Experiments in Food Economics

July 25, 2014


Everyone feeds. And as nutrition is a fundamental charateristic of
biotic constructions (read: living things), there is none alive that
does not eat! While a lot of us may be averse to eating out (now I’m
overdoing my generalisations, I get it), there are those, as few as
they may be, who take flights (e.g. Abuja to Lagos) to savour that
special treat at that renowned cove- that is as bad as it is; as good
as it gets.

I fondly remember how during a cholera outbreak in Abeokuta (later
denied…) people still ate out. Ironically, a doctor contracted the
epidemic right in the Emergency Unit; yes, without having to eat out.
Something about a patient’s vomitus splashing… (I hereby save you
the gory details.)

With safety and hygiene no longer valid points in the debate, those of
us that do not eat out insist it is rather cost-effective, a stance
that is perpetually challenged by those that do, particularly on the
basis that the variety, adventure, freedom, that one enjoys eating out
far surpasses whatever profits one may realise otherwise.

So… Just how much do you save when you choose to cook rather than
eat out frequently? And why should it even concern you?

If you are a student you must have avoided asking the latter question
since you very well understand why it concerns you. Indeed in an
economy where resources are scarce maximization is the rule rather
than the exception. As a bachelor, should I swallow my ego and trounce
Ughelli main market in search of Maggi and pepper or eat out at my
innominate regular spot with my cloven? By the way the answer is 60%.
You save 60%.

Now to the matter…

Let’s examine the facts using a thirty-food serving period. How much
would it cost you to eat to satisfaction 3 times a day for 10 days? At
a very conservative estimate of 400 naira per meal you require 12 000
naira. Why is this conservative? Do I even need to expatiate on that?
Apart from the need to be served double portions you are more likely
to pay above budget for the cow head, the orobo (big; 50cL) coke or
the extra side of beef. Yet, this assumes you live within walking
distance from your favourite food vendor. It also presumes you will
strictly avoid forays into the more illustrious fast food joints such
as Mr Biggs, McDonald’s,… (No offense intended.)

How much do you require for 3 times a day homemade meals for 10 days.
Say you focused on the staples rice, beans, garri and yam. A basket of
rice here costs 900 naira consisting of 24 peak milk cups. Assuming 2
milk cups per meal it comes to 12 servings. An average 300-naira tuber
of yam goes for 2 servings; half a basket of beans of 450 naira goes
up to 12 servings especially when you add potatoes of say 200. A
basket of garri for 350 would last you at least 7 servings- if you are
not feeding to be sold, that is. Already past 30 servings.

Next is the tricky part: soup and stew. But it does not defy analysis.
Well priced, 800 naira worth of meat should outlast 12 servings of
rice. So will 400 naira worth of fish for 6 servings. Another 1 700
naira should get you more than enough melon, pepper, tomatoes and
other condiments in addition to energy. I’m assuming you use the more
energy efficient gas cooker or if a student, the very pocket friendly
electric cooker. Not so energy friendly though.

In total you’ve just spent 5 100 naira procuring your 33 plus
servings. Correcting for the extra servings leaves you with an
unbelievably high (above) 60% savings. But how can this be? Could it
possibly be that much?

Well, consider what you pay for: convenience (or inconvenience)
depending on how easily you can procure your meals, not having to do
the dishes, being waited on by canteen staff, etc. You also pay for
the time these persons put into these efforts which is understandable
if you have a demanding, time-consuming, job. They after all say time
is money.

This all seems very textbook and prone to flaws. It would for instance
cost me more to prepare Edi (the Igbo draw-soup) but falls into
perspective when you pay 2 000 for single serving of same in a two
star hotel.

More importantly, this model also assumes that the meals you make
would be edible if not palatable.

Personally, I remain grateful to mum for leaving me no choice but to
learn to cook. For those who missed kitchen posting, it may be time to
consider marrying. Indeed couples save more money when they eat from
the same pot as compared to individually. This is so as it may not be
necessary to double all costs. For instance, energy expenditure
remains near constant.

I think I have made my point. I refuse to dwell on the economics of
spending a million or two in order to save on feeding costs. That is a
discussion for a later date.

Ifeanyi Nwanji, MBBS (Benin).
Contributing editor: Ayokunle Adeleye. MBChB (Ogun) – in-view.