Sunday, December 18, 2011

Living on a Food Stamp (Part 3) - Economics

For this analysis, I’m going to invent a new unit of Energy Cost (EC). Assuredly, someone else has invented this, so if you can find out whom, I’ll cite them here. The basic unit of EC is “Dollars per 1000 Calories” or the DPCs[1]. The major concern for a low-cost diet is getting enough calories. After calories, enough protein is needed. Everything else is gravy (not literally, because gravy would be unhealthy and probably quite costly. But you get the picture).

So let’s try it! Let’s start with a Big Mac! The cost of the burger alone (in Palo Alto, with tax, according to the guy who picked up the phone and confusedly answered the person calling a McDonald’s phone number asking for prices) is $4.10. A Big-Mac contains 540 Calories. $4.10/540*1000 =  7.6 DPC. A large fry is $2.15 and has 500 Calories so its EC is 4.3 DPC, almost half. That means that, given the same amount of money, you can get twice as fat off fries as you can off burgers.

What’s my target? The average California Food Stamps[2] beneficiary gets $4.88 per day. And if we assume we want to maintain a healthy weight, 2000 Calories is as good a number as any to do it on (though I know some people voluntarily subsist on less than that). That means that our target EC will be $4.88/ 2000 C *1000 = 2.44 DPC. That’s our cutoff. Any food that exceeds that value will need to be limited and balanced by foods that are under it.

What’s the best bang for buck? What has the lowest EC? As far as I’ve found so far, the answer is: beans, beans the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you… save. Bulk black beans cost $1.45 per lb at my local Safeway. They have 341 Calories/100g dry black beans. So =1lb*1000g/2.205lb*341Cal/100g = 1546 Calories and an EC is 0.9 DPC. If most of our calories came from beans, then we’ve got lots of money to play with. We can spend the rest on spices and luxuries.

[1] WARNING: THIS FOOTNOTE IS FOR SCIENTISTS ONLY. Strictly speaking, its dollars per megacalorie, $/Mc. Food labels are listed in capital ‘C’ Calories, not little ‘c’ calories and 1000 calories = 1 Calorie. Why they confuse things like that, I don’t know. The reason I made it Mc instead of kc is because of ease of using whole numbers; the range I expect this to apply to will be single whole numbers at about this scale. Also, it’s not the inverse (Mc/$) because that leads to non-intuitive comparisons (e.g. see the raging internet debate on MPG vs GPM). If you disobeyed the “Scientists Only” warning and this confused you, for the rest of the article, just assume you never read this.

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