Recently, I’ve been obsessed with food. I’ve poured over cookbooks, culinary manuals, textbooks, books on nutrition and anti-nutritionism. I’m on the search for the perfect diet — delicious, sustainable, not too expensive, perfectly healthy, and not too hard on the earth.
Another recent obsession has been of automation. Reorganizing my life so everything goes where it should, does what it needs to, and stuff gets done without me having to get involved. This has resulted in the creation of several new email addresses, a bunch of email filtering rules, a bunch of automated WordPress plugins, a few bash scripts, and several hours of thinking.
But then I thought — why not combine the two? How could I automate my food?
I love to cook, so I would never want to automate that process. I know it’s a time drain, but it is totally justified when you can have delicious food all the time, and also enjoy making it. But I could automate another food-related tedious time-waster: grocery shopping.
To make this automation challenge a bit more difficult, I’ve decided to set up a few loose rules:
- The focus is on local, organic produce. This reduces ecological damage, and you get more delicious & nutritious foods. Win-win!
- Price should be minimized as much as possible without sacrificing quality too much.
- The food intake should be consistent enough to reduce specialty shopping. However, there are going to be days when I want to make sushi.
Even if this kind of automation isn’t possible in my present situation (I’m going to be moving around a lot over the next few years), it could be an interesting experiment.
Here’s how it’s going to work. It relies on two main elements:
- A community supported agriculture (CSA) membership
- Amazon grocery subscriptions
I have a number of pantry staples that need to be replenished:
- Olive oil — 2 months ($21.48)
- Red wine vinegar — 2 months ($15.06)
- Multiple types of whole-grain pasta — 4 months ($30.36)
- Brown basmati rice — 6 months ($14.79)
- Quinoa — 4 months ($33.06)
- Oats — 6 months ($18.66)
- Lentils — 4 months ($17.31)
- Dried beans — 4 months ($17.03)
- Whole wheat flour — 6 months ($24.45)
- Spices — 4 months ($29.00)
- Active dry yeast — 8 months ($35.68)
- Sea salt — 3 months ($7.05)
- Black peppercorns — 3 months ($11.59)
- Sugar — 6 months ($30.34)
- Agave nectar — 2 months ($11.04)
This comes out to $80.86/month, or $970.32/year.
The vegetables and fruits (of which I eat a lot) would come from a CSA, delivered to my doorstep. The going rate for a CSA in the area of Austin is between $20-30, but that’s for two people. This comes out to $1000-$1500/year.
So the majority of my food intake would cost around $2000/year, but I would only be paying for half of it, assuming I could find a friend to take up the cost of the other half. $1000/year or $83/month is certainly not a lot to pay. Although this won’t take care of all my food, it would handle most of it. Accounting for specialty grocery items and occasional eating out, I think it would be less than $130 per month. The expense of the CSA (which is totally worth it) is made up for by the savings from buying in bulk.
This is, unfortunately, too steady of a plan for me to accommodate right now. I’m going to be traveling frequently over the next year, and will lose a lot of money on unused groceries. However, I recommend this plan to anyone with a stable household.
So although I can’t take full advantage of an automated grocery list, I can at least go halfway by shopping at farmers’ markets, which is an easy way to get organic produce when it’s in season, and buying things in bulk from Amazon, like 10 pound bags of rice.
It’s a good plan, but doesn’t work in all situations — random grocery shopping is necessary for households whose consumption varies (for example, if you have a college student who is home just frequently enough during breaks to disrupt the continuity). BUT it’s a beautiful exercise in life hacking, combining a fantastic diet with very little time commitment.