Food Security Meets the New Frugality: Declining Food Spending

For families who struggle to make ends meet, food and housing a large part of the budget burden. A study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in the last decade, those with middle and low incomes have reduced their spending on food. People are becoming less food secure and struggling to pay the food bills.

Those who are struggling to pay the bills often look to cut costs in the largest and most static areas of the budget, and food is certainly one of these.  In fact, there is a whole industry growing up around the new frugality. While the frugality of the 1930s was connected to the dustbowl, the frugality today is connected to the global economic downturn, the feeling that families need two incomes but often try to make do on one, and the desire to live a simple, straightforward and less ecologically-damaging life. These reasons fuse to create a movement towards frugality.

How do we connect the two dots? On the one hand, people are able to spend less on their food. On the other, to support a food secure nation, we need to focus on supporting local farmers and paying real prices for real food. While limited food budgets often bring to mind the student fare of boxed macaroni and cheese, it is possible to create a sustainable menu on a tight budget. This means that we need to focus on purchasing whole foods that are locally grown and unprocessed and preferably, farmer direct.

This means that we don’t go and spend our whole paycheck at an upscale, organic grocery store. It means that we become crafty in ensuring our food and financial security and contributing towards national food security as well. Shopping now occurs at the warehouse where families pick up a year’s worth of flour or on the farm where families pick a winter’s worth of berries. It occurs at the farmers’ market or other community drop off points where families pick up a CSA share for the week. Food shopping looks different, but it is not necessarily more expensive.

Food processing also looks different. Canning, freezing, and drying become important in the new frugality, just as they were in the old one. The freezer is full of berries and beans rather than boxed pizzas, and the shelves have homemade pickles rather than canned pineapple.

This is where national food security meets family food security and where frugality meets sustainability. It’s possible, and it’s happening now.