Home Economics Home Cooked Food Isn't Any Cheaper Than Store Bought

Home Cooked Food Isn’t Any Cheaper Than Store Bought

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When we talk about the resources used to make something we do need to be inclusive in those resources we’re talking about. Sure, we can say that organic farming uses fewer chemicals than industrial farming. But it also often enough uses more labour and definitely uses more land. So, which resources do we want to talk about when we talk of a low input system of agriculture?

Equally we can talk about saving resources by recycling stuff. And it’s true that sticking old iron back into the furnace to make new does reduce the amount of rust (that being what iron ore is) that we dig out of the ground. But does it reduce the use of all resources? Largely, yes, iron and steel scrap does and we can tell this because iron and steel scrap has a value. People will pay you for the privilege of carting it away – the amount they’ll pay being a reflection of the value it has over and above that new rust being dug up. Plus, obviously, the sheepskin coat and Jaguar allowance necessary to run the scrap metals business.

This does not mean that all recycling does so of course. We are endlessly told that we must pay higher taxes or fees in order to recycle this and that in order to save resources. But that this recycling costs more is evidence than, when summed up, we are using more resources to recycle than we would to just make anew.

OK, all of the above should be well known even is fashion and politics ignore too much of it. Here we’ve proof that home cooked food costs more than store bought:

The tax may also limit the financial incentive to eat pre-cooked meals. An official report published last week found that the average home-cooked meal for four was €0.60 (about 54p) cheaper than its industrial equivalent. But when time spent preparing the meal was factored in at an hourly-rate equivalent to the French minimum wage, the home-cooked dish was on average €5.34 (about £4.76) more expensive.

Yes, the ingredients for a home cooked meal are cheaper than the prepared meal bought from the supermarket. But we need to add labour in the home to those ingredients to get to that meal. We also know what we should price that labour at. The Sarkozy Commission, including such luminaries as Amartya Sen and Joe Stigltiz, said that such domestic labour should be valued – no, not paid, but valued – at the undifferentiated labour rate. Which, for most places, will be the minimum wage.

The insight here being that you probably can go and get a minimum wage job pretty much any time you like. You’ve decided not to therefore you value your time at more than the minimum wage.

At which point, when we include all of the resources required to produce it, a home cooked meal costs more than a store bought one. Which does rather kill off that slow cooking movement as a manner of preserving resources, doesn’t it?

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3 COMMENTS

  1. A couple of things:

    Are you actually comparing the same quality of ingredients ? If you use high quality ingredients I’m willing to bet this isn’t true. Using lower quality ingredients I could well believe this is a valid analysis.

    Second – and this may be beyond the point you are making – yes, comparing your labour may make the meal more expensive but it is your labour and you may enjoy cooking so you get additional value from that – “the price of everything and the value of nothing” etc.

    • Is it safe to assume someone someone earning higher wages will eat higher quality ingredients?

      In my experience people tend to eat what scales with their salary. If I am on lower wages, I will probably cook with cheaper ingredients, and eat cheaper ready made food, while if I am on higher wages, I will probably cook with more expensive ingredients, and eat more expensive ready made food.

      If it takes me half an hour to make a burger with ingredients costing 50p, how much did it cost me? It costed half an hours labour that could have been spent working. If I’m on £6 an hour and I had to stop working to do it, then it cost me £3.60. The cheapest burger at mcdonalds is 89p.
      Higher quality ingredients cost £1.50, same time to make it, while wages are £12 an hour. In total, that cost £7.50. The cheapest burger at five guys is £4.75.

      This completely neglects that I had to take time to eat the burger, or take time to buy the burger. I can work while eating, so maybe I can ignore that.

      Obviously, most people are only willing to work so many hours. Cooking is something done in time you are unlikely to be working in anyway.

  2. Agree with commentators above. A pure economic analysis misses all “costs and values”. Say food preparation and eating. Including time and labour as purely beancounting and neglecting intangibles such as socialising. How much does socialising cost ? One could estimate the foregone wages as cost which assumes that extra work is available and wanted, which is sometimes true. More often in IMHO, not true, because there would not be such high under-employment figures if Oz Bureau of Statistics is to be believed. Eating in seems to be less stressful. Certainly, in really good resteraunt or the Scottish down market, the same stresses of eating is a crowded space is not pleasant and there are time limits. One does not snooze in public places in safety.
    I know in my case I prefer a mechanic to do vehicle servicing because modern cars are so amateur hostile. However my farm machinery, being old, is easy to service, so I do those. Decision made around my valuing of what my time is worth.

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