Birthday Freebies – To Eat or Not To Eat

My birthday was last week and I got a less-than-delightful gift that I would love to return – a cold! I can pinpoint the exact moment that I got it, though I didn’t quite catch the lady’s name so I could thank her. My mom and I were sitting in the doctors’s office waiting for her to see the urologist. Apparently this particular office does not observe national holidays (MLK Day) so there I sat, on my birthday, for 3 hours. The room was filled with older folks, many of whom were sick, but one lady in particular was hacking her head off. I remember thinking, “I hope I don’t catch that!” Too late. My mom and I both spent the entire weekend in bed.

Being out of commission with a cold, along with the sub-zero temps and snow, put us behind on our dumpster visits for the week. It also made it nearly impossible to collect any of the birthday freebies that I received from area restaurants. Which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Once upon a time (last year, to be exact), we were all about our birthday freebies. We planned lunch dates around them and we had a whole lot of fun cashing them in. Just scroll back through our Facebook and you’ll see some great pics of free chicken strips at Zaxby’s, a burger and fries from Steak ‘n Shake, a grilled fish dinner from Captain D’s, and an assortment of subs from Jersey Mike’s and Quizno’s that we shared while on one of our many Work Free Wednesday adventures.

I think, in my head at least, I had grand ideas that this year’s freebies would elicit the same kind of excitement. And some did. I was super excited to collect my free pastry at Panera. But the rest? I couldn’t even think about them without getting a scary reaction from my own stomach. Why? Because it really is true – once you cut meat from your diet, you just don’t crave it anymore. In fact, if you stick with a plant-based diet long enough, you’ll find that your cravings are actually for things like salads and veggie tacos (at least mine are).

When we resolved to cut back on our meat consumption in 2016, we never figured there would come a time when we’d be “all in” for a vegetarian or plant-based lifestyle. Even just a year ago we were pretty okay with having one or two meatless days every week. Then we got hooked on food documentaries on Netflix. Every single one we watched touted the virtues of a plant-based diet and all in different ways. Some talked about better health. Some talked about benefits to the environment. And then came the ones that talked about waste. Waste…it gets us every time!

In this case, we’re talking about wasted resources. You’ve probably seen this before but it’s a great illustration of all the resources used in the production of just one pound of beef. 

Thinking about my birthday freebies…I received the same freebies as last year. All fast food. All containing meat. At first, I entertained the idea of indulging just this once in a juicy steakburger, but even my frugal self couldn’t get on board with that. I just kept picturing a cartoon version of myself mixing 6.7 pounds of grain with 52.8 gallons of water and microwaving it for 18 minutes to get a hamburger. It was both hilarious and just plain silly.

Do we still eat meat? Yes, on occasion. My mom is not 100% convinced that she can live without it so from time to time, she makes dinner with meat. I’d rather die than hurt her feelings so we eat it without hesitation. (Because some things are simply more important than being right.) We aren’t buying meat at the grocery any more though. I’m not sure when that stopped. It was almost an unconscious effort.

So the final verdict on the birthday freebies? We opted out of the fast food freebies this year. I did stop by Panera and I’ll most likely cash in my Jason’s Deli discount for a trip to the salad bar but the rest will remain unused.


Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 1 ounce
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 4 ounces
  • Found Food this week:  9.67 US pounds
  • Total Found Food this year:  53.42 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.

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Food & Finance

I received my W-2 statement in the mail today. After taxes, insurance, and other standard deductions, I brought home $26,632.12 in 2017. When you add in our side hustles ($1161.58), our total income for the year was $27,793.70. I mention this for two reasons. One, so I can marvel for a brief moment at the sheer awesomeness of living simply. If you had told me a decade ago that I would be living successfully on less than half of my then income…on purpose…and loving it…I would have called you crazy. The bank holding the note to my SUV, my suburban townhouse, and my camping trailer would have concurred. Today, looking at that W-2, I feel proud. I feel accomplished. I feel good about choosing time over money and I wouldn’t go back for every dollar in the world.

But…that’s not the only reason I mentioned our income. I wanted to use it as a real world example for today’s post on food waste.

Over the weekend, we watched the documentary film, Dive! If you substituted Angie and me for the folks making the film, this could have very easily been the story of our lives – minus all the meat. Everything they found – right down to the limes – is stuff we find in our own dumpster all the time. Blueberries, strawberries, bread, eggs…you name it, we find it. More than just the fact that we had similar dumpsters, what really stood out to me was that this film and their attempt to improve food waste conditions in CA was made in 2009 and yet here we are, nearly a decade later and 2,031 miles away, living the same story.

In the film, Jeremy Seifert makes a very valid point – Americans spend so little of their income on food that it has essentially lost it’s value. When we don’t value something, we have no qualms about throwing it in the trash.

At the time the film was made, Americans spent 16% of their income on food every year. Currently, we spend 6.4%; less than any other country in the world.

And still, we waste more than 1/3 of that.

Why? Because the scale of our personal economic impact is so small it doesn’t matter.

Let’s do the math. 6.4% of our income essentially means that 6 cents out of every dollar is designated for food. If we waste 1/3 of the food we buy, that’s 2 of those 6 cents. In reality, how much do we care about 2 cents? If the number of pennies that I find on the ground just walking into the grocery store is any indicator, then I’d say not much. But pennies don’t tell the whole story.

People don’t set out to waste food. We have every intention of eating what we buy but then life gets in the way. The apples rot before we get around to making that pie. The meat goes bad when plans change and we forget to freeze it. Or we get tired, bored, or disgusted with something before we finish it. And we throw it away because…it’s easy…it’s cheap…it’s not going to make a difference. Or is it?

Let’s try that math again. 6.4% of our income in 2017 would have been $1,779. In actuality, Angie and I spent more than double that amount on food last year, approximately 13% of our income (or $3,661.81). If we were “average”, $1,208 of that would have gone into the garbage as food waste. And that’s certainly not pocket change!

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about ways to improve your own financial situation this year. Skipping your morning coffee might put $500 back in your pocket for the year. Cutting cable will give you another $960. Heck, switching to Geico could save you 15% on car insurance (or so they say). But one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to start saving – simply reduce your food waste. Pennies do add up to dollars.

I don’t know about you but I’m not a fan of tossing money in the trash!


Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 0
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 3 ounces
  • Found Food this week: 10 US pounds
  • Total Found Food this year: 43.75 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.