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What’s It Worth To You?

meaticonOK, kids; it’s back to the kitchen with Aunt Toby. Let’s talk today about the real value of the food that we are eating. I’m not going to talk today about ‘carbon footprint’, ‘distance to the table’, ‘eating local’ and so on (although those are additional costs to definitely take into consideration).

What we are going to look at is: bang for your buck in the protein department.

Human beings, in general, are omnivores. There are many people who make the decision for ethical reasons to NOT be omnivores and that is an ok position too. I am an omnivore (that’s my story and I’m sticking with it), but I also know that what I need to eat is: protein, carbohydrates and fats. I don’t NEED sugar – I’ll get that by eating certain types of carbohydrates such as fruits. But we’re going to talk about protein because protein, as the old Ford commercial used to say, is “Job One”. When our ancestors were out on the savannah doing the hunter/gatherer thing, the first piece of business was finding protein, especially protein that has fats in it because that is the stuff that has the greatest satisfaction levels. You can eat broccoli until your brains fall out but in terms of what’s called ‘satiety’, it doesn’t make it. You need protein and you need fat. The three animal-based protein sources that provide that have four feet, two feet/wings, and fins(or shells if you do the shellfish thing).

So, how do we figure out what that protein is really worth to us? I’ll go through a couple of examples:
Chicken – typical broilers are 6% fat
Ground Beef – Stores usually have several types: 90% lean, 80% lean (and sometimes an even smaller percentage of protein).

So, let’s look at something like chicken breast meat, since we don’t want to get into the whole bones thing. A pound of chicken breast meat, if it’s 6% fat, actually contains 15.04 ounces of NOT fat things, which in this case is protein. If you are paying $2.99 a pound for boneless chicken breasts, then actually, the protein in that pound of meat cost you $3.19 a pound.

To do this: $2.99 divided by 15 ounces of protein = $.1933333333 per ounce.
For a 1 pound price: $.1933333 times 16 ounces to the pound.
Voila: $3.19 a pound for chicken breast protein.

It works much the same way for the ground beef. The 90% lean beef will hold 1.6 ounces of fat in every pound, so if you are paying $3.49 a pound for the 90% lean beef, then actually the protein costs you $3.88 a pound. If you figure you should buy the cheaper 80% lean at $3.25 a pound, then the protein in that pound of meat costs you $4.06.

Read that paragraph again – the cheaper 80% lean beef actually costs you more for what you really want, which is the protein. The fat comes along for the ride, but what you are buying, when you buy meat is protein. The cheaper 80% lean makes you pay more for your protein. You get ‘more bang for your buck’ with the 90% lean.

Every box, bag, can and bottle in the grocery store has a label on it and that label contains a fat percentage – bring along a little calculator and you can figure out how much that food you are buying is actually costing you in terms of what you are getting out of it. There are nutritional charts all over the internet in terms of finding out fat percentages in animal-based protein sources. You can sit down with your grocery store ad circulars and figure out, with the prices in front of you and your nutritional chart, which really are the best buys.

So, the take-away here is this: the less money you have for your food budget means that you have to be much much smarter about how you spend it in order to get the greatest value for your money. The more processed things are, that means the more ‘other non-protein stuff’ there is in it to doctor it up – which means the less protein there is in the item itself…and the more that protein is costing you.

So, sometimes, being thrifty means paying more for higher quality protein. Bon appétit!

(originally published at Oxdown Gazette)

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