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Finding the Luxury in Our Food

At first glance, the realization that the majority of my spending was going toward food made me feel ashamed. But one glass of wine later with my inner circle proved that not only was I not alone, I was justified.

Part of that justification was in the amazing way circumstances can change the value of a dollar. In my two-bedroom apartment with my to-the-tee Gen Y friends, we ask, “What’s an extra dollar twenty-five?” when choosing food, but refuse to get gas at Chevron over Costco for a similar margin. Because why wouldn’t we spend a little extra to feel good about what we are eating?

Melissa De Leon, Managing Editor, The Snack Magazine and AndNowUKnowThat brings me to the other part of our debate between what we want and what our parents taught us was “reasonable” to spend on food: Cars can be replaced, but we only get one life. So why would I spend money on food with ingredients I have to look up, even if it made the item cheaper to buy and last longer in my kitchen, when I know not one person who would put generic parts in an Audi?

I do have to wonder how much of my willingness to pay extra for an heirloom tomato salad is due to my behind-the-scenes advantage on production value. While our industry is well aware that the story of a brand is important, growers still struggle to produce safe, healthy food within a low margin because neither retailers nor shoppers will eat the cost.

How do we convince those still in the “quick-fix” state of mind instilled by the post-Depression and fast-food ages that it’s not only reasonable, but necessary to pay more for natural, healthy options?

A few experts in foodservice have shared with me how consumers want kale, Brussels sprouts, and arugula in their salads—even on fast-food menus—but don’t want to pay an extra dollar or two to have it. It’s only when they add chicken and other traditional “proteins” that consumers will accept a price increase. Knowing all this could influence me subconsciously, granted. I am not all consumers, but I am still part of the group caught between the fast-food and the organic superfood generations.

Spending more on food may not yet be the norm, but I can see it becoming so as we inch toward helping consumers understand why a fresh produce item would cost more than an item off a dollar menu. Younger friends and acquaintances don’t balk at salads that restaurants price in the double-digits, for example, and one of my most relatable moments with the generation following me into the market was when I read that teenagers are spending more on food than clothes.

While this is a lot of want I’m speaking to, my livelihood—and that of those reading this—does depend on this shift. So the big question is: How can we help it along? How do we convince those still in the “quick-fix” state of mind instilled by the post-Depression and fast-food ages that it’s not only reasonable, but necessary to pay more for natural, healthy options?

Perhaps the key is in showcasing it as an experience. “Treat yourself” should encompass your eating habits as much as any other indulgence. Because, let’s face it, my payday is a bi-monthly holiday not for some new outfit, but for the lunch I’m about to buy myself. And for the sake of our industry, and those we serve, that should be celebrated.