Year for the Planet Week 34: Can You Eat Sustainably for $1 a Day?

Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This year, 2017, is where I deal with my food choices.


Here’s a thought: sustainable healthy eating should be a right, yet only privileged people can do it. I’m not naive enough to suppose this new food lifestyle of mine can be adopted by everyone. In my previous post, I was wailing about zucchinis costing $4 so I harbor no illusions here. Still, I wanted to know how far $1 can go when it comes to eating for the planet, with the perspective of someone who currently lives in one of the top plastic-polluting and impoverished countries in the world. Millions in the Philippines still live on a dollar a day or less.

I should define what I mean by “sustainable eating”, as this is contentious. From everything I’ve learned this year, to eat sustainably means to eat such that we nourish our bodies sufficiently with as minimal to no waste and damage to the environment and communities as possible and produced with the minimum amount of energy (or produced with renewable energy). This normally translates to eating locally produced, unprocessed food with ample nutrition to get you through the day. Trying to do this as best as I can since January this year has made me healthier and less dependent on medication. It has also saved me time, money and energy, and has made me happier.

So until what point of my diet can $1 cover and are there some parts that I can change to accommodate as much food as possible? Here we go:

I usually eat a 2-egg omelette with black olives, spinach, and cheese, together with a cup of coffee with a splash of soy milk. This is about $1.40, which isn’t too bad. If I nix the fillings of this omelette, it’s about $0.53. Well. I knew I was saving a lot, but I didn’t realize how much.

I eat smaller meals throughout the day, but what counts as “lunch” would be a smoothie. Usually this is a banana, peanut butter and turmeric smoothie with a cashew or soy milk base. This is around $0.7. It would be $1.40 if I add some spinach.

I usually have two peanut butter and oatmeal energy bites and another cup of coffee. This is about $2.

This varies, but typically I would have sweet potatoes and tofu roasted with a bunch of spices and tomatoes, which costs about $1.

Ok, so if I had $1 a day, this can get me through lunch with a bit of budget stretching. Or a warm and filling dinner. And forget snacks. And I have the privilege of being able to nitpick on the types of food I buy and where. I’m also vegetarian by choice and always armed with reusable water bottles and bags. But for people living below the poverty line they have neither time nor energy to think about these choices—they will go with whatever is immediately accessible. Also note that I have to buy these ingredients in bulk for meals to be cheaper. For people who do not have a lot of income from the get-go, they have to think about their meals on a per-day basis. Finally, I’m usually at my desk or tinkering around for a project, not doing heavy manual labor every day, which needs more calories.

What is disheartening about grocery shopping is that I see the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables to be very expensive compared with cheap processed food. It’s also very strange—you just need water, soil, and sunshine to grow produce while it takes lots of chemicals and plastic to make processed food. Shouldn’t all that crap cost more? This is why I see lower-income families stick to these unhealthy snacks, or go for these fast food meals that advertise themselves with unlimited rice just to get as many calories as possible. Not only are they bad for the health and environment, but these types of food tend to be addictive. I see lots of overweight people in poor places in the world, but they live in food deserts that provide meals of little nutritional value. If there’s one system we must fix to help restore balance in the world, it’s food.


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