Ann Althouse has an interesting post about raising the retirement age for Social Security. The last paragraph is an update:
In the Comments: Responses that show why politicians don’t dare to suggest the obvious, obvious solution! Make this proposal and the practically next words you hear will be “dog food.”
I have known for many years that ‘old folks forced by poverty to eat dog food’ is almost certainly an urban legend. Way back in the late Carter or early Reagan years, one of the regular columnists in The American Spectator (perhaps Tom Bethell or Ben Stein) went to the trouble of testing the basic plausibility of this already-widespread belief. He checked the price of a 2-pound can of Alpo at his local supermarket, and reported that for the same amount of money he could buy a pound of chicken and a pound of potatoes, with two cents left over. In other words, dog food ain’t cheap, and old folks who eat it, if they exist at all, need to be examined for (other) symptoms of senility, insanity, or plain old-fashioned stupidity.
I was about to hit ‘publish’ on the paragraph above when I realized that I ought to get off my butt and see whether this is still true. Perhaps dog food is a better deal than it was twenty-something years ago. I spent a few minutes this morning checking prices at my local Giant, which happens to be next door to the largest old folks’ home in Baltimore County: at 52, I was the 2nd-youngest customer in the store. In what follows, all prices are per pound, not per container or serving. I didn’t worry about the size of the packages at all, but recorded the price per pound displayed on the shelf, and assumed that the impoverished elderly could and would buy whatever portion size (up to 6 or 7 pounds) would save money. Here is what I found in the dog food aisle:
Canned Alpo or Pedigree: 83.2¢.
Giant’s house brand ‘Companion’ (cute name!): 57.5¢ to $1.43, depending on size.
Purina Moist & Meaty burgers: $1.09.
Cesar Select dinners: $3.15.
Beggin’ Strips: $6.38 to $9.04. (Why not just to buy the dog some bacon?)
What about the more standard alternatives? I’ll start with the chicken and then list some of the fruits and vegetables I found that were even cheaper, in order from most to least expensive:
Chicken: 99¢ (Purdue chicken leg quarters on sale) or $1.29 (18 piece fryer pack).
Yellow onions: 83.3¢ ($2.49 for a 3-lb bag).
Green (aka ‘spring’) onions: 79¢.
Eggs: around 70¢ ($1.19 per dozen for XL, package marked “1 lb 11 oz”).
Carrots: 69.8¢ ($3.49 for a 5-lb bag).
Green beans: 63.2¢ (Del Monte, in the 6 lb 5 oz can).
White potatoes: 44.6¢ ($1.88 for a 5 lb bag).
At some times of the year, apples and tomatoes would probably also drop below 99¢ per pound. Of course, Alpo is 100% edible, whereas all of the alternatives except the canned green beans have bones, shells, skins, or stems to discard, but they’re all at least mostly (80+%) edible, unlike (e.g.) artichokes or pistachio nuts, and I suspect Alpo contains more than its share of unnutricious gristle. Whether baked or boiled, potatoes with skins on are better for you anyway. So far, it looks like dog food could be slightly cheaper, if you stick to the house brand, since a diet of cabbages, bananas, and potatoes would be hard to keep up for long.
I didn’t think to check the prices of bread, rice, or hot dogs, all of which would have included some very inexpensive options, and Giant seems to be all out of 50-packs of tortillas, which I have often bought there for around $3.00, if I’m not mistaken. Nor did I look for day-old baked goods or marked-down damaged canned goods. However, I did take a look at some of the dried foods. These are much harder to evaluate accurately, since a pound of noodles or dried beans will likely turn into roughly two pounds of food when boiled into edibility, and is therefore equivalent to something like two pounds of canned dog food, where the water is already included in the purchase weight. (No, I will not get a scale and weigh a package of noodles or beans before and after boiling. It’s not like I’m getting paid to write this stuff.) Here is what I found:
Ramen noodles: 88¢ (suprisingly high, but unusually dry — perhaps they triple or quadruple in weight when boiled?).
Macaroni: 75¢ to 99¢ (a dozen varieties, some on sale).
Dried beans (half a dozen kinds: black, white, yellow, lima — like a Benetton ad!): 69¢-79¢.
Dried lentils: 55¢.
Cut those prices in half to adjust for the wet-dry comparison, and they’re even cheaper than house brand dog food. If anyone objects that some dog foods are also sold dry, I will point out that they also generally sell for $1.00 per pound or more.
Conclusion: I wouldn’t care to live on a diet including only the (human) foods mentioned, but I could certainly get used to it very quickly if the only alternative were dog food. Many healthy and (relatively) tasty human foods are in fact cheaper than dog food, and eating dog food will not save you money unless you’re too stupid to choose the cheapest non-canine foods.
Update: (half an hour later)
I don’t doubt that people have eaten dog food now and then for non-budgetary reasons, and posted on the topic a few weeks ago in Eating One’s Own Dog Food, I.
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