I’m 3738 now. This is the age where the cumulative effects of good and bad living are beginning to show. When I look at the people I went to school with, some of the “health nuts” still look like they’re in their twenties. Conversely, some in the “beer & steak”-crowd look like they’re in their mid-forties.

I’d imagine that this gap will continue to widen, similar to the gap in wealth between those with a 10% savings rate and those with a 70% savings rate widen, slowly, as each year is one year more traveled, cumulatively, in opposite directions.

Food is one of the three biggest expenses for most people. Those three expenses are housing, transportation and food. All of these are minimized in ERE in order to spend money where it counts: the freedom to do interesting things.

Let me digress for a moment to point out that [United States of] Americans actually have four big expenses: the three above and health insurance costs. It turns out that food costs and health insurance costs are often (statistically) tied together because what you eat is closely tied together with your health.

Like spending money, retiring, different people have different perceptions of their own level which can all be explained by the Wheaton eco scale (give that man a Nobel prize): What kind of food they eat. What kind of food they’d like to eat. What kind of food they think is unhealthy. And so on. Debate can be heated. You’ve all seen the words used by the different levels: rabbit food, scrawny, fatty, junk food, … Lets not go there!

I also know that there are many different diets out there each which have their proponents. The point of this post is not to convince you that paleo or vegan or some other diet is superior. Rather, the point is to convince you that the Standard American Diet with its appropriate acronym is bad for you. Not only is it more significantly more expensive for you on a month to month basis, but the long terms health effects will drive up your insurance costs (requiring the full cadillac plan) and personal costs of bad health. It is NOT the ERE way.

In short, if you eat the standard diet, my hope is that after reading this you will strongly consider shifting your diet by one “Wheaton”-level.

I’m still going to show you some of levels:

The average American family unit (2.1 people) spends some $600-700 on food each month. That’s $300 per person. This family unit eats what’s referred to as the Standard American Diet (what came first, the acronym or the title?) which is composed of something like

  • 60% Processed food. That’s food that dominated by refined flours, sugars, and added salt. Think breakfast cereals, canned food/dinners, white pasta, TV dinners, fish sticks, chips, soda, cookies, …
  • 25% Meat. Chicken, beef, pork, …
  • 15% Vegetables and fruit.

One example would be a nice “Italian” dinner taking a can of meat sauce, boiled white pasta, fried chopped beef, cheese, with a small salad. If you think you’re doing good eating this: You’re not, really.

The next level is replacing the processed part of the above with whole grains, whole grain products (pasta, lasagna), frozen vegetables and fruits, frozen soups, and beans. Here’s a forum thread on what to look for. I recommend watching the videos in the thread. I think they show very well what to look for.
Having grown up in (western) Europe, this kind of shopping is obvious to me and so it’s hard for me to explain how do it. How to shop for food is like sneezing. You don’t think about it, you just do it. So it’s hard to explain. This is why I recommend watching the videos. I would say that this is quite representative of a (better) European diet. Doing this will cut you family unit food bill from $600/month to $200/month for your family unit. It will likely cut your future health care costs by quite a bit more too. You don’t have to change your diet habit, you don’t even have to go to different stores (you can get all this food from Walmart), you just have to change what you buy when you’re in the store.

Same example: You’re now using a can of no-sodium tomatoes, a spice-mix, the same fried meat, and whole-grain pasta to cook your Italian pasta dinner.

The next level is where I have been living for the past 10+ years. It’s like above except I don’t buy ready-boil rice in packets or frozen vegetables. I buy a 25lbs bag of rice from ethnic stores and loss leader produce that’s in season. This will cut your bill even further but requires a bit more effort. You have to go to a different store. You have to soak and (pressure) cook your beans and rice yourself. You have to cut the vegetables with a knife. It’s not hard, but it’s 10 minutes more work.

Same example: Here you’re substituting some of the meat with beans you cooked and froze last week, chopped onions, zuchinni or bell pepper, the same no-sodium canned tomato, the same meat (or better meat), and brown rice you just pressure cooked.

If you’ve reached this level, you’re already doing ways better than the SAD diet. If you’re physically active, chances are low that you will develop any lifestyle diseases.

You can do better still. But this comes at a higher food cost. This is where it gets “tricky” because there are so many specialized diets to choose from. I think if you’re at this point already, you already know the research. This is where people turn to paleo, juicing/green smoothie, vegan, raw food, etc. Some research/experimentation on how your personal genetics interact with the food you eat is in order. For example, I lean towards green smoothies/vegan and I’m not a big fan of meat. DW doesn’t do carbs well and thus leans more towards paleo.

In conclusion, I had two points I wanted to make with this post:
First, if you’re eating the SAD diet, consider moving to the next level. Second, a healthy diet ties in with ERE in more ways than just costing less. You’ll spend less on health care later on; and presumably the point of ERE is that you want some 50+ of active fun—being healthy and energetic, then, is the enjoyment-multiplier on those years.

Originally posted 2013-03-29 10:09:41.