When you’re starving, buy a bag of sugar

September 24, 2008

What is the cheapest staple in the supermarket? We took notes today. I looked for the cheapest brand, and the best price per unit. Food values obtained from labels, or the Food Standards Authority. Yes, I accounted for the banana peel (by weighing a handy test banana; didn’t have a taro to hand, sorry, and you can eat kumara and potato peel if you scrub them).

I’ve sorted this table by price. I reckon if you sorted it by nutritional value, it would pretty much be reversed.

Food Weight (kg)
Price ($) Price/kg kJ per 100g kJ per $1
Kumara 1 3.98 3.98 335 842
Banana 1 2.48 2.48 229 923
Taro 1 3.98 3.98 469 1,178
Brushed potatoes 10 9.98 1.00 263 2,635
Rolled oats 0.75 1.98 2.64 1590 6,023
Pasta 0.5 0.99 1.98 1530 7,727
White rice 1 1.85 1.85 1470 7,946
Standard flour 5 6.48 1.30 1450 11,188
White sugar 3 3.00 1.00 1600 16,000

And we wonder why poor people are fat.



  1. Butter is also a very cheap source of calories. Butter, sugar, flour make many wonderful things, and were the staples of the previous generation – the epitome of frugal. I have a recipe I might post here…

    Why, please do! – Stephen

  2. Two recipes:

    This is one that my mother made (and still does) regularly. Even children can make this with ease, and it only takes 5 minutes.

    Butter (I’m vegan so use a dairy free marg.), flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, apples.

    Mix by hand one parts butter to two parts flour, pushing them into each other until it forms a crumble. It shouldn’t look too floury or feel too buttery. Trust your instincts. Add sugar and cinnamon to taste, and mix (start out slow and add more sugar as you go on – you can’t take it out when you’ve put it in.)

    Pour over 2 or 3 thinly sliced large apples.

    Bake at 150-200 (depending on the oven) until the top is lightly golden.

    The second recipe is a variation on the theme, found here. It’s pretty easy, and will teach you how to make an all-purpose short crust pastry.

  3. Oh, and I don’t peel the apples, cause that’s just silly (and more work).

  4. And we wonder why poor people are fat.

    I’m not so convinced. New Zealanders eat way too much cheese and butter and meat, and none of them are cheap. Habits take time to change and it’s mostly the wealthy who are leading the charge, in spite of the fact that a Mediterranean diet, for instance, is a lot easier to afford than the traditional Kiwi staples.

  5. READ THIS: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/oct/01/foodanddrink.oliver

    Social class and food in the UK. Having working in homes in “deprived areas” I don’t doubt that its not too far off the mark here in NZ as well.

  6. You read it here first!

  7. got sent that article today too. was planning on rustling up a blog. but, stephen, be my guest.

  8. Go to it, man. I just wanted to point out that figuring out what calories were cheapest was an original Frugal Me idea.

  9. So, anyone want to do a time-discounted price/kg of fruit grown from your own tree?

  10. hmmm.. will need to know what your time is worth in $$, and how much of that time you spend tending and/or gathering fruit.

  11. Yeah. Fruit trees require inputs in pruning, picking, fertiliser and pest control. Unless you can barter them, you’ll want to preserve the surplus. The calculus is very personal and particular to your situation, I think.

    I grew up on a 1/3 acre section where Dad cultivated:

    Apples x 2
    Plums x 2
    Grapes x 3
    Cape gooseberry

    Subsequent Dad-gardens have included avocados, pears and olives.

    And I recall a considerable amount of labour in all that, though the results were undeniably more delicious and probably more nutritious than shop-bought fruit.

    I myself when a homeowner had pears and cherries from a previous owner. Sadly I am renting now and the fig in a tub is a while away from fruiting.

    My gut feeling is that avocado, if you have the right micro-climate, gets you the most bang for the buck. They are pricey in the shops, nutritionally dense, and store well without preservation. Dad has one big productive tree which needs bugger-all care, and it provides so many in a good year that he can give them away to all and sundry and still eat at least one a day.

  12. Che: it’s a tree. It grows. When you get hungry, you wander out and pick some fruit. Or at least, that’s been my experience. You mean these things actually require some inputs and effort?

  13. I/S – it depends how much fruit you want over time. Apples can be quite fussy in future years if you don’t look after them… other things not so much.

    More generally – I remember living in a flat with a plum tree, picking the plums, having the flatmates ask me where I’d got them from, then when I said ‘from the tree outside’ having them ask ‘can you eat those?’

  14. Janet: my apple tree was sadly not tended when it was young, and is now a complete mess. It still produces more apples than I can use, though.

  15. This one’s courtesy of my mum: in 1922 in Lombardy a male farm labourer earned 2.4 lira per day. A woman or a child earned 1.2 per day. And a kilogram of (cane) sugar cost 2.6 lira.

    That put in perspective the history of frugality of my family right there.

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