If you are doing the HGP, then this week you are thoroughly cleaning the kitchen. A somewhat dismal thought, but while I was scrubbing the stove I thought about another burning question that has been popping up a lot lately: does healthy eating cost more?

First, The Empress showed me a newspaper article that asked “Why are Americans both overweight and malnourished?” Their answer: “Because a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke cost less than fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Then Distant Eyes said healthy food cost more. Being older than she, I had no hesitation in jumping right in and contradicting her. (We then moved on to the best way of keeping the food budget really low — eating most of your meals with your parents. Won’t work for me, but many college students can survive on very limited food budgets by this one simple method.)

The very next day, Partygirl was in my kitchen having a cup of tea and said, “I always wondered, since you don’t shop at Wal-Mart, where you bought your boxed foods, but I see that you don’t buy boxes.” She’s right. I get whole grains and canola oil and tea and spices and stuff in bulk at the Co-op in paper bags (which we use to carry our lunches) and reusable containers. And that led to a discussion about food shopping, during which Partygirl told me that she had been to the farmer’s market and the Co-op each once, and had been disappointed in the prices and selection.

Partygirl is older than I, so I did not contradict her, though I did take the opportunity to point out the environmental and social consequences of  the two approaches to shopping which were under discussion.

But then Frugal for Life had this article on the same topic, complete with links to more claims of this type.

So I feel that I must present my argument on this. And here it is: people get the impression that healthy eating costs more because they compare individual items.

I will freely admit that organic whole-grain pasta costs more than the cheapest available white-flour pasta. Two or three times as much, in fact. And it is my understanding that you can buy a fast-food burger for 95 cents, which is less than the price of a homemade burger with lean meat, whole-grain bun, and plenty of fresh veggies. Not much less, but less.

However, that is not the set of numbers we should be looking at. We should be looking at the overall grocery budget. And I am here to tell you that I spend less on healthy fresh foods than the average mom who buys mostly processed foods.

Because she doesn’t just buy the cheap pasta. She also buys the ready-made sauce, the frozen pre-made meatballs, the pre-grated ersatz cheese, the frozen vegetables in seasoned sauce, the pre-made garlic and cheese bread from the freezer, the ready-made salad and the bottled salad dressing, the box of salad croutons, the bottle of soda, and the package of Ho-Hos. Probably also the microwave popcorn and a box of ready-made cookies.

All in all, buying fresh food and cooking it yourself is cheaper than buying processed foods. I buy a few processed foods myself, so I know this to be true.

But in order to be really persuasive, I must offer you statistics. The average family in the Southern U.S. spends about 14% of take-home pay on food, a calculation which yields a figure about $10 over my weekly food budget. My food budget, in fact, matches the USDA “thrifty budget” for a family of four with two children under the age of five. Since the same sources say that a teenage boy will increase your food budget by $45 a week, and I have two of those, plus a teenage girl for four months out of the year, I think I can claim to offer proof that healthy eating is not in and of itself more expensive.

Now, if frugality is a goal of yours, you might also like to know about The Frugal Reader. This is a service which allows you to list books you own but would be willing to give away. If someone wants your book, the service tells you so, and you mail it to them. As soon as they receive it, you can ask for someone else’s book, and they will mail it to you. It’s a book-trading system with the advantages of currency (Frugal Reader credits) over barter (having to know someone with similar tastes). I have now sent and received one book each, and it does appear to work. There is no cost except for the dollar or two in postage for sending the book. I think that the random-ness of the process means that you could not rely on this service for all your reading , and the cost to me is only slightly less than the cost per book of Booksfree, but it seems to me that it would be a good way to get extra books out of the house.

That Man points out that passing books around like this does not create wealth, but I feel that I do my part for the publishing industry, so I am not ashamed.

Yes, I’m knitting. In fact, I hope to do a lot of knitting today — I am feeling a little time pressure, what with Christmas being just barely more than two months away, so I hope to spend most of the day knitting. And reading, of course. But first, I have to go out and buy healthy foods. I intend to do some preserving and baking and stuff as well — oh, and of course a bit more cleaning in the kitchen. Unbounded domesticity, in fact, as the immortal G & S put it. Enjoy your weekend as well!