What price do you put on good food?

I’ve spent a bit of my work time this week discussing the merits of budget beauty products versus expensive ones (I know, I get paid to think deep thoughts about this stuff. Crazy, huh?)

There’s one school of thought that claims expensive products are a complete con – at best, a rip-off, at worst, nothing more than snake oil. Then there are those that see the budget brands as even worse, because they’ll ruin your precious skin.

Personally, I have a foot in both camps – except for when you’re talking about posh scented candles, which have to be the most ridiculous thing ever invented. I mean, why don’t you just burn the money and be done with it?

I think there are parallels with how people view spending on food. Of course, in both cases economics have a lot to do with it, but it’s also a matter of priorities.

During our holiday I fulfilled a long-held ambition to go to Ottolenghi. The Small Girl and I shared this lunch box, which – along with a small bag of meringues, two exquisite cheese straws and a bottle of water – cost nearly 25 quid (about NZ$55). I nearly died! It was delicious, but crumbs, we couldn’t do that every day. Or even every week. Could you?

In our household, we spend a lot of our income on food, both because we are in a position to do so and because we choose to. Other people spend money on – well, what do they spend it on? Scented candles? Fancy cars? – we spend it on feeding ourselves and our friends.

I do most of the food shopping, which in a week might include a weekly trip to a cheap supermarket and sometimes a posh one, plus the weekend vegetable market. I prioritise buying good (that is, organic and free range) eggs and meat where I can. I grow most of our salad vegetables, even though I am rubbish at gardening. I still make most of our bread, yoghurt and muesli, partly for financial reasons but mostly because I like doing it. Some weeks I feel like I spend a lot of money, some weeks I don’t.

We don’t eat TV dinners and rarely have takeaways, unless it’s the occasional pizza with our neighbours. It’s not like we are having foie gras and champagne suppers every night – I write this having made crunchy omelets for dinner with eggs donated from a friend’s hens – but I know we are lucky. We are a small family and we don’t have to choose between paying the power bill and eating.

I know people in reasonably straitened circumstances who put a lot of emphasis on eating well, just like I know some well-off people who couldn’t care less what they eat.  #Firstworldproblems, you might say. But then, as the storm over Jamie Oliver’s new book has shown, food poverty is everyone’s problem.

What I want to know is, what do you prioritise in your household when it comes to food shopping? Do you spend more on eating out or eating in? Do you angst over organic vs ordinary veges, or do you grow your own? What would you spend more on if money was no object? What would you spend more time making if time was no object?



  1. September 12, 2013 / 1:44 am

    great post! I read this first thing today and have been thinking about it all morning.
    Food is very important to me, and so what I feed my family is also important. I try to cook from scratch as much as possible, although I don't always think that it ends up being cheaper. Ideally I would buy organic everything, but I just cherry pick the odd organic product that doesn't seem too ridiculously priced.
    Real poverty is very scary – and this article in the Guardian was an eye-opener. Not knowing where your next decent meal is coming from is hideous. But I wouldn't criticise Jamie – he has done for the general public eating well and consciously than any other individual in about a decade.

    As for Ottolenghi – my first stop on my next London visit too!

  2. September 12, 2013 / 7:51 am

    really great post… London is particularly expensive and I tend to hunt down the old-fashioned cafes and sandwich shops for lunch which are so much cheaper than the chains… Ottolenghi is for special occasions only…

    • September 19, 2013 / 7:23 am

      I went to lots of my old favourite Italian sandwich shops and still maintain they do the best panini and cups of proper tea I've ever had. While London is expensive, it seemed on a par with New Zealand in lots of ways (go figure that out!) and I did think it was cheaper than Paris. There is something wrong where a bottle of Perrier costs the same as a glass of wine!

  3. September 12, 2013 / 7:28 pm

    Did you see this in the daily mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2418153/Claire-used-1-Nivea-cream-half-face–105-Cr-la-Mer-The-results-VERY-revealing.html If it's in the mail of course it must be true.

    Anyway, food thoughts.

    Eat the best you can afford is my mantra. I would rather not eat than eat trash and the more bad food experiences I have the more I begrudge buying food out which may be cheap or expensive but is frankly not nice to eat. With this in mind I always now travel with something to snack on (nuts, crackers or some fruit) so if the "right" eatery isn't available we don't starve and can sustain self until we find something worth eating. We grow lots of veggies but still rely on buying some things (I was devastated when our greengrocers in Upper Hutt shut) as I have to pick over what's in the supermarket instead :o( I will buy organic apples, carrots and potatoes over non organic if I can as the taste is much better but for other veges I am more relaxed. It breaks my heart when I've stuffed up my leaves supply from the garden as I hate to buy the bagged up stuff although buying loose in NZ is a bonus. I cook from scratch at home although I was tempted to buy a ready made cheese sauce yesterday for the cauliflower cheese I made last night. We occasionally buy an Indian takeway but more often than not I'll make our own with recipes from Madhur Jaffrey's Easy Curry book. We are lucky to have the wealth and time to shop, cook and be picky over food. It hasn't always been that way as I ate lots of Marks and Spencer and Waitrose goodies when I worked full time and could just sling it in the oven after falling over the threshold tired, cranky and bloated after having stuffed a pasty,pastry or chocolate bar at the train station. I'd say I spend on average an hour a day cooking/cleaning up (more on weekends) for main means and it can stretch for hours more if I'm baking and making other foods for snacking or preserving. I don't think it is any coincidence that so many people's memories are about baking with grandmothers because mothers were probably run ragged.

    I volunteer as a mentor to someone on household management and it's a struggle – they have little money to spend and lots of time on their hands but hate cooking, resent time spent cleaning up and frankly don't enjoy food very much. It breaks my heart to know how much better life could be for them – although better for them is more time on facebook and playing computer games. shopping, cooking and eating is an annoying interruption :o(

    • September 15, 2013 / 8:46 am

      Julie, that's such a thoughtful and insightful reply it deserves a blogpost of its own. I think your comment about being lucky to have the time and the money to be picky is important – but also the interest and motivation. Sigh.

  4. September 15, 2013 / 9:58 am

    Great post, Lucy. I live on a pretty limited budget, but I still spend quite a lot of money on food – everything I can spare really, because that is my choice. I'm always happier shopping for food and preparing it than doing anything else, and a holiday away somewhere is more likely to see me come home with a suitcase laden with tins of Spanish peaches and jars of olives than with shoes and clothes. Like you I make everything I can from scratch, including all my own bread, ice cream, granola and yoghurt, mostly just because I enjoy doing it, but also because I like to know exactly what's in my food. I freeze and bottle lots of stuff during the season to use during the off-season. For ethical reasons, as well as flavour, I eat only free-range chicken, eggs and pork, and if I can't afford it then I would go without rather than compromise. I do splurge on things like Italian pasta, Parmesan, olives, pomegranate molasses, date syrup, etc. We almost never eat out, usually because I find myself so disappointed at paying a lot of money for something incredibly mediocre. Our occasional treat is fish & chips on the wharf at Mapua on a perfect sunny day. Financially, life has been extremely tough for us since the Christchurch earthquake, but eating as well as we possibly can is an absolute priority for me. That and being able to get my hair done every month!!

    • September 19, 2013 / 7:20 am

      I love your priorities! Someone once said to me, 'spend money on your hair, it's the hat you wear every day' and it's so true! But in my next life I am either going to marry, or become, a hairdresser, and thus save myself millions. Or perhaps I'll learn wigmaking… But I digress. I know what you mean about eating out too – we don't do it as nearly as often as we used to, partly because factoring in the cost of a babysitter turns even the most basic dinner into a Michelin-starred affair. It's actually cheaper to do as we did on holiday and eat out as a family, though that's not always quite the same experience, is it?

  5. October 1, 2013 / 9:10 am

    Hi Lucy, thankyou so much for making me drool a thousand times over your yummy dishes. I wanted to let you know that I have included this post of yours in my online link magazine called The Beast – All That Is Beautiful for my readers to come over and read this. I thought it was so thought provoking and a great question to ask ourselves. Thank you so much. xx http://www.elizabethkfindlay.com/2013/10/october-2013-beast-link-magazine-online.html

  6. October 3, 2013 / 10:39 am

    Interesting! Healthy, nutritious food made "the old way" is a very high priority here. We grind our own flour & bake everything using it from scratch. We also use a sugar called "rapadura" rather than other refined sugars. We only eat meat that is our own (except for fish), and the vegie patch is getting more self sufficient every day. It's a lot of work but it's satisfying, everything tastes better & fresh food is easier to prepare. Everyone here is happy to eat the organically home grown carrots raw as they're just sooooo tasty!

    Found your blog via the Beast link Magazine, and am going to follow with Google 🙂

    Sarah x

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