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Is the Recession Affecting Your Eating?

Are you worried about money? Be careful not to add weight gain to your list of problems. There’s a well-known correlation between low income and obesity. For one thing, high calorie foods are cheaper. For another, lack of money — or fear of lack of money — is very stressful. Feeling trapped in a bad situation is the #1 trigger for emotional eating, and a recession can make you feel very trapped.

So fight back! Innoculate yourself by taking action. The more you do, the better you’ll feel, even if you can’t completely fix the problem.

Don’t know what to do? Start in the kitchen. People are eating out less, and eating at home can mean healthier eating, but not necessarily.

  • If you’re a newbie, learn to cook. Mac-and-cheese mix may be cheap, but it’s not home-cooking. If you haven’t taken the time before to learn how to cook, learn now. It’s a wonderful way to take care of yourself and your family.
  • If you’re an old-hand in the kitchen, try new things. In the book Mindless Eating, Cornell professor Brian Wansink warns against becoming what he calls the giving cook: “Friendly, well-liked, and enthusiastic, they specialize in comfort foods for family gatherings and large parties. Giving cooks seldom experiment with new dishes, instead relying on traditional favorites.” He says this type of cook is the least likely to have a positive impact on the family’s eating habits.

Now don’t get overwhelmed with the enormity of having to become a gourmet cook! Normal Eating is all about doing one thing at one moment in time — baby steps. Commit to one small doable thing, do that, and then commit to the next thing. That applies here, too. One day, for one meal, decide to make something you’ve never made before, make a grocery list, buy the ingredients, and make it.

Then come back here and post about your experience. What did you make? How did it turn out?

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14 comments to Is the Recession Affecting Your Eating?

  • lady lady

    i am managing well during our “recession” b/c i’m quite aware that it’s a bunch of media hype. our nation’s financial crisis started long before the media finally covered it. poverty, credit debt and foreclosures have been occurring often for some time in the usa.

    when i see recession signage or a financial crisis news blitz, i remind myself of what’s really happening in my life. i have a roof over my head. i am keeping a careful eye on my finances. i can see that the sky is not falling.

    media trends? phooey! don’t even get me started on swine flu.

  • Oh my. I really have to disagree. If you are doing well, thank your lucky stars. This is no media hype. In my neighborhood alone (Greenwich Village in NYC), an astonishing number of businesses have closed. Nearly every Chinese restaurant near my apartment has closed, almost every neighborhood pizza parlor has closed – these are businesses that have been here for decades. Balducci’s (a very famous gourmet deli) just closed. And I personally know many people out of work who cannot find jobs no matter how hard they try. Every business is affected because so many people have no money to buy anything.

    One thing I almost put into this blog post but didn’t were a couple of links about food poverty and food banks. People who have never gone hungry before in their lives are being forced to turn to food banks for help. In some areas, demand is doubled (NYC) or tripled (New Orleans). Nationwide, use of food banks is up 30%. Take a look:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/nyregion/20food.html
    http://www.foodbanknyc.org/blog/index.cfm/2009/4/13/Tracking-the-Recessions-Impact

    I don’t know where you live or what you do for a living, but be very grateful for what you have. This recession is deadly serious. It’s hard to imagine how you can see no evidence of it whatsoever in your life.

  • Slinkymink Slinkymink

    In our community in southern Tenn I’ve seen the want ads in the newspaper shrink from two or more full pages to about a quarter page. My husband and I are watching our spending and are having to be careful and not get too much of the cheap high calorie foods. I insist on fresh veggies most days at dinner.

  • High five on the fresh veggies! It may seem small, but it’s one of the most beautiful, self-loving things you can do for yourself – feed yourself fresh vegetables!

    I had a big plate of sauteed veggies and eggs this morning. When I make this I usually start off planning an omelet, but then it ends up with more veggies than eggs so it didn’t hold together. But it was yummy!

    When I’m feeling an attack of laziness coming on with the fresh veggies, I buy packages of fresh mixed veggies already cut up and ready to saute or dip. They have those at Whole Foods and some other nicer grocery stores. It’s more expensive than cutting them up myself, but it’s cheaper than a doctor bill if I don’t take care of myself!

  • Poodooloo Poodooloo

    I am on a very low income at the moment but our weekly box of organic fruit and veggies is top of our priority list. We also grow our own sprouts, herbs and some veggies at home.

    We’ve completely cut out alcohol for health reasons. This saves quite a lot of money, since previously we were in the habit of a glass or two of wine each night.

    We eat meat daily but very rarely buy it. Instead my partner catches fish at the nearby beach and hunts deer, rabbit, goat and kangaroo – all fresh, extremely tender meat and very low in saturated fat. This is a far more environmentally friendly way of eating meat than buying beef/pig/lamb from the supermarket(and is better from an animal-welfare viewpoint as well). This saves a lot of money!

  • Oh, Poodooloo – I am so jealous!! You’re killing me!

    I used to have a house in Vermont with a big garden where I grew organic veggies (and flowers, of course). I didn’t fish or hunt but other people did. The red meat I ate was almost all grass-fed – deer from hunting season, or grazing cows raised by my neighbors. There was a farm where we’d get milk, warm from the cow at 6pm, and make yogurt. Also eggs – you’d have to sidestep the chickens running around the yard. I miss that.

    I live in NYC now which is not exactly rural (about as far from rural as you can get). I love many things about NYC, but I very much miss that aspect of Vermont.

    I think it’s great that Michelle Obama started a vegetable garden at the White House. She’s being a great role model. Many people in this country have backyards where they can grow veggies, and it’s a wonderful thing to do. Besides saving money, nothing can beat the taste of fresh picked veggies – plus there is something so wonderful about watching them grow. I don’t have a backyard anymore, but others do.

  • Annie~ Annie~

    The recession has sort of coincided with a growing need in me to grow my own food & source locally farmed meats, eggs & cheese.

    This summer we grew so many lovely vegetables in a moderate sized plot, tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, spinach, onions, corn, celery, cabbages…it was just wonderful. Plus for me working in the garden acts like a type of therapy, it soothes me, giving me some space to work through the issues in my life.

    For us in the Southern Hemisphere it is winter now, and in the autumn I actually got around to planting a winter garden, broadbeans, brussel sprouts, raddichio, kale, winter spinach…it was a lot of fun finding out what would grow in our area in the colder temperatures.

    I have made lots of tomato sauce & cucumber pickles to remind me of the summer & to save a little money. I also got given a lot of produce from people in our community, once they heard I was into this, and stewed fruit & made soups and froze them. Also I did a lot of foraging for wild berries (made jam), walnuts, quince & apples, there was so much out there for the picking. I was able to source easy recipes on the web to make stuff with the produce so had a lot of fun. My husband is out of work right now so he actually helped me and we got to enjoy each others company in a very different way.

    We saved a lot of money over the summer because we made a commitment to only eat what we grew & could locally source. I did get mighty sick of zucchini but hey I think nutritionally our bodies are probably designed to eat seasonally. So I eventually got over my need for so much variety.

    I am very lucky that my parents run a sheep & cattle farm, so all our meat comes from there, and my husband has made friends with some men whom like to hunt pig & deer, so some variety may be on the menu very soon.

    I am very attracted to recipe books that include sections on how to grow then cook produce. Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver is a good one.

    I could write endlessly about this as it is a real passion of mine.
    Thanks for the great topic.

    Annie~

  • I didn’t anticipate that this blog post would generate a conversation about gardening and living close to the earth, but of course! It’s a brilliant solution. People did it all across the country during the Great Depression. Didn’t Eleanor Roosevelt have a garden? Ah yes – I googled it: the “Victory Gardens”. I found a couple links.

    From December – suggests the Obamas plant a garden like Eleanor Roosevelt, before it actually happened:
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2146715/posts

    NY Times article about Michelle Obama’s garden:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/dining/20garden.html?ref=dining

    Annie, you and Poodooloo are so lucky to be able to have gardens! I used to grow berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries), cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, zucchini, broccoli, and much more. I loved going into the garden for lunch to pick stuff. I’d end up eating lunch right off the vine. Those were the days! Oh well. You can’t explain to someone who hasn’t had very fresh vegetables how different and better they taste.

    New York has farmer’s markets with veggies picked the same day, but it’s still not the same as growing it yourself. There is something beautiful and spiritual about that somehow.

  • Sundara Sundara

    Hi!

    I like to cook large amounts on the weekends and freeze them, since weekdays are so busy…enchiladas, bean soups, casseroles, etc. Also healthy muffins, which are so great at satisfying the sweet tooth.

    The big change I am making to save money is that I am really avoiding restaurants – carrying meals with me way more of the time.

    Lot of raw veggies – Trader Joe has those wonderful sugar plum tomatoes and romaine lettuce and avocados, all organic, and I throw in little bits of cheese and some dill weed…so good. I bring whole grain crackers and organic peanut butter and some good fresh fruit, too. Sometimes yogurt with fruit and nuts, even a little bit of dark chocolate.

    Am finding that I can pack 2 meals on the longest days and still feel reasonably satisfied. (I burned out completely on lukewarm, rubbery peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after the first 10-15 years of carrying them! Yuck!)

    There are lots of closed businesses in my area too, and everyone I know is struggling more…the organizations I work for have all lost lots of money, and the college I went to is really in trouble.

    Hope our new administration can help us all work to turn this around.

    best to all, Sun

  • Poodooloo Poodooloo

    On a slightly different note, I think it’s really important to remember that the REAL cost of what we choose to eat is far more complex than just the amount of cash we hand over. I think the fact that we do tend to view “cost” only in terms of cash (and only the the very short term) is a sign of our money-obsessed and short-sighted culture. When comparing dollar values of various food options I always try to rememember that this does not reflect the true “cost”, and I try to take other contributing factors into account. For instance:

    - What is the environmental cost (and the health cost) of choosing “conventional” veggies over organic?
    - What is the cost to the animal’s welfare if I choose to buy cage eggs, rather than free range?
    - What is the cost to my health if I choose to eat at MacDonalds instead of a home cooked meal?
    - What are my future dental bills likely to look like if I choose to live on chocolate?!
    - What is the cost to entire groups of species if I choose to eat products containing palm oil? (these products are often cheap, but large areas of rainforest are destroyed in order to produce palm oil. Entire species (e.g. orangutangs) will likely be wiped out because of this, and by consuming palm oil we are condoning it).
    - What is the cost to our local community if I choose to buy imported, rather than local produce?

    I know that being able to make more expensive, but more ethical choices, is a luxury that only the world’s most privileged people can afford. Even though I am currently on a very low income by the standards of my country, I know that I am still incredibly wealthy compared to most of the world’s population, so I see it as my responsibility to consider these things – not that I always make the BEST choice, but I try.

    The main point of my rant is, I guess, that the amount of cash you pay for your meal doesn’t reflect its true cost at all.

  • Poo – that’s true, of course, and I care very much about these things. But I don’t want to stray too far from the topic. The problem of cash-on-hand is what I was trying to address in the blog post.

    There are a lot of people out of work in this country, and trying to figure out how to feed themselves and their families. The practical problem of not having enough money combined with the emotional distress of not having enough money is a setup for cheap, nutrition-free carbs and weight gain.

  • lady lady

    back to media hype for a moment. i live in a BIG city and we’ve been having recession issues for years. i’m not saying it’s not an issue. i’m saying it is not a sudden issue. the mass media is causing more fear than help as usually is the case.

    great that more people are gardening. silver linings do exist. i can’t wait to have a garden of my own!

    as for me, i have been aware of the nation’s economy for some time via more than just the ny times and tv. mass media is SO slow to cover real issues. and so, i’m grateful that i’ve planned for this time. even if i weren’t so lucky, i would try my best to focus on getting to my feelings and seeing that i’m safe no matter what.

  • naomi naomi

    The economy hasn’t affected us at all — we were already living on my disabled husband’s social security. So we’ve been going to food banks for quite a while, and we’ve been given an abundance of bakery seconds, high starch pre-packaged foods, and other low nutrient, high calorie foods. Even with my garden and canning, it’s hard to come by the good stuff for half of the year.

    One of my problems is that I don’t like to let food go to waste. I keep having to remind myself that eating food that I don’t need is just as wasteful as tossing it into the compost heap. More so, actually.

  • Jewlie Jewlie

    My husband is a mortgage broker, so even though I am blessed to have the high security job of tenured teacher, we have definitely felt the effects of the recession! His commissions are at zero many months.

    I, too, miss my old backyard where I was able to garden. We are absolutely cooking at home more, buying fruits and vegetables pretty seasonally, which is cheaper. We are also getting creative with using up odds and ends of foods that we used to toss. Omelets are a great way to use up scraps of veggies, and we also have grain and veggie salads, fruit salads, and other dishes to use up odds and ends. Beans have always been a favorite, and have become more of a staple. I’m sure this will expand in the fall, when I always crave soups!

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