Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Food Purchase analysis

Principle 4: Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

In 2011 we took on the 'Binimum' challenge, successfully only filling one recycle and one rubbish bin for the whole year.

In 2012 we set ourselves another challenge, to record how much we spend on food and drink for the year. We were curious as to how much we actually spend on food that we purchase at the supermarket (and elsewhere), with the idea that we could assess the information and look at where we could make improvements. We also were curious as to how much money we need to generate to live comfortably.


All of our receipts from 2012

The challenge was a bit of a nightmare actually, 100's of receipts to sort through. I went through the tedious process of recording the details into a ledger into various categories that made sense at the time. Sometimes it was difficult to remember where I categorized certain foods, like rice (processed or seeds?) or brewing concentrate (alcohol or processed?), so the results are not 100% accurate, and we may have missed some receipts - especially with regards to 'Going out'.

Some other things to note are that we did not include food or drink that we have grown, bartered or were given, as there was no money exchanged. Also, we did not factor in if we went to someones place for dinner, or they came over to our place - we figure that it balances out in the end (and it's too complex to work out). Here's the results:

Money Spent on Food and Drink in 2012


Q1Q2Q3Q4Totals
Eggs49.4532.5950.3344.00176.37
Dairy273.97203.47253.89308.041039.37
Meat91.37101.12173.50155.10521.09
Produce81.3361.06181.41167.68491.48
Processed429.19243.18502.46503.291678.12
Seeds50.40245.3352.52104.26452.51
Going out97.5076.800.0034.00208.30
Alcohol73.47153.88193.65482.54903.54
Sweets44.9827.4135.9475.73184.06
Totals1191.661144.841443.701874.645654.84

While $5655 seems like quite a lot of money, it works out to $15.50 per day, or $3.87 per person per day or $1.30 per person per meal, including drinks - not much at all. We purchase the best quality food that we can (often organic or biodynamic), so we eat really well. Many item purchases were fairly consistent throughout the year, the blowouts came when we bought food and drinks in bulk. Like bulk seeds in Q2 and alcohol in Q4. Other things to note that affected these results where that Kunie and our two boys were in Japan for one month in Q2.

Eggs: Since September 2012 we have been buying all of our eggs (free range) from a local supplier - $4 per dozen of eggs when available (fluctuates according to the seasons). We have 3 hens ourselves and could reduce this cost considerably by getting another 3.

Dairy: Since September 2012 we have been buying all of milk (raw goat) from a local supplier -
 $4 per litre of milk (4 litres a week). While this is relatively expensive, we believe that it's worth it. I was interested to see how much we spend on dairy compared to other foods, but that's not surprising since we can't really supply this ourselves. We also buy organic (where available) which can be quite a bit more expensive than conventional dairy.

Meat: We have been sourcing meat from local growers where we can, currently goat and pig. Also we try to get our sausages from a (very good) butcher in Avenel. Supermarket meat purchases is usually Kangaroo mince, free range (or organic if available) chicken or fish (incl tinned). We are toying with the idea of raising our own rabbits and yabbies for meat.

Produce: We grow nearly all of our vegies ourselves, with the main exceptions of potatoes (we grow some), mushrooms and ginger. Our own mushrooms would contribute a significant saving. We are beginning to grow quantities of fruit as new trees and new grafts mature, so this expense should reduce increasingly in coming years.

Processed: This is a big category and should probably have been broken down more. Significant purchases in pasta and dry biscuits could be reduced by making our own more often. Other items are trickier like coconut milk, tea, sugar, noodles and coffee. Saying that we grown our own herbal teas and roast our own burdock (gobo), chicory and dandelion for a hot drink (like coffee).

Seeds (nuts, wheat, rice and other grains): I separated this category with the thought that they were relatively unprocessed and could be purchased in bulk, sometimes from local suppliers. We make our own flour from bulk (sometimes local) wheat to make our own bread, pancakes (a regular), pasta (sometimes) and other baked goodies.

Going Out: I wasn't sure whether to include this or not, but I did. Perhaps these figure are not super accurate, as I'm sure that we've been out for fish and chips more than I recorded. Still, we've included what we could remember and it does indicate the we don't go out very often.

Alcohol: This is mainly wine and spirit purchases. I've also included most home brew kits that I purchased. The Q4 figure has blown out the total because of a cellar door wine sale that we went to where we spent $300, the vast majority of which we did not consume in 2012. In December I made my first batch of wine from Cherry Plums, which was a success - so this figure should reduce in time.

Sweets: This is things like chocolate, lollies and ice-cream. Perhaps non-essential, depending on who you ask. We generally avoid these types of foods.

So, was the exercise worth it? Well, now that it's over, yes. Probably wouldn't have been so bad if I'd done the book keeping more regularly, instead of letting all of the receipts pile up after Feb. The process certainly made me more aware of how much we still use the stupermarket, and how I would like to reduce that dependence over time. This year I'm going to get the garden cranking, and we will try to source bulk foods more locally. I really admire the work of David Holmgren and Su Dennett who have managed to avoid the stupermarket all together - a long term goal of mine too.

So, for 2013 we've set a new challenge - to record what we food grow, but more about that later.

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