Food Purchasing Decisions

by Rhoby Cook

Hoopa residents will pay about the same amount for Thanksgiving dinner as people throughout the rest of the country, even if they shop locally.  They can save even more by cooking from scratch and utilizing local produce.  That’s the result of some research conducted by the Hoopa Food Policy Council.

Every year since 1986 the American Farm Bureau Federation has sent out volunteers in 34 states to price a 12-item shopping list of ingredients for a typical Thanksgiving Dinner for ten.  The menu includes turkey with stuffing, rolls, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, vegetables, milk and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.  Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spending $50 and receiving a free turkey.  Buying items on sale is allowed.  This year the shopping basket total came to $49.04, down 44 cents from last year.

“When I saw the list with their national numbers, I thought it would be interesting to compare it to our local Ray’s” said Rhoby Cook, of the Klamath Trinity Resource Conservation District and Hoopa Food Policy Council.  “The results were similar to the Retail Price Comparison Study the HFPC conducted a year ago:  Ray’s is a little more expensive than stores on the Coast, but not much, and the cost of transportation has to be considered or you don’t get a true comparison.”  The price of the same Thanksgiving dinner ingredients at Ray’s, as of November 21st, comes to $54.08.  That’s $5.04 more, or about 10% higher than the Farm Bureau study.

Bob Stallman, the president of the Farm Bureau Federation, points out that Thanksgiving dinner at home is still a bargain at less than $5.00 per serving.   Even at Ray’s prices, it’s only $5.50 per serving.  However, the serving size isn’t specified, so it’s possible the meal wouldn’t serve ten people to the “stuffed” level, nor did they include that reliable filler, mashed potatoes.

There are options for cutting the price of the holiday meal even more. For example, the Farm Bureau shopping list includes pre-packaged pie shells and canned pumpkin pie mix, for a supermarket cost of between five and seven dollars.  Making pie crust and filling from scratch, using home-grown pumpkin or squash would be half that, even less if the recipe included some “commods.”   The Farm Bureau menu includes sweet potatoes, frozen green peas, carrots and celery.  But winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower, greens, and cabbage are available from local farms and fall gardens, and pack more nutrition per penny.   The health benefits are important to consider:  cooking at home using whole and unprocessed foods provides an opportunity for more balanced and better-portioned meals with fewer calories, sodium and less saturated fat and more vegetables, according to Johns Hopkins University.  CalFresh, Hoopa TANF and Hoopa Tribal Food Distribution include locally grown vegetables as part of the benefits for their program participants.

“Every family’s shopping decisions are personal and their budgets are based on their unique circumstances,” says Cook.  “But I suggest that we are asking the wrong question.  It shouldn’t be, ‘Is Ray’s more expensive?’ but rather ‘What has it cost us to switch our diets to supermarket food?’  

I recently left a career in grant writing and community development to devote myself full time to domestic management and fiber art.  My husband Joseph Orozco and I have shared our farm in the Hoopa Valley with quite a few four-leggeds and wingeds, since 1990. Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live nearby.    -- Rhoby Cook