A Cost-Benefit Analysis of My Fortnightly Organic Food Box
When you can see a notoriously cost-effective supermarket that is open 24/7 from your bedroom window, subscribing to a fortnightly organic food box feels indulgent. Add in two freelancers’ salaries, and it’s bordering on financially reckless. But somehow, our twice-monthly Hello Fresh box feels like the most sensible spending decision I’ve ever made.
Hello Fresh is somewhere between an organic veg box and ordering really good take-out, where they send you three recipes and all the ingredients you need to make them. At $59 per 3-meal box, it’s $9 per meal per person, although I have found a way to game the system: everything goes further if you set the some of the canned tomatoes, hard cheese and zucchini aside for pasta sauce. It’s all good quality, certainly better quality than I would normally think about buying myself, even when we can afford it.
I live with my wife in Scotland, which gave the world the deep-fried Mars Bar, Irn Bru and macaroni cheese in a pie. Right now, we spend roughly $380 a month on food, of which maybe 50% is stuff that’s actually good for us.
Analyzing the actual figure, of course, would mean facing the problem head on. We both tend to comfort eat, which isn’t great when we’re trying to get our bank accounts and my body ready for a baby. For two people with fluctuating levels of mental health and relationships with food that can be best labeled as ‘it’s complicated’, cooking can sometimes seem like the most arduous task in the world.
I have always been fairly defensive about ready meals – for someone with a packed schedule, occasionally limited funds and depression, sometimes it’s a choice between something packed with additives and salt and forgetting to eat vegetables for three days – but in the interests of keeping this human shell functioning as long as possible, we have been trying to eat healthily and so far, Hello Fresh is the only thing that’s stuck.
We have tried the DIY option of pinning recipes to a Pinterest board and basing our shopping around that, but we always end up wasting food. There’s something about the Hello Fresh recipe cards that makes me feel accountable, like if I use their products for anything other than their designated purpose I am somehow letting them down. There have been two occasions where some of the products went past their sell-by date: most recently it was with sea bass and chicken and I feel more sick to my stomach than I would have been if I had eaten the out of date fish, because this is expensive protein we’re wasting here.
Getting a regular delivery with all the items for specific meals limits my spur-of-the-moment trips to the supermarket where I go for milk and come back with a new brand of air freshener, cat treats, some kale and no milk. It also appeals to my inner productivity junkie: I’m automating my meals! I can spend so much more time thinking up article pitches that justify my ridiculous life choices!
On the other hand, it doesn’t take into account the days so bad that only take-out will do, or when you’re not at home to sign for the package and it stays in your creepy next door neighbor’s hall for two days while he laces it with arsenic or really tiny spy cameras or something.
By and large, this model is working: we’re already spending less on take-out by replacing it with, you know, actual food. The next task is tackling our addiction to snack foods. When you work from home, that is an easy and expensive trap to fall into, and it’s rare that I spend under $10 on junk food runs.
Back when I had an office job, I subscribed to Graze, a tiny cardboard lunchbox filled with delicious yet mostly healthy treats that let me eat lunch without leaving my desk. It turns out they now do a monthly package for $22 that lets you mix and match 10 bags of sweet and savory treats, so we’re going to try subscribing to that and see if we can replace our Pringles and Cadburys habit with chili- and lime-infused cashew nuts and dark chocolate chips mixed with dried cherries.
That’s $141 for at least 6 meals and a month’s worth of snacks to ensure we’re having Actual Food. It’s a lot, but it’s also probably less than what we can spend on take-out and junk food in a stressful month. To round things out, there’s also a community greengrocers that bags up the best fresh local ingredients for you for under $25 for a weekly couple’s portion. You do have to pick that up, but it’s round the corner from my cousin’s house and I should probably leave the flat occasionally. Spending a further $54 for extra fish and meat and staples like milk and bread and pasta brings us to $300 for a month’s worth of groceries, $80 less than what we’re probably spending now, and for much better quality food.
Note the ‘probably’. The one thing we’re bad at keeping track of is how much we spend on groceries, probably because facing that means facing the thorny tangle of issues we both have around food. But if the bulk of our monthly shopping comes to exactly the same amount every month, that’s one step towards keeping control of our finances and our portions.
It’s worth spending a little more to know that I’m taking care of myself in the best way I can right now. If I can unpack some of my issues around food along with my fortnightly delivery of fresh fish, vegetables, and seasoning, then maybe I’ll be filling up my wallet to bursting, not my stomach.
This story is part of our food month series.
Kaite Welsh is a culture and lifestyle journalist living in Scotland with too many cats, too many books and not enough coffee. She can be found smashing the patriarchy 140 characters a time at @kaitewelsh.