Behind the Scenes with Buying Food

One of the things I’d like to do here at Foldedspace is to have a little fun with some of the things I write about at Get Rich Slowly. When I write at GRS, I mainly play it straight. I can’t provide a lot of extraneous info or make fun of the things I’m writing about. That’s not the case at Foldedspace!

This morning, for example, I posted some grocery shopping tips from the 1950s. These tips are taken from an old educational film about buying food. Here’s the 11-minute video, in all its gender-role-specific glory:

As with all of these old insructional films (I’ve watched dozens over the past couple of months), I love Buying Food in oh so many ways. I love the cheesiness and the earnestness. But I love it for non-ironic reasons, too. I love the glimpse into the past, I love the writing (it does a great job of distilling ideas into a short segment), and I love a lot of the individual frames.

Here are some of my favorites (and, incidentally, a short summary of the film):

First up is this glimpse at a supermarket circa 1950. Self-service grocery stores were introduced in 1916, though they didn’t gain popularity until the 1930s. (Many people were resistant to the idea at first.) Supermarkets were still relatively young in 1950. I like to think that they were trying to discover their “vocabulary”.

Although early supermarkets did not contain the thousands of products we’re accustomed to today, they did flood consumers with choices. Which beans to choose? And which size?

I love this example of comparison shopping: Which beans have the lowest price per ounce?

The film belabors the point that hamburger is a cheap cut of meat, and less desirable than a t-bone steak. I find this interesting. Was hamburger once marginalized? Did people have to be persuaded to eat it? Nowadays it’s accepted as a matter of course. And look how it’s being served here! It’s in the butcher case, being scooped up oh-so-casually. I’ve never seen such a thing.

And look at this, too. “Quality frankfurters” and “skinless wieners” outside of their packaging. The film has an hilarious example of creating a tasty and attractive frankfurter salad.

I also like this comparison of food quality. Why are the grade A peaches tomatoes better than the grade C peaches tomatoes? They both look unattractive here!

Finally, here’s a shot of the happy housewife after she’s finished pleasing her husband. I wish I could tell what they were eating!

Anyhow, the Internet Archive contains hundreds of old instructional films like this on a variety of subjects. There are films on dating, diet, and driving. My favorite sources of these films are the Prelinger Archives (browse by subject) and the A/V Geeks collection (browse by subject). (You can find more from A/V Geeks at the blog.)

Meal Planning

I do a lot of writing — and a lot of reading — for my personal finance blog. During the process, I’m exposed to all sorts of ideas: some old, some new.

One new idea (to me) that Kris and I have adopted is once-a-month shopping. According to Steve and Annette Economides of America’s Cheapest Family, their family has gone grocery shopping only once per month for the past 25 years. When Kris and I read this last fall, we agreed to give it a try, but with a slight alteration. We’ve been trying twice a month shopping. Now that I’ve finally broken my habit of “quick trips to the store”, it seems to be working well.

Meanwhile, I recently read Tracy Rimmer’s free e-book, More Month Than Money: Tightening Your Food Budget While Feeding Your Family Well [356k PDF]. One of Rimmer’s tips is to devise a meal plan. She writes:

Meal planning is becoming a lost art…But planning can take a little of the rush out of the equation. Having a planned menu that we can work from can streamline our meal preparation time, and save us money at the grocery store checkout.

Kris and I have been talking about the notion of meal planning for the past couple of weeks. It appeals to us, and for a variety of reasons.

  • First, meal planning could help us actually eat the food we’ve already purchased (or grown). We have a huge pile of beef in the freezer, and we don’t use it often enough.
  • Second, meal planning would help us save money by fitting well with our already-practiced twice-a-month shopping plan.
  • Next, meal planning would help me to eat healthier meals. I’m a creature of habit, and I tend to just do what’s easiest. Easiest is rarely healthy. With meal planning, I could thwart my bad habits.
  • Finally, meal planning would allow us to try more recipes. We both like to cook, but we don’t do it as often as we’d like. Again, we’re creatures of habit. We tend to make the same things over and over. Meal planning would allow us to explore a little.

Last night, Kris and I spent ten minutes drawing up a tentative meal plan. We’re sure that this will change as we test it, but this is what we’re going to start with:

  • Monday: Beef (tacos, hamburgers, steaks, roasts, etc.)
  • Tuesday: Italian (pasta, pizza, etc.)
  • Wednesday: Crudités, by which we actually mean fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, olives, etc.
  • Thursday: Dining out (it’s Kris’s Friday!)
  • Friday: Chicken or fish (we’d both like to eat more fish than we do)
  • Saturday: Dining out
  • Sunday: Soup or salad

We intend to be flexible, of course. If we get an invitation to dine out on Tuesday, we’ll dine out on Tuesday. If we have leftover tacos from Monday, we might eat those on Thursday instead of going out. And I forgot it last night, but we need to try something Asian at least every two weeks!

Anyhow, it may be that many people already do meal planning, but I get the impression that it’s not very common. I know Mom used to do it when we were young, and so did many of her friends, but that may have been something encouraged by the Mormon church. I’m not aware of anyone our age who does it. (Although, again, I wouldn’t be surprised if some families did.)

Will meal planning save us money? Help me lose weight? Become an incredible bore? Only time will tell.