Friday, January 21, 2011

Thrift Week, day five: Gluttony

So, where were we? Oh yes, gluttony. This is an interesting one, because according to Wikipedia, gluttony—at least as defined by the theologians of the Middle Ages—doesn't simply refer to eating too much. Instead, it can involve any kind of unreasonable obsession with food. Thomas Aquinas identified six distinct forms of gluttony:
  • Praepropere - eating too soon.
  • Laute - eating too expensively.
  • Nimis - eating too much.
  • Ardenter - eating too eagerly (burningly).
  • Studiose - eating too daintily (keenly).
  • Forente - eating wildly (boringly).
Obviously, the one that's most likely to hit your wallet hard is laute—being a gourmet rather than a gourmand. Of course, eating too much will also have some effect on your grocery bills, but how much you spend depends a lot more on what you eat than on how much. (In fact, it's possible to spend less on a high-calorie diet than on a healthful diet, because lots of fattening foods are relatively cheap to buy.)

However, if you happen to have a taste for fine cuisine, there are ways to gratify it without spending an unreasonable amount of money—which means you won't be "eating too expensively," and Thomas Aquinas will have no reason to get annoyed. For example, you can cook your own gourmet meals at home, rather than eating out. Yes, you'll still have to shell out for the fancy ingredients, but you won't have to pay for the service and the atmosphere, which accounts for the lion's share of the cost. (According to this 2007 article from Forbes, aimed at people who are thinking of starting up a restaurant, only 25 to 40 percent of the cost of a restaurant meal is for the food.)

As for those fancy ingredients, there are ways to trim costs there, too. Here are just a few we've stumbled on over the years:
  • Shop around. We've found that no single supermarket in our area has the best prices on everything, but there are several stores that offer great bargains on a few specific things. The Whole Earth Center in Princeton sells mushrooms in its bulk bins for $2.29 a pound, much less than the packaged shrooms at our local Stop & Shop. But its prices on fresh herbs are exorbitant—as much as $3 for a tiny package. So now we get our parsley and cilantro (when we're not growing them in the garden) for a dollar a bunch at the H-Mart down the road, and we get so much for that dollar that some of it's likely to end up in the stock bag.
  • Use substitutes. We have a recipe for a wild mushroom soup that's absolutely delicious, but it calls for two cups (!) of dried porcini mushrooms and half a pound of "fresh wild mushrooms." If we followed the recipe to the letter, it would cost something like four dollars a bowlful. So we compromise by using a combination of plain white button mushrooms from Whole Earth, as mentioned above, and flavorful shiitake mushrooms, which we can get reasonably cheap by buying them dried at the aforementioned H-Mart and reconstituting them. The soup admittedly has a rather different flavor with these changes to the recipe, but it's still mighty tasty.
  • Grow your own. When choosing crops for our garden, we devote extra space to the ones that are expensive to buy at the store (arugula, snow peas) and skip the ones we can buy relatively cheaply (potatoes, onions). Yes, I have heard that home-grown potatoes really don't compare to the supermarket variety, but when you've only got 100 square feet of garden space to work with, you have to make the most of it.
  • Go veggie. Or at least partially veggie. Meat is the priciest part of most meals, so leaving it out—or choosing recipes to make a little meat go a long way—will give you more bang for your grocery buck, and leave you with extra cash to spend on all those other delicacies.
And of course, avoiding the more common form of gluttony and taking smaller portions will help you get more meals out of one recipe.

(Hmm...I seem to have a lot more personal experience to draw on when talking about food than when talking about more abstract concepts like envy and pride. Why is that, I wonder? :-))
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