2000 Calories for $10 / Day

Everyone needs food. The average calorie intake level for adults is 2000 / day. But that may vary given one’s unique health profile. The How Many Calories Should I Eat blog lists several tools one can use to target a specific number of calories that address particular health conditions and personal circumstances. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services’s Healthy People 2010 Final Review, the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion offer in-depth information about the impact of diet and nutrition on health and wellness. Please check them out.

Food needs to be affordable. The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion Cost of Food at Home report for June 2010 and a University of Washington study estimate the average American spends $7 / day on food. Depending on one’s economic circumstances, that average may drop as low as $5 / day. All too often the nutritional value of the 2,000 calories drops along with the cost as stated in this March 1, 2010 Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy article, “Cheap food policy contribution to childhood obesity.” Unfortunately, cheaper calories contribute to greater instances of obesity and related health issues.

An informal comparison between a 2,000 calorie typically “Western” menu and its healthier “Mediterranean” counterpart conducted by U.S. News & World Report writer, Katherine Hobson, pegs the average cost at $10 / day for the Western fare. Ms. Hobson alleges it could be done for less with more judicious planning and shopping.

To that point, the My Money Blog author does an interesting riff on the prices of several food items each in 200 calorie increments. He concludes we could eat reasonably well on substantially less than $10 / day.

Lastly, the USDA reimburses schools $2.72 / lunch (2010-11 school year) for those students who meet the National School Lunch Program guidelines. Each fully prepared lunch provides at least one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calories and essential nutrients. That suggests that $10 / day for 2,000 calories delivered in three meals plus a snack is a reasonable estimate.

Can one make a profit as a supplier to school systems? Revolution Foods, a food service provider based in Oakland, CA, says so–at least according to the USA Today article, Healthy, Organic and Cheap Lunches? Order Up.

Given the above argument, 2,000 calories for $10 / day is the upper limit of affordability for the average person. However, at this level these same 2,000 calories must be accessible, available, nutritious, tasty, familiar, quick, convenient, and safe. If otherwise, the risk is run that the consumer will default to a less healthy option that is easier to come by, less expensive, and tastes better.

Can local food systems routinely deliver 2,000 accessible, available, nutritious, tasty, familiar, quick, convenient, and safe calories for $10 / day to each person within them? A topic for a later posting!

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development on Tumblr by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, August 21, 2010

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