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

What’s in the Center of Your Local Economy?

A local economy delivers needs such as food, water, energy, housing, etc., to those who reside within a specific neighborhood, community, or rural area. Like any social system, its function is predicated on what or who is in the center.

In the diagram below, those who produce goods and services are in the center. From there, the system distributes output across stages of processing, preparation, and retail into a market where people choose to purchase what is delivered from multiple competitive options. Such a design opens up the possibility to purchase needs delivered by providers in the global economy and far removed from the transactional boundaries of the local economy. With such choices comes a reduction in local business revenue, outsourcing of paid work, and leakage of expenditures to provisioners outside the area. Basically, this is the way the current global economy works. It is the antithesis to the intent of a sustainable local economy.

Production-Centered Local Economies

In contrast, people placed in the center of a local economy invite a very different dynamic as suggested in the graphic below. Members of the social system meet their needs as close to the point of consumption as possible. The retail “ring” represents the transactional space wherein people take delivery of a needed product or service after completing its value-added cycle.

People-Centered Local Economies

Since people within a given locality share the same basic needs, they, collectively, define a steady market. This stabile and consistent demand invites an interdependence among businesses in the locally-oriented preparation, processing, and production “rings”.

A local economy is, by definition, a needs economy (see At the Bottom of the Pyramid, It’s Looking Up!). The survival and sustainability of people as a social unit depend on whether they can meet their basic needs without interruption. This imperative places people at the center of their local economy. This gives them access to the assets and resources within their purview and grants them license to deploy those means in ways that assure their continuity and reasonable quality of life.

To have production in the center invites those who are not invested in the sustainability of the local system to have control over its destiny. That is not an enviable situation in which to be. What’s in the center of your local economy?

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development on Tumbler by Steve Bosserman on August 20, 2010