Monday, March 5, 2012

Primal Economics 101

Grass fed beef gets expensive.  So does free-range chicken.  Especially when you are feeding more than one mouth... or a growing family.  And, while someday I may be able to shop exclusively at Whole Foods and the like, I'd like a little more wiggle room in my grocery budget.  I decided to conduct an experiment in consumer economics that I would like to call Primal Economics 101.

I looked at my last few grocery bills and realized that the majority of the bill was going towards protein.  Meat, fish, eggs, bacon, nuts, protein powder, etc.  There was a significant amount of produce on the receipt, too... but that will be reduced soon, as our vegetable garden will start producing and we will be picking up our weekly share from a local CSA (community supported agriculture) farm.  I'd heard from a few sources about how serious money can be saved by shopping at Sam's, Costco and the like.  But nobody provided a breakdown of what and how much.  And then there's the idea of having to pay for membership.  I remained skeptical.

So, this weekend, using a free one-day pass that I found online to try out our local Sam's Club...

... This is what I found.  I saved enough to pay for a few years worth of membership in one trip.  My fiscal skepticism disappeared in the blink of an eye.  The doubts I had that revolved around food quality were soon to follow.  After taking a closer look at what I was actually buying at Whole Foods, I was able to find comparable quality products in almost every protein source I was looking for.  When buying ribeyes at Whole Foods, I wasn't paying $19/lb for the top of the line grass-fed cuts... but their grain fed ribeyes were still $17/lb.  And the frozen wild-caught fish at Whole Foods cost twice as much per pound on average... but wasn't any wilder or more superior in any way that made a dramatic difference to me.

This is not an indictment of Whole Foods and their peers.  I will continue to shop there... often.  When Whole Foods run a sale on grass fed ground beef or chuck roast, I'll stock up!  Many staple items in my pantry just don't have comparables at Sam's.  I'd love to buy almond butter in bulk... but not if my only options have added sugar.  And, they didn't have a protein powder that met my standards, either (I prefer 365 Whey Protein Powder - Natural Vanilla Flavor... an awesome value).

Bottom line?  Stick with the basic tenets of a primal or paleo lifestyle (just because Costco has a great deal on 144-packs of PopTarts, doesn't mean they should end up in your cart...) while getting the best quality meat and produce you can afford.  If you have a large freezer, stock up on cheap grass-fed beef when the opportunity presents itself.  Cowpool.  Check out your local farmers market, co-op or CSA.  Be smart and efficient with your meal planning, your budget and your storage space.  The more you routinely save, the easier it will be to splurge every so often on something like a beautiful wild-caught Alaskan King salmon fillet.

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