Numbers, Bulk Foods, and Real Caffeine

It's day 1 of my participation in the San Francisco Food Bank's Hunger Challenge, and I can already share my first lesson: no matter how much cheaper tea may be than coffee, attempting to substitute the former for the latter as my daily caffeine source is a huge mistake.

I woke up this morning to an empty coffee canister in the kitchen, and rather than make the journey to Peet's for some replacement beans--which, at roughly $13/pound for the Fair Trade Blend I usually get, would have neatly chipped away at my $4/day spending limit--I decided to have a nice cup of black tea instead.

Wrong. Wrong. I am just now, at 3 p.m., getting over the resultant grumpiness, and only because I have just returned from Rainbow with a pound of Jeremiah's pick and am writing this with a cup of same next to me.

Fueled as I now am by real caffeine (price per day: 78 cents), I can begin the mental gymnastics involved in calculating the price-per-serving of the bulk foods that will make up the, um, bulk of my eating this week. The bulk route is the one I normally take, but I'm hewing to it even more this week as I attempt to eat as few prepared and packaged foods as possible. All of this is wonderful for my body, the earth, and the purposes of this experiment, though hideously painful in terms of the math involved.

Today's breakfast, for example, consisted of the aforementioned cup of tea (with milk and a bit of honey); steel-cut oatmeal with strawberries, brown sugar, and milk; a glass of grapefruit juice; and a piece of toast with peanut butter. What did all of that cost? Join me, won't you, on the journey to figure that out.

First, the tea. The bag I chose was one in a box given to me as a gift, so I have zero idea how much it actually cost, but am willing to peg it somewhere around 20 cents. The honey, about a teaspoon from a 16-oz. jar that was $5, comes out, by my calculations, to $0.05. I'm too stubborn to measure or calculate the splash of milk I used, so we'll call it 5 cents as well, though it was probably more like 2 or 3. Grand total: 28 cents, plus mental fatigue.

The likelihood of my continuing this insanely detailed math for everything I eat, condiments and all, is slim. So here and now, I'm making a deal with myself that I will be allowed to guesstimate the costs of herbs, spices, sweeteners, condiments, and oil, lest I go completely mad.

Leaving out the details, I've come up with $1.57 as the costs of this morning's meal. Lunch--Israeli couscous with roasted zucchini and tofu--clocks in at $1.80. The cup of Ciao Bella blood orange gelato I was somehow powerless to resist at Rainbow? $1.09 (and worth every penny). My total for the day thus far: $5.25.


For 2/3 of a day's largely organic, largely local, very tasty eating and caffeinating, not bad. But still $1.25 over budget for the day, and dinner isn't even on the horizon. So much for thoughts of arugula salad with melon, almonds, and ricotta salata; since I'm already borrowing against tomorrow, bean and barley soup is going to be more like it.

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