Monday, November 30, 2009

Where We Are, Where We're Going (A Confession and a Promise)

It's a well-known fact (and running joke) in my family that I don't cook. It's not that I don't like to cook, I simply DO NOT cook. You may think I'm exaggerating here, but I can honestly tell you that I can count the number of times I cook in one year on my hands (maybe just one hand).

Let me illustrate (keep in mind that while I keep great records, they are not meant to be audited, so there is a little bit of guesstimation in these numbers). This should be fun. In 2007, my family spent roughly $16,845 on food. In 2008, we upped the ante to $18,284. And, so far, in 2009 we have spent $16,310 (Jan - Oct). When I average those dollars per month, we are spending a house payment (about $1630/mo.) on food*! Since, according to the USDA, the average family of four spends between $737 and $916 per month, I can safely say we have a long way to go to even be an average American family.

There's more, and it's worse. Again, this is not scientifically accurate, but it's a good estimation. When I added up the number of times we ate out over the past four years, I found that my family had eaten something** at a restaurant 2,405 times (there are only 1,461 days in four years)! Averaged out that's 802 times per year, 62 times per month, and 16 times per week that we eat out. Do you know what that means? It means some days we eat EVERY meal for the day at a restaurant! (Please tsk your tongues and shake your heads privately, no need to publicly chastise me as I'm already ashamed enough.)

So, why am I airing my dirty laundry to you all? Well, in order to track one's progress it's important to know where you're starting from. Telling you who we are and how we operate identifies our starting point. I also want to drive home the point that we are a typical American family (okay, we're worse than the typical American family). This second point is really important because I want to show that anyone can make changes - there are no excuses!

Someone I know thinks people won't change the way they eat because A) people don't care; B) even if they did care, people can't afford to change; and C) even if they did care and could afford to change, it's all just too overwhelming. I disagree and that's why I'm doing this experiment. Call me naive, but I believe most people will (and can afford to) make small but important changes if they are informed about what industrial food REALLY is, how it is REALLY made, and how EASY it is to find alternative food sources. 

Right now my family supports the Industrial Food Complex at a staggering rate. For us, eating organically will probably save money because it will force us to eat at home for most meals. It will not be easy for me to break the habit of eating out, but I commit to making the change - for myself, my family, my budget, and my community.

*Included in these totals are household items like toilet paper and soap. I have no way of separating these items out for the past, but going forward I will include only food items as part of our food budget.
**I counted trips to Starbucks and Jamba Juice. These snack trips surely don't count as meals per say, but still, I could have made a smoothie or tea at home.


  1. I'm very interested in your progress. I'm in awe of your courage to do it so publicly. And, I'm looking forward to being inspired enough to do these changes for my own family, who, as you know, is right there with yours. Eating out is so much easier than planning and cooking it myself. I'm afraid and embarrassed to admit that the main reason I feed my family the way I do is plain old laziness.
    So, thank you for taking this challenge and sharing your journey with us.

  2. We now make smoothies at home on a regular basis, and they are so yummy. We use bananas, frozen blueberries, frozen strawberries, milk and vanilla. Just as tasty as Jamba....just not nearly as expensive and none of the ice cream. Good for you, Jillian! What an exciting adventure.

  3. I'm impressed with your honesty! Also, well written btw. After having TJ, and changing our budget, I transitioned from eating out many nights a week (or eating almost made for you meals from Trader Joe's) to cooking basically every night, and I have some tricks to keep me sane! if you are interested, we can talk... it also helped that we moved from a more urban neighborhood, filled with delicious food to a suburban wilderness where Olive Garden was the closest restaurant....
    You are inspiring me! I want to have a face off one of these days--like "who can feed their family for $150/wk" or something like that. We can arrange the math so that our family sizes are "equal"