an error of ‘kind’, only of ‘how extreme’.

That means a $4 / lb roast is about $16 to $20 / “dry pound” while $3 / lb ribs are closer to $30 / “dry pound”. Meat is very expensive… A $1.10 / lb chicken is about $4 to $5 / “dry pound” and much more reasonable.

The Lowest End

At the very low end of the cost curve are the dry goods. Rice, flour, beans & lentils, corn meal, oat meal, sugar. That kind of thing. At the very high end are fresh high end meats, wines, and specialty foods like caviar and truffles. We won’t be going anywhere near the high end specialty foods.

To ‘eat cheap’ involves a lot of the very low end dry goods. Also a lot of whole grain cereals like various whole grain mixes. Things like a mix of rye, wheat, and barley grains, steamed or boiled.

How cheap is cheap?

Well, locally, rice is about $1.20 / lb in small units, and down closer to 50 ¢ in large bulk. Similarly prices for beans ( $1.40 / lb or so). So at a lower bound, you could live a month on about $20 to $30 by eating nothing but ‘dry goods’. This basic strategy is the baseline for most poverty level cooking. There are a thousand and one variations based on just this approach. From biscuits and dumplings, to pancakes and even Cajun “red beans & rice” or “dirty rice”, to Spanish Paella; most historical ethnic cuisines have an iconic ‘dry good’ that the rest of the meal plans are built around.

Asian rice. Italian noodles. North African couscous. Southern USA Corn Bread and Grits. Mexican corn, with rice with refried beans. Scotts oats and oatmeal. German barley. Polish rye bread. In Africa, and in ancient Asia, millet was the staple grain. To some extent, you can treat the potato as one of these staples, though it is technically ‘wet’; but sells so cheaply it is also a very cheap staple. The Irish lived on nearly nothing but potatoes for decades in the historical past.

Around this base, each cuisine adds a variety of flavors and spices, some characteristic fats and oils, vegetables and proteins. Decorate with fruits and sweet deserts based on the local available produce, and you get the ethnic mix. Finally, making various sauces out of those ingredients tends to finish the presentation and flavor pallet. But at the core, it remains that ‘dry goods’ base.

Exactly how much protein or which fats (or how much cheese or…) tends to vary with the relative wealth of the age. So one might have plain spaghetti with marinara if very poor. Add some grated Parmesan and olives if a bit better off. Moving up to mixed cheeses, lasagna noodles, and even some sausage and salami in the sauce in good times. To live cheaply, one just runs that escalator back the other direction. Many times when money was tight, I’d work at the bottom of the scale until I was enough ‘money ahead’ to have a high end special meal. A vegetarian Paella would be very cheap (but still very nutritious); one step up you can add a bit of low cost farmed fish (such as tilapia) and / or a few shrimp. At the top end, you could go all out with a variety of expensive shell fish, even salmon and a lobster. So take a high end cuisine, and take out the expensive ingredients, add in some cheaper ones, and you get a cheap very similar meal.

Historically, for most of humanity and for most of history, that was the usual diet. Only for the very rich, or for rare periods of time, would wealth allow a lot of meat or high fat diets. Historically, too, there were a lot of fruits and vegetables added to that base diet, mostly from family gardens and orchards. Today those can be fairly expensive, especially off season, but they are important for a variety of health reasons. Even if ‘living cheap’, it is important to find a way to add them to the diet. Even if modest amounts.

Breads are one of the major ways this class of food is still present in the western diet. “Man does not live by bread alone.” was a reference to spiritual needs precisely because bread was THE dominant food item in the diet of the people of that age. In the USA Old West, corn bread, hard tack, and tortillas were still the center of the diet. “Corn bread and chili beans” is a classic. Folks can still live on not much more than that today.

But at what cost?

Some example prices

I did a bit of price shopping at the local middle / higher end grocery store, Publix, and at the Walmart about 2 blocks away from it. Comparing those prices can be enlightening. Even in this, the low end of things, you can get 50% savings by price shopping.

Beans & Lentils

Lentils are sold in 1 lb bags. At Publix they were $1.39 and Walmart $1.12 /lb. The Indian core diet of rice and lentil / gram bean dishes runs out to about $1 / person / day (at USA prices).

Pinto and similar beans:

1 lb          2 lb        4 lb       
$1.69         $3.00       $5.69
$1.69/lb      $1.50/lb    $1.42/lb

1 lb          2 lb        4 lb        
$1.57         $3.05       $5.98
$1.57/lb      $1.52/lb    $1.50/lb

OK, what can see learn from this? First off, Walmart isn’t always the cheapest, but when Publix is cheaper, it is usually only a little bit cheaper. You get a lot more “gain” out of going to larger sizes; at least for beans. There is an 18% ‘gain’ between the smallest and largest sizes at Publix. (Even larger sizes, with even more “gain” can be had at places like Costco or BJ’s). Even with the highest price choice, it is only $1.70 / day (allowing a penny of spice ;-) to live on ‘just beans’. You can sprout beans to get a fresh vegetable too!

In California when I’d done this, Pinto beans were cheaper than lentils. Here, lentils are cheaper. It pays to compare in your area. In this case, lentils are a full 50% cheaper than the most expensive beans, by the pound.

If you have a bit more money, you can ‘move up’ to things like “red beans and rice” using actual red beans. At Publix, the other kinds of beans were:

$3.39 / 2 pound bag of black beans. $3.89 / 2 pounds bag of red beans. That’s $1.70 and $1.95 per pound respectively. So it’s nearly a 60% “uplift” in bean cost to have “red beans and rice” instead of “lentils and rice”. Nutritionally they are about the same. Yet in absolute terms, it’s only about 42 ¢ to have a pound of red beans and rice (as only 1/2 of it is the beans) instead of lentils and rice. Is it worth that 42 ¢? Depends on if you have it or not…


        14 oz      1 lb          2 lb         3lb            5 lb         10 lb        20 lb        20 lb
P	1.15	   1.29	                      3.49	                 $10	       10.00		
	1.31/lb	   1.29/lb                    1.16/lb	                  $1/lb	        0.50/lb	
W		   1.16	2.16	 2.16                        4.48                      13.66	     10.98	
		   1.16/lb 	 1.08/lb                     0.896/lb                   0.68/lb       0.549	

In many ways this is a more interesting chart. First off, rice runs less than beans. Nice to know. Then there are some “odd bits”. That 14 oz package of rice at Publix, for example. It looks almost like a 1 lb bag, but isn’t and is the same brand as the rest of them, Mahatma. It’s not a lot more expensive than the pound bag, on a per pound basis, only 2 cents. Yet what purpose can it serve? At Publix, the 20 lb bag of rice costs less than one of the 20 lb bags at Walmart, yet Walmart also has a “Water Maid” brand at almost as cheap. Why two different 20 lb bags? Who knows. (It might be long grain vs short or some such, I didn’t look that closely).

Now notice the range. A full 2.62 x as expensive, highest to lowest. I could use 2.5 x more food for my $$…

Yes, you need to buy the 20 lb bag to get that benefit. I’ve been known to buy a 50 pound bag at Costco. Just put it in jars and it keeps for years. No jars? Well, start off smaller then, and work your way up. I’d likely go with the 5 pounder from Walmart. Over time, save jars for ‘canisters’ from things like pasta sauce or pickles or jam… Heck, you save $10 on 20 lbs, so you could even buy $10 of canning jars with that and still be money ahead. But you can be patient and only use ‘found’ jars.

That 50 ¢ day base cost can add up to a lot of ‘head room’ for adding other things to the meal plans. Like some shrimp on the paella ;-)


At Publix, the base House Brand price is $1.19/lb for spaghetti and other noodle shapes. At Walmart, their house brand runs $1 / lb. Is 19 ¢ worth it? Is 19% worth it? That 19% can let you add some olives and mushrooms to the sauce, and put on a bit more cheese…

The higher end brand at Publix is $1.49 / lb, with lasagna noodles at $2.19 / lb and “oven ready” lasagna at $2.19 for ONE HALF POUND, or a full $4.38 / pound. Since you can make other “al forno” (from the oven) noodles in the same style, I see no reason to pay extra for lasagna noodles. “Oven ready” is just for lazy people. Just thinner noodles that you can put in the lasagna uncooked. I’m happy to boil the noodles for 10 minutes in exchange for twice as much food.

How about the sauce? Jars of marinara vary dramatically. There are 2 relatively cheap brands, Prego and Ragu, that come in larger sized jars.

		45	oz			
P	Ragu	3.68	0.082			
	Prego	3.79	0.084			
				66	oz	
W	Ragu	2.98	0.066	4.18	0.063	
	Prego	2.92	0.065	4.33	0.065	
	House	2.08	0.046	3.18	0.048	

So Walmart 66 ounce jars are MORE per ounce than the 45 ounce jars. Yes, not by much, but it also means no reason to buy them. The Prego ’66’ is really 67 ounces, per the label. There is a very small, but not really significant discount on the Ragu 66 ounce. But what this really says is that the economies of scale are pretty much all in by 45 ounces. Since it is only an ounce or two per serving of noodles, the difference of a couple of 1/10ths of cent between Ragu or Prego just doesn’t matter. Buy what tastes good to you. Heck, even the 2 to 4 ¢ per serving to have an ‘uplift’ from Walmart house brand (Great Value) to a ‘name’ doesn’t really matter. Let taste be your guide. But it’s a nearly ‘double’ to go from Walmart brand to Prego at Publix. A full $1.70 / jar. That buys a pound of pasta…

But that 48 ounces will go moldy before you can eat it all. So be prepared to pour it into tubs or freezer jars and freeze it in portion sizes you use.

Now notice that a pound of noodles at Walmart for $1, with even 4 ounces of sauce from Walmart is about 25 ¢ for a decent brand. For $1.25 / day you can have noodles. No, I’m not advocating all noodles all the time. I’m just showing how you can find a meal that fits the $1 / meal method pretty easy. If it’s 45 ¢ / meal of plain noodles and marinara, then some OTHER meal can be $2, or you can have some bread and butter with the meal (and less noodles); or add a side of green beans.

Now you know why so many people in the world eat diets based around beans, rice, noodles…


A “special mention” for eggs. Today I ‘price shopped’ 3 pages of different things. It would take me several more hours to put it all in this one posting, so I’m going to spread it out. Things like “wings” of chicken costing almost $4/lb at Publix (“Buffalo Wings” and football…) while you can get a whole chicken at Walmart for $1.09 / lb. Almost 4 times as much chicken, and much better ‘cuts’ available. Learning to butcher a chicken pays off. A lot. (Or just roast it and go ;-)

But what will fit in this posting is a mention of eggs. Sometimes called “liquid chicken” by commodity traders, they are a great cheap protein source.

Mixing eggs with grains or breads is a classical “eat well but cheap” strategy. So an egg is added to Asian fried rice. It’s about 15 ¢ for an egg, so 1/2 pound of rice (cooked it’s a lot more…) plus an egg and some seasonings is still well under $1 at about 40 ¢. That leaves 60 ¢ of vegetables, spices and oil to add and still stay under $1 for the meal. With protein, vegetables and starch.

With French Toast, I usually use one whole egg per slice of bread. Sometimes the bread is thin and it won’t soak up a whole egg. Still, it is cheap. Figure about what, 25 slices to a 20 ounce loaf? I make that about 6 ¢ for the bread per slice, or 18 ¢ for 3. Add in 45 ¢ for eggs, you have 63 ¢ for 3 large egg rich slices of french toast. (you can use a bit of milk with 2 eggs for a more typical recipe, and at slightly lower cost; and a touch of vanilla extract – just a drop). Now I like to soak mine in real maple syrup and real butter. About 25 ¢ of real butter and about 75 ¢ of real maple syrup. Yup, that real syrup costs more than the French Toast. That’s why you never find it in restaurants.

Living cheap, you can use the (IMHO inadequate and way too thick / sticky) imitation maple syrup. Even some margarines are OK (look for those with Palm Oil and without the word “hydrogenated”). Avoid anything with “hydrogenated” in it. IMHO, trans-fat clogs up your fat metabolism and leaves you hungry, while natural fats are turned to energy and leave you feeling full. Also I suspect trans-fat bonds to cholesterol and doesn’t want to let go; turning a fat moving molecule into an artery clogging broken thing (but that’s speculative). At any rate, IMHO, while it is important to look at all costs, some costs are “worth it”. You want to be frugal, not “stoopid cheap”… You can save most of the cost of butter by shopping. $2.50 / lb at Walmart vs $5 / lb at higher end places (Publix has a decently cheap house brand of butter too). Shaving that 25 ¢ of butter to 12 ¢ would be better done by using less than by swapping to margarine and making the flavor “just not quite right”. YMMV.

So, some late night comes and you need a cheap dinner. Consider “breakfast for dinner”. Pancakes, French Toast, hashbrown potatoes, etc. All fast, cheap, and a decent meal. Or make some eggs into a dinner omelet or quiche. How much do egg prices vary? Well, one bit I’m not going into right now is the size of small vs medium vs large vs extra large vs jumbo. It DOES matter, but it’s late. So I’m just going to compare the two most common bought. Mediums and large. Sometimes you can get more lbs of eggs per $$ in X-large or Jumbo, but you have to “do the math” and I don’t know the sizes right off. I tend to buy large or X-large just because I like them larger and about 20 years ago they computed out to the best price / lb then ;-)

	Medium		Large		X-Large	
	$1.79		$1.87	$2.85	$2.00	$3.00
	$0.15		$0.16	$0.16	$0.17	$0.17	
			EB:	$4.00		
W	$1.74		$1.88	$2.78	$2.08	$3.08
	$0.15		$0.16	$0.15	$0.17	$0.17

30 Count Flats:					
W	                $4.28	
P	                $4.69	

A couple of things. This really ought to be to 3 decimal places to show when 16 cents is really 16.4 or so. Since most of the differences are in the rounded position. Publix is not significantly different in price from Walmart on eggs. (On meat prices they are way different…) The “best deal” is Walmart 30 egg flats. The next nearest is the 18 count house brand Large at Walmart. Medium eggs are not great shakes, at 15 ¢ at either place (and you can get Large eggs for 15 ¢ each at Walmart in the 18 count carton). Going “upscale” to “Eggland’s Best” is expensive. $0.22 / egg. Extra Large at 17 ¢ / egg is likely more cost efficient, but really needs to be computed based on actual weights. While Publix was cheaper than Walmart on a carton basis by about 8 cents, it is lost in the rounding error per egg for X-Large.

My flat of large eggs says the serving size is 1 egg, 30 grams. That’s about 1.06 ounces. Call it an ounce. (Hey, I never get everything out of the shell anyway….) That makes a pound out of 16 eggs. About $2.40 / ‘wet pound’. A decent price compared to most meats, though a roast chicken is cheaper. It’s just a bit easier to mix eggs into grains and such to improve their flavor and texture. Still, chicken Alfredo is a good idea too.

Tonight, I make 4 hard boiled eggs into Deviled Eggs. Yokes in a bowl and whites cut into halves. A couple of table spoons of mayo and a tiny squirt of mustard at only a few more cents. Cream it all together. Scoop back into the egg whites. That’s 8 “1/2 eggs”. A very rich meal. Cost? 64 ¢ and some mayo. Maybe $3/4 all told. A bit of salt and pepper on top. (A dash of Mexican hot sauce can be fun too ;-) I added two quesedillas ( at 32 ¢ / tortilla as I was using fancy ones, but it could have been 1/2 that with cheaper ones; some cheese and canned refried beans). I’d guess about $1/2 to $2/3. So all in all, about $1.50 for a dinner that left me stuffed.

Yes, 8 deviled eggs and 6 ‘wedges’ of cheese and beans, in 2 tortillas. That will fill you up. 3 proteins (eggs, beans, cheese), 2 starches (tortilla, beans), added fats (mayo) and loads of minerals and vitamins (egg yolks). Now the spouse can only eat about 1/2 that much. (I’m over 100 kg / 220 lbs). So for her it would be closer to 75 ¢ to $1 for dinner. The tortillas were the ones with spinach and such in them, so technically a ‘vegetable’; but would have been a better balanced meal with a side vegetable. Even just salsa and chips (and maybe one less quesedilla). In any case, this is NOT some “deny and starve yourself” meal. It’s a very rich and filling meal. Very cheaply.

I did add a desert (about an hour later ;-) of a 1/2 pint of canned nectarines. I canned them last week. I’d bought the nectarines for 97 ¢ / lb or some such. Canned with syrup that was 2/3 water and 1/3 sugar at about 50 ¢/lb for the sugar. So my desert was about 45 ¢. All up, with desert, still under $2 for a very satisfying meal. That $2 would buy about 2 ounces of a fancy beef steak. Barely one appetizer.

The French make many fine egg dishes. This is because they had a lot of eggs on French Farms for not too much money. Well worth investigating French egg dishes along with other ethnic styles.

BTW, to get hard boiled eggs that do not stick to the shell, use old eggs. I buy eggs in the 2 1/2 dozen flats (and repack them into old saved styrofoam packages). When I get down to the last 1/2 dozen, I go buy a new flat. That last 1/2 dozen gets hard boiled and I re-load the old packages. (Sometimes when in a hurry I’ll just buy a dozen or 18 ct package. Then save the carton when it’s emptied. I usually had enough to repack 5 dozen count cartons from Costco when the whole family was home. Now I think the 2 1/2 dozen flat is enough for one person alone; so I only need one 18 ct and one dozen carton.) So no worries about the eggs sitting around the fridge too long and getting old. As they start to spread out and run too much when being fried, they are also becoming best for hard boiled eggs.

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the student to calculate the cost of a ‘deviled egg sandwich’ for lunch, or of a cheese omelet for breakfast. It’s down in the pennies in any case. Add a bowl of oatmeal to the breakfast or a side of pasta salad to the lunch and you too can be happy and stuffed for cheap and with a fair load of calories for energy.

(Yes, I know I’m deliberately showing high calorie content examples. For a “starving student”, they need the calories. For rich folks with too much food, you can go on a diet that buys a lot of food with not much in it for too much money… As long as your fat metabolism isn’t clogged up with trans-fat you can burn the oils and fats for energy anyway, and that makes you feel satiated and removes hunger feelings. Yes, that is a personal observation from personal experience. I.e. not just theoretical. So ‘pancakes and eggs’ with butter is just fine. Grampa ate that on the farm and lived to 90 something – though he added lots of ham and beef and cheese too…)

I’ve also put hard boiled eggs into vegetarian lasagna to get a meat alternative into it (for ovo-lacto veg.). Just layered them in as whole peeled eggs during the assembly. It was nice (creamier than usual…)

In Conclusion

We’ll have a similar look at meats and canned goods and more in coming days. For now, with rice, beans, breads, cheese and eggs; there are dozens of meal plans you can make. All very reasonable. Honey Nut Cherios runs out at $4 / 12 1/4 ounces at Publics. That is $5.22 / lb. More than pork chops or fried chicken. Even more than Beef Chuck Roast. Grits runs $2.38 for 5 (dry) pounds. That’s 48 ¢ / lb. Cherios costs you a good 11 times as much per pound. For what? Polenta with butter and syrup is a very nice flavor… Flour costs even less and little beats biscuits and gravy for breakfast. (The pan drippings to make it being basically free.)

But you want something sweet and milky? OK. Generic oats cost $2.48 for 2 lbs 10 ounces. That’s $0.94 / lb. Still less than 1/5 the price of that packaged processed cereal. Add a pat of butter, milk, and some sugar; you will not be hungry for hours. With the savings, buy some raisins to toss into it. Oh, and you will use a lot less milk in the bowl. Frankly, I think you save enough on the milk to cover the cost of the oats, so essentially the oats are free. Don’t like it “mushy”? OK, use whole grains (oats, barley, wheat, rye – they even sell them mixed at Whole Foods) and put them into a rice cooker. Yes, it takes a while to cook. But you get a chewy bowl of very filling grains that are great with milk and sugar. Cost? Somewhere around 20 ¢ / bowl.

They point? Shed the “Branding” habit. Find real, basic, commodity foods. Take the time to prepare them well. Learn to know your ingredients and the cost per pound. Once the core is low cost natural low processed foods, then you have saved enough money to add in interesting treats and to go more ‘upscale’ on some meals. In short, ask yourself which you want more: a pound of sugar puffs or 4 pounds of roast chicken?

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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38 Responses to Meals by the Numbers

  1. Petrossa says:

    mmm, i pay 5$ for 2 buns and 10$ for a pound of lean meat. I guess foodprices vary greatly per nation.

  2. philjourdan says:

    Growing up (7 kids, single mom) we were poor. But the biggest treat (my mother was not a great cook) was our Breakfast dinners! So yea, we ate cheap!

    And Grits? I could live off of grits alone. IN fact I did. When my mother cooked liver and grits (liver was dirt cheap in those days), I would only eat the grits. I know it is supposed to be good for you, but I cannot stand liver to this day.

    Another meat that has gone the fad way? Tongue. It was pennies a pound growing up, but then they realized it was all meat (no bones or fat), and so now it is the “healthy” cut and costs accordingly. The one thing my mother could cook was tongue. I miss it.

  3. dearieme says:

    You can make plain dishes, such as scrambled eggs on toast, much tastier at next-to-no cost by using herbs that are easy to grow. For scrambled eggs we usually use chives.

    For breakfast cereal, I mix my own muesli. 200-225 g of porridge oats, 15 g of oat bran, two table spoons of sunflower seed, two of pumpkin seed, half of linseed, three of toasted coconut. Chop up and add eight dried apricots and eight dried prunes. Stir and shake together in a jar. That lasts me about eight days. In very cold weather I will instead eat a bowl of porridge with half a banana sliced onto it and stirred in. (Banana tastes better heated than cold.)

  4. Speed says:

    During one of the world’s periodic disasters (Pakistan earthquake I think) where the US military (primarily the Navy) was providing assistance, I began wondering how the supply chain decided what and where to send food. They focus on calories, shippability, available storage/prep technology and local tastes. Then it is a matter of transportation — which the US military can do better than most organizations.
    Rice, dried legumes, oil, water and fuel.

    Separately, I’m always amazed at how cheap pork tenderloin is. A high quality meat with no waste, it was $1.99/pound at Fred Meyers last weekend.

  5. Zeke says:

    Walmart carries larger quantities of items unless prices get too high. For example, when wheat prices are good, you can buy a 10 lb bag and make bread for a week or so for a family. But right now they only carry a 5 lb bag, which is $3.65. That’s how much 10lbs was just a couple months ago. I think they know that people just can’t stretch the paycheck and will buy the smaller quantities.

    It’s just like Vice Pres. Joe Biden said a couple of years ago. “The middle class is getting slammed.”

    If anyone else is out there, trying to get by on one income, and focusing on your kids while they are still home, you can make it. It’s not necessarily worth it for the woman to work. She can do so much at home, and you will save on gas and wardrobes. Shop at Walmart, get a bread maker, and make your own granola, since bread and cereal are not that hard to make yourself. Use all the bread crusts for a baked french toast breakfast. You can do it. And keep giving to your favorite charity or church, God knows it is hard. Mike is right, rice, pasta and potatoes can be fantastic with a little love and creativity.

    I just don’t understand these haarpies with nothing better to do than stir up fashion whirlwinds, attacking wheat, cows, and Walmart. These people are just totally cold and unproductive. And they can only get warm by making things hard for people who are productive.

  6. josh warren aka rainmaker6182 says:

    rainmaker6182 aka josh warren here, as a;ways thanks for the ideas… I think my friends ond the survivalist b oards would like your blog…. especially the darkside…. thanx from sedona Mike.

  7. Larry Geiger says:

    Well, well, the ChiefIo has been very busy down at Publix.

    We never buy house brand at Publix or Walmart. Food is the only thing in the budget that we don’t budget. We want it, we buy it. It’s too much of a privilege living here in the good old USofA to not enjoy the bounty. Just finished the first helping of a 9X13 Ziti. Ooooooooh so good. My wife is a treat! Some good old green peas (for potassium she says). I just like peas so it was all good.

    I live in an average 3 bedroom house, and drive an old pick up truck. But when I go to Publix, if I see something i want I get it, if I see something the grandchildren might want, I just reach out and get it. Fill up that old cart. When it’s summer time we have lots of steak and chicken grilled on the gas.

  8. Jason Calley says:

    Years ago as a starving student, one of my favorites was a one-pan variation of beans on toast. Saute up a bunch of onion in a pan, preferably in butter. Once the onion is soft and clear, add in a can of beans (either pork and beans or vegetarian beans — the kind in a basic tomato sauce). Once the mix is hot and bubbling, add a good bit of sugar until the mix is fairly sweet, then add in any variety of Tabasco hot sauce to counteract some of the sweetness; the contrast between the sugar and the hot sauce is quite yummy. Last step is to dissolve a teaspoon or two of corn starch in a bit of cold water, then blend it into the bubbling beans; this is to just thicken up the mixture. Serve it over hot buttered toast.

  9. Paul, Somerset says:

    @Larry Geiger … I do know what you mean. One of the curiosities I observed as a student was how people would rather cut back on food than, e.g.,going clubbing. But if you don’t have a linear, reliable source of income, or if you’re investing for the future, whether financially or through education or training, you’re going to hit a spot some time where you have to batten down the hatches and find that cutting out the luxuries is not enough.

    The alternative is being forced to abandon your investment at a loss or liquidate assets at fire-sale prices. This could mean dropping out of college or paying penal rates of interest on loans. In those kinds of times it’s good to know what you need to do to get by at a bare minimum and have the confidence that only comes from prior research and experience. You don’t want to be learning for the first time when that Oh shit! moment actually occurs.

    And having that confidence makes you more likely to stretch yourself, explore and take chances in life.

    It’s why I grow crops on a tiny scale in my garden. I just want to know now what works and how to do it if I ever need to grow vegetables on a larger,fast, emergency scale. (As it happens, it’s radish and kohl rabi where I live.)

  10. Larry Geiger says:

    When I was in college my mom gave me $2,000/yr. I was on quarters back then so each quarter she would send me $666.66. I would get the last couple of pennies in the third quarter check. That was all that I was going to get and it didn’t quite cover the standard meal plan. So I worked and made up the difference. I always found enough money to get my meal ticket. Kinda shows where my priorities are I suppose :-)

    I love Publix. Where shopping is a pleasure!

    I never go to Winn Dixie, it smells funny. What’s up with that? I never go to Walmart. Too big and dusty and odd and they have lots of funny giant containers. I don’t go to Aldi because… I don’t know, something weird there.

    Anyway, whatever floats your boat.

    I do sometimes go to Petty’s Meat Market. Stores in Melbourne and Suntree. They have Makoto’s Vegetable Sauce when Publix doesn’t. They also have big, fluffy, yummy, slightly crunchy croutons. They also have a bunch of other yummy stuff.

  11. Mike B. says:

    While I lived in New Orleans, I became totally hooked on red beans and rice. Virtually every restaurant in town offered it as a Monday lunch special, usually cooked with a ham bone or ham hocks. Often served with sausage.

    It wasn’t until I moved away and tried to recreate the dish that I realized how cheap (and nutritious) it is to make.

  12. philjourdan says:

    @Larry – You were rich! ;-)

    I got zilch. I paid for it all myself. My mother had 6 other kids, and an NCO salary to make it on. I missed out on a lot of the ‘social’ stuff because I was working. But I would not trade it for the world.

  13. PPugliano says:

    A couple of tips on eggs. To make sure they are not bad (too old) put them in water. If they go right to the bottom and lie flat, they are very fresh. If they stand on their smaller tip or if the top shows only a bit through the surface, they are a few weeks old. If they totally float, they are no good.

    Another method is to shake them near your ear. If you hear a clear swashing sound, they are bad. But the water method is more reliable. Don’t eat eggs that float. Too much gas in there. Or something.

    Also, for easy pealing after boiling them, it helps a lot if you empty the hot water, then shake the pot to bang the eggs against the sides of the pot, so the shells crack all over, then pour cold water for a while, at least a minute. They will peel easily even if they are very fresh.

  14. Tim Clark says:

    philjourdan says:
    16 September 2013 at 11:22 am

    Wednesday was liver and onions night for myself, parents and five siblings. Unlike you, I still love them.

  15. Tim Clark says:

    dearieme says:
    16 September 2013 at 12:01 pm
    You can make plain dishes, such as scrambled eggs on toast, much tastier at next-to-no cost by using herbs that are easy to grow.

    My households traditional Christmas morning breakfast!

  16. Sera says:

    Winn Dixie (the beef people) is only good for meats- better selection, quality and prices.

    Publix (where shopping IS a pleasure) for veggies and stuff.

    Wally World for cleaning and toilet supplies.

    On fridays (as a student) we would splurge and visit the all-you-can-eat buffets. You pack in as much food as you can, then spend the rest of your money on beer. Then it was back to rice and beans/spaghetti and peas/s.o.s. for the rest of the week.

    Good times!

    @Tim Clark:

    I think Longhorn Steakhouse still has all-you-can-eat liver and onions (for lunch only). Don’t forget the side of bacon- yummy!!!

  17. dearieme says:

    A favourite restaurant from student days offered a meal with which to fill your tummy before pootling off for a few beers. Curried spaghetti on rice with chips.

  18. philjourdan says:

    @Tim Clark – I wish you had been one of my siblings – you could have had my share. ;-)

  19. Steve Brown says:

    Eating cheaply? My wife and I have to!
    Here in the UK the last government we had was Socialist, they ‘disappeared’ my private pension, said that I suddenly owed taxes (with interest) and took the lot, every penny of it.
    I’m 66, my best beloved is 63 and we both still work, we have to. Fortunately we are both fond of gardening, we grow a good deal of what we eat. A lot of what we grow goes into the deep freezer but, as our electricity prices continue to rise steeply (to pay for windmills) we are now forced to look for ways of preserving foodstuffs without freezing. We have been amazed at how many such ways there are (Google is your friend).
    Green beans, blanched and then preserved in a very light brine, apples cored and peeled, par-cooked and bottled in syrup, the jar cap sealed with a thick coating of paraffin wax, the list is endless. You can even safely preserve cooked meats!
    I have six egg-laying chickens in the back yard, fed on a mix of scraps and some poultry food. Spanish omelettes made from home-grown onions, red and green peppers with cheap about -to-meet-sell-by date ham or chorizo are very filling! We can’t eat all of the eggs produced so we are preserving some (in isinglass) and others pickled in a vinegar/brine mix (great with a home-brewed beer!).
    When the chooks stop producing eggs, they are slaughtered for soups and casseroles. I have recently taken on ten broiler chicks, they should be ready for slaughter in about two month’s time when they will be frozen.
    My wife and I reckon we’ve cut or food bills by about 50 – 60% by home-growing, home-raising, buying carefully (as per Chiefio’s article) and overall frugality.

  20. Larry Geiger says:

    philjourdan: Yes I was rich, though I may not have appreciated it at the time as much as I do now. I did work before and during college but I didn’t have to pay for all of it. That was certainly a blessing.

    My younger son lost his scholarship for tuition and books his first year at school. Got a job at Sears changing tires. Along the way he found a wife through a co-worker there, earned more that he needed for tuition and books, learned quite abit about begin a mechanic and is now a pretty fair shade tree mechanic and is now a licensed/registered architect. All good stuff

  21. This post and the amazing comments support my very limited understanding of food science. I am an engineer and physicist who flunked biology. However, I set up several food related businesses starting with the 1978 STC (Standard Telephones & Cables) fish farm in Greenwich, London,

    The STC fish farm reared many tonnes of rainbow trout, carp and eels. We raised Richardson “Super Trout” with a food conversion efficiency of 120%. For every tonne of food consumed by the fish we harvested 1.2 tonnes of “Rainbow Trout”. Impossible you say!

    Predator fish need a high protein diet so we gave them food that was 60% protein, For every kilogram of feed we harvested 1.2 kg of fish. Each kg of food contained 600 grams of protein and we harvested 1.2 kg of fish.
    That sounds wonderful until you do the arithmetic:

    1. One kg of food contains 600 grams of protein,
    2. One kg of food converts to 1200 grams of fish.
    3, 1200 grams of fish contains 300 grams of protein.
    4. We just converted 600 grams of protein into 300 grams.

  22. Bennett In Vermont says:

    Printed out a text file of this for future reference. It goes in the survival file.

    Thanks, E.M.

  23. p.g.sharrow says:

    Changing lower valued feed to higher valued food. The question is, Did it make money? Farming is often a way to make a small fortune by spending a large one. ;-( I preferred to raise pigs when I was younger. Being married to livestock is way too confining for me, so now, I only farm a couple of acres of garden and vineyard. It keeps me busy and limits the losses. Cooking and canning is a way to feed me and friends with things that can’t be bought. Now that has real value. pg

  24. p.g.sharrow says:

    Today I must make A carboy of my Blackberry Brandy! For “Wave Offerings” at “Burnt Offering” services and Medicinal use only. ;-) of course. pg

  25. dearieme says:

    Here’s a delicacy that we’ve tried only in the last month. Highly recommended.

  26. gallopingcamel says:

    p.g.sharrow says, 21 September 2013 at 1:50 pm

    “…….the question is, Did it make money? Farming is often a way to make a small fortune by spending a large one.”

    Sadly you are right. Both my fish farms went belly up! First the rainbow trout farm in Greenwich, London and then the smolt farm in Eastport, Maine.

  27. j ferguson says:

    What were the problems that led to the fish farm collapse?

  28. gallopingcamel says:

    “What were the problems that led to the fish farm collapse?”

    The trout farm was closed as the pilot plant demostrated that our cost of production was $1.00/pound which was equal to the selling price of trout in 1981. Instead of “Scaling Up” we scrapped the trout project.

    So why try to grow smolts? While we estimated that it would cost five times more to raise smolts (compared to rainbow trout) the selling price was 25 times higher so things looked good on paper.

    Short answer for the failure of the smolt project = Furunculosis.

    Long answer. During the summer of 1988 our first batch of smolts was stressed by high temperatures (in Maine!). A furunculosis outbreak followed as had happened most years in London. The treatment is simple. The vet prescribes Tetracyclines, you dose the fish feed and the fish recover.

    In Maine the fish did not recover because the Maine strain of furunculosis was Tetracycline resistant. I did not have enough money to take a second shot at it so I found a steady job in academia.

  29. p.g.sharrow says:

    Yes, Farming is not for the faint of heart. It is said that you must fail or go broke at least twice to have any chance of success. Even when you really know what you are doing, god or Murphy, will strike and wipe your crop out in an afternoon. A year or more of work and the money, gone. High stakes gambling. Kind of fun, actually. ;-) pg

  30. gallopingcamel says:

    Right again. Once I got bitten by the fish farming bug, the only thing that could stop me was bankruptcy!

  31. p.g.sharrow says:

    gallopingcamel; Maybe for the best. Sounds like you are making a valuable contribution to the “General Welfare” by showing the way to educational reform. Modern Public education has become a real cesspool of high cost and poor results. Yesterday I watched a FOX Stossel program that included a “No Rules” school where children set their own learning pace. Seemed to work better the the present public system. Some of my most valuable school time was spent unsupervised in the Library and Lab.
    When I was in high school I was told by a teacher/vice principle that I was not supposed to enjoy school, “learning was supposed to be hard work!” I guess he hadn’t grown up doing chores on a farm. School was a break from my daily farm work.
    Most children that I have known enjoy learning, they are just taught to hate school by their teachers. A friend of mine refers to the grammar school he attended as the * city prison. I had a similar opinion of the several schools that I attended.
    The present system has evolved from something that worked 60 years ago to a thing of gross mismanagement and cost that produces a good living for the bureaucrats and a poor education for the children that are herded through it. pg

  32. Jason Calley says:

    Public schools: Twelve years of prison for the crime of being a child.

    It was not always thus.

  33. j ferguson says:

    Thank you for relating the unfortunate fate of your fish farming experience. I apologize for not responding sooner.

    In case there is some fantasy on my part about how this part of the world works, don’t any of you hesitate to straighten our my thinking, but is there no commodities exchange where one might hedge (buy futures contract options) this apparently terrible risk?

    I could ask the same about massive chicken, turkey, or swine factories. I suspect that there would be little, if any, genetic diversity in the populations in these places and what wipes out one would take out the whole cohort.

    As you might imagine, the public at large, me included, is not well informed on the nature of the risks in food production, and i suspect, lacks sufficient respect for the people who take them.

    thanks again for sharing this.

  34. gallopingcamel says:

    j ferguson,

    Great idea but it is hard to get insurance for innovative ventures. My fish farm was a FOIK with a 1,500 gallon liquid oxygen tank. If it had included a means to cool the recirculated water in the summer it might have succeeded.

  35. gallopingcamel says:

    j ferguson,

    Atlantic salmon parr (juvenile fish acclimatized to fresh water) display a bi-modal or even tri-modal growth pattern by which I mean that roughly half the population become smolts (acclimatized to brackiish water or sea water) after one season in the river. The remaining fish become smolts after two years with a few taking three years (according to Sedgwick).

    This is Mother Nature’s way of protecting the species from an event that wipes out all the smolts from a given year. Of course, fish farmers can wipe out all three modes as I did.

  36. j ferguson says:

    thanks again for the above. After we move into wherever we’re going to move into in Delray Beach, I’d love to find a time when we might spend an evening in a pub up your way so that spouse and I could hear the story of your fish farming experiences; how you came to do it, how you figured out what to do and how you kept score, and in particular whether you realized it might get away from you, and if so when, and had you anticipated the mechanism?

    We attempted to wage business for seven years as engineering computer system marketers (you call it marketing when there aren’t a lot of sales). Eventually, I wasn’t willing to leverage the business enough to stay competitive and so went back to my stand-by career, industrial architecture.

    It seems strange that I understand what happened and how a lot better after 20 years of rumination than I did at the time, although I did then sense some of the clues.

    Maybe later this year, if the idea doesn’t sound nuts to you.


  37. j ferguson,
    Delray Beach is quite near where I live on the east coast of Florida. It would be a pleasure to meet you somewhere when you are ready. You can contact me by email:

    Currently I am in sunny Marbella, Spain but will be returning home in a few days.

  38. Ooops!
    I forgot that WordPress erases email addresses. Here it is again without the characters that WordPress does not like. Just replace “at” and “period” with the apropriate symbols:

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