How much does it cost to eat in the USA? How much money should a world traveler allow per day to pay to buy food or eat?
Daily Food Budget for USA Road Trip 2012
5 Dollars day
My name is Andy Graham, I have traveled the world for 14 years, and visited 90 countries as of March 2012. I need to re-learn how much it cost to eat in the USA, because I have lived abroad for 14 years.
The USA is a Cheap Food Country
I am almost embarrassed to say this, but it appears I can eat as cheap, or cheaper than most of countries where I normally would want to live, like Guatemala, Peru or Thailand. Hmm, oops, Thailand is still half the price of the USA, but Guatemala is about the same, and the Dominican Republic where I just returned from is twice or three times the cost of the USA for food.
The cost of food in super markets in the USA is cheap, I can purchase a can of string bean for 75 cents, while in most countries they cost 1.25-1.50 USD.
The Tip is a Budget Problem
I need to Tip in the USA, while 85 percent of the world is really Tip free. Therefore, it is best for me to avoid the type of restaurants that want a Tip for service, or they want me to pay the waitress for them.
Generally there is an "Incredible Deal" offered in the USA for food.
Take for example the "Dollar Menu" at McDonald's, I can buy a McDouble for one U.S. dollar.
I need 2581 calories per day to stay the same weight.
- McDouble 390
= 2191 more calories needed per day..
This is fun, if I ate 5 USD of McDoubles per day, I would have 1950 in calories and lose weight. (Maybe)
Extra food - Extra Food - Extra Food
Last weekend was Easter, I went to my sisters house and probably ate 4000 calories. Yesterday, my Mother and Father took me to eat Coney Dogs, by eating two of them, I had 618 calories. Now, I am aware, even though I may spend 5 USD per day and eat 5 McDoubles, and not have enough calories in a day, there is always the "Extra Food," where it comes from is a mystery that cannot be denied or avoided.
After the Dust Settle, I believe 5 USD is a good Budget Number
I am 100 percent aware, that 99 percent of Americans probably would read this and believe I am crazy. However, I have no desire to be part of the group when it comes to eating inside the USA. I want to live long and prosper, and that means I must step away.
What to eat today, Friday April 13, 2012?
My normal tactic will be to walk into grocery stores, buy food items, walk out and eat them before I even make it back to my van.
Maybe today, I go to Kroger's and have 2 dollars in Salad.
Maybe today, I stop in Walmart and eat a Chicken Breast at the Deli.
Maybe on the way out, I buy a can of Seaside Butter Bean, two Bananas and one Apple.
I am a grocery store food scavenger, and unfortunately yesterday, I found where I could buy 12 Ice Cream Sandwiches for one Dollar.
There are these incredible deals on food in the USA, which makes the USA a cheap place to live and travel.
Life is good, and I am happy to say, if I can avoid the temptations of the USA to buy 1000's of things that are not needed. Then I can live and travel in the USA for around 500 USD per month, if I wish, or want.
I am not sure humans are capable of separating their wants from their needs. What I need in life is normally cheap, while what I want cost my soul.
When I go out for Pizza with my friends, I look at that as an entertainment cost.
It may be possible to eat relatively cheaply in the U.S. in some cases and locations, but the ingredients are usually garbage if bought from chains, the money goes to the chains and not the local economy, and Americans die younger than most people in the modern world due the lousy quality of the high-fat, high-carbohydrate food which results in a nation of largely obese people. Many are poor and have no choice, while others are brain-washed by the mass-media to eat mass-produced "food." I do not look at food as gasoline with which to fill up my body, but as sacred ritual (which it is in many parts of the world), and so look for both aesthetic pleasure and quality when possible, while trying to return money to the local community when possible, and not the multinational food chains which treat human beings like brain-dead consumers to be used for their profit. Food as a form of slavery.
I believe it's a myth that "poor people have no choice" (but to eat lousy food) because it's all they can afford. There are so many foods cheap and healthy foods available. Thing is, they take some cooking. I wonder if that's the problem?
I would agree if you are privileged to live in the country and can grow or have access to fresh food.
I was speaking about the poor living in inner city ghettos whose options for fresh food are extremely limited. Organic food stores are not exactly teeming in such locations (and organic food usually costs more, in any case).
I don't believe in blaming the victim.
Hopefully, one day all human beings will have access to fresh food. That is not what many predict given the growth of population and the global recession/depression which is current and predicted for years to come. Meanwhile, fast food chains sell their wares to people who have little choice.
Im with E-Greg, great stuff and hope all take his comments seriously
I happened upon an interesting article about this. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-junk-food-really-cheaper.html?pagewanted=1and_r=2andref=opinion
BTW I'm not blaming the victim, I thought your generalization "poor people have no choice" was worth some scrutiny.
I understand your point.
Thank you for the link to the op-ed by a New York Times food columnist who wrote books with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who certainly caters to the upper class and the wealthy in New York City and elsewhere. Good for him. I am sure he pats himself on the back about that.
I agree that suburban families may have options given all the free time they may have on their hands, but having lived in the ghetto (as well as in the country for many years) out of economic necessity at one time in my life, and having lived with people who grew up in the ghetto, I know that the produce is inedible in most cases, and decent food inaccessible in many. Sure, it would be great to "educate" the "ignorant" poor who eat processed foods, but the fact is we live in a society where people are overwhelmed by TV commercials/billboards/web ads/mobile ads advertising garbage food 24/7. Due to the sheer quantity of such repeated ads without sufficient governmental regulations requiring disclosure as to the contents of the food, many people fall prey to eating the garbage--and not because they are too lazy to cook.
In America quantity is celebrated over quality as a matter of course and myth, and I too wish that all had access to "Slow Food" and good quality produce rather than the processed food so full of artificial ingredients that future forms of cancer are as yet unimaginable. Now at least some food chains must disclose calories, but those chains do not disclose fats and the type of fats (nor what the animals have been forced to eat or the pesticides the plants have inhaled). By the way, the ingredients fed to chickens or the pesticides used on carrots do not require disclosure even in the best of neighborhoods.
The government in the U.S. is run by the multinationalsm, and so the huge food and pharm companies can literally get away with anything. But, as with everything in the country, the poor suffer disproportionately--even as more and more people fall into the bracket of poverty daily.
So the initial premise that food here is cheaper must have some important disclaimers. I actually find it much more expensive relative to my travels abroad--even in the EU--especially if you want food with actual taste and which is not mass-produced.
You need $10 a day to eat healthy out of grocery stores even close to 2500 calories a day unless its all empty calories, carbohydrates, day old bread etc..
and its semi healthy at best considering the meat has hormones and most of it is fed GMO's...
for enough of that protein you need $3 a day or more...the fruit, vegitables and salads will cost you another 5 dollars...
even the organics are GMO's in many cases. (one of the biggest outfits sells Organcally *grown* produce... its mostly GMO's raised in real horse pucky.. so its 'organically grown'.. but the produce itself is genetically modified..
you can tell by looking at 40 crates of those tomatoes. all same size, same color, bullet proof, you can run over them with the forklift and only the fork lift gets damaged... GMO's for sure.
You can eat out of the dollar stores and 99 cent stores that sell fresh produce for $5 a day though, a 5 pound bag of oranges or apples for $1 will last 3 or 4 days for example.
I think the 2500 calories a day requirement is basically bogus.. much of the rest of the world stays fit on half that in my view, as a wild guess... it needs a closer look, half a chicken a day, and some vegitables do not come to 2500 calories.
many tests show that if you 'under feed' rats or humans, they live a lot longer...it probably takes 2500 calories to stay fat though... you burn that much off just walking around because of the extra weight.... I think thats how they get to the 2500... an 800 pound guy probably needs 7,000 calories a day just so he can keep panting and sweating.
For $2 you can get 1/3 lb of leafy baby greens at safe way, and for another 4 dollars or less a piece of salmon. and for 50 cents a tomato, make a great salad for $6 with a days worth of protein in it. You could stay healthy on that. Supplement with a 50 cent can of beans or two from the 99 cent store, works well.
I mix the beans with picante sauce.. a jar lasts 5 or 6 days. costs $1 at the dollar store.
I spend $5 to $10 a day on food on average. I slice raw onions, and avocado into my salads at times, that runs the tab up a bit. so does shrimp and store bought salad dressing. If I work, I have to eat twice that much.
so traveling thats $200 a month for food, and $300 for gas. thats a dollar a day for gas. 30 miles of travel. not counting repairs etc. thats 100 days across the US in three months. triple the time if you zig zag around at all. so its a year if you spend a dollar a day for gas. I would add $200 a month for contingencies though for a total cost of $700 a month.
Healthy food is the cheapest food just about everywhere. Unless you're in a country with very infertile soils -- like Mongolia or Iceland -- vegetables, starches, and meats are generally dirt cheap. In the USA you can get a pound of carrots for $1, often find a pound of chicken going for a little over a buck, beef for around $2 per pound, in season vegetables and fruits dirt cheap, and starches (like pasta and rice) for next to nothing. The argument that poor people can't eat well is an absolute myth and a sad excuse. If you buy unprocessed foods and cook for yourself you could probably intake far more calories per dollar than at any fast food restaurant. The trick is that you need to put effort into strategic shopping and cooking -- two things I've noticed that many Americans would rather not do.
More on this at Healthy food is the cheapest food everywhere.
Andy please take into account that you will not be walking as much now that you have a vehicle. Remember you do not want to get fat. Stay away from the McDoubles and processed lunchmeats at the deli. You don't want to have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. I think you will have to lower your caloric intake or do the same amount of walking. Open buffets and salad bars can be nasty so be careful...(doctors warning to never eat at them). So if you are running in and out of grocery stores to get quick snacks or meals stick with the high fiber good stuff like fruit, fresh vegetables(not can), hummus, nuts, seeds. More items well under a dollar yogurt, tuna, bagels.
The USA is affordable, and one reason for a 5 dollar budget is to keep me from gaining weight, it takes work to get fat on five dollars. I truly ate two Coney Dogs, so that it what I showed, and my father loves Coney Dogs, so good for him. I was talking to my friend Mike, and said, "I do not think I have been in Coney Island more than five times in my life." That is the name of the restaurant. It is difficult to eat healthy with other people. Note, the rest of the planet eat bad also, it is probably only the USA people who truly care, nothing better than the Sausage in Germany or Putin in Montreal.
I appreciate that you wish to eat whatever you want. I certainly would not tell anyone what to eat. My point is that the food that is "cheap" in the U.S. is largely processed and bad for you (healthy food, as sold in farmers markets, is generally expensive when available, and almost always inaccessible to the poor in the inner cities).
The U.S. is one of the most obese (and food-ignorant) nations in the modern world, and the life expectancy as a result is one of the poorest of the "modern" countries: http://www.forbes.com/2007/02/07/worlds-fattest-countries-forbeslife-cx_ls_0208worldfat.html. We are a nation of very overweight people, and many, many other countries of the world DO concern themselves far more traditionally with what they eat. I know from experience, having lived abroad for many years. The people in the Mediterranean region eat food that is largely produced in small farms, and as a result are far thinner and more fit -- not mention the fact that they eat food that has taste.
Fortunately a few elite Americans are catching on, though it takes money to eat well -- supermarket chains do not disclose the chemicals fed to their animals and greens. The "slow food," "locavore" and other movements represent hope, but short of owning your own land in the country where you can grow your own food, Americans are daily subject to very toxic foods which generally have little taste. Another reason people eat so much is that when food has no taste, you naturally eat more...
So eat what you wish, but if you are concerned about your health long-term, you might wish to travel across regions in-season so that you can eat local produce and cross your fingers when eating red meat that it is not pumped full of growth hormones and other drugs (I read recently that store-bought chicken generally contain traces of anti-depressants and arsenic).
Yes, there are a few fat people in Germany (not the most healthy traditional cuisine) and even in Canada, but trips across the center of this country have revealed to me people who look so ill from their diets, and so obese, that it is truly frightening. The airport in St. Louis is like a horror-film scene, with overweight people in stretch-pants everywhere...
$20 a day to eat decently going to farmer's markets so that you are more certain that the vegetables and meats are not toxic, money to spend on olive oil and the live, fresh spices for taste, etc. would seem more reasonable to me.
Yes,one can eat cheaply in the u.s, and I am glad for it, I do not want anyone to go hungry anywhere.Where I am at presently a lot of people in front of Me in the line at the market use a Link card ,which I think is the digital replacement for food stamps, and almost always there food cart filled with non foods, and are obese. I get My protein for the day with a whey shake, a bottle costs 15$, and lasts almost a month, peanut butter, celery ,lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, soy burgers, olives are staples and I have visible abs with no exercise at 45.Genetics?? nah I did not have abs at 17 in the marines, eating right is at least 90 of life.
Very interesting comments...not only is food affordably cheap in the USA, it is plentiful. There is food everywhere! I've had an urban garden along with other gardeners on vacant land (free) in the heart of a ghetto neighborhood for years and I can count on one hand how many times someone has asked for fruit or vegetables or have noticed them stolen from my garden. Vegetables are safe in the hood...melons will be stolen:)Find a few good places to fish along the way. People are really generous when it comes to food too. Have a budget, eat what you like and enjoy the generousity of others.
I agree. Good food is available in the US and at a good price. It is so much easier to eat good in a nice town in the US than it is even in Panajachal. The food was available there but a little more expensive. I guess it is up to the individual to make good choices because they are certainly available. And I like lean chicken, fish, and lots of veggies. I may have to go back to the Philippines Andy. I will let you know.