Economic Eating

AfterEcon is all about what to after having studied economics. That is, it is all about applying economics (distinct from the study of Applied Economics). This article reviews some recent dietary changes I’ve made through that lens.

When I was younger, enrolled at ACC, and working at WalMart, my diet consisted of oatmeal for breakfast and ramen for lunch and dinner. Usually Nissin or Maruchan brand. I would mainly drink Lipton tea. I could usually afford a bit of sugar for the oatmeal or tea. If I was in a real position to splurge I would buy a Monster energy drink, some raisins for the oatmeal, or some dip (preferring Copenhagen, but occasionally settling for Grizzly).

This wasn’t healthy, but that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to maintain a level of energy needed to work and study and to minimize hunger. I believe I averaged about $1 per meal, perhaps as much as $1.50.

Years later, or a couple years ago, I began eating some really healthy stuff. I ate Blue Apron for a while, which is about $10 per meal. On a naive accounting or financial investment view this is a poor choice. The price is about a seven-fold increase. This is why an economic approach is superior to a pure accounting or financial investment approach. The economic approach would include my preference for the flavor of Blue Apron. If done properly, it would also include the health gains associated with eating Blue Apron.

Sophisticated investors will incorporate facts like business health into investment decisions, but accountants lack such sophistication, and even sophisticated investors have little tolerance for preference-oriented expenditure. It is only economists who see the whole picture and are able to properly optimize on a person’s utility. In addition, the tools of a good economist are a superset of the accountant and the investor anyway.

While the flavor of Blue Apron was great, I began to value my time at a higher rate and I experimented with Soylent. Soylent’s taste was tolerably poor but it was quick to consume and cheaper per serving. Soylent’s ingredients originally offered a nutritional attraction, but it was changed to include sucralose, soy, and some other ingredients I don’t like.

At the start of 2018 I switched over to Territory foods. Territory was able to provide Whole 30 compliant meals which were made of real food and could be heated within a minute, at a rate of about $10 per serving. I was wanting to lose weight so I thought it was super worth it. Plus, my wife loved the flavor. While I could tolerate Soylent, my wife wouldn’t. With both of us eating Territory, budgeting became simpler.

I ordered Territory Boost meals while dieting, and I ate 3-4 per day

I weighed 205 at the start of 2018 and I now weigh 178. I’ve been following Whole 30 for the most part with occasional deviation. I’ve also been practicing intermittent fasting and working out. Last week I went to New York City and completely avoided Whole 30 rules. I ate multi-course meals at high end restaurants, with desert. I did maintain intermittent fasting by not eating until noon. Checking the scale after a week of eating like this, I had not gained a single pound. At the moment I’m convinced that intermittent fasting is much more responsible for my weight loss than is complying with Whole 30.

When it comes to weight loss, economics recognizes that some people will pay more to lose weight, while other people will pay more to gain weight. This individualized utility approach is unique to economics. A pure cost-per-meal or cost-per-kcal accounting perspective misses this. Interestingly, if intermittent fasting causes weight loss, a person consuming a standard number of meals or calories per day should be willing to pay to eat marginally less if they are trying to lose weight. In that case, the economic cost of eating marginally more would be even higher than the economic cost of eating marginally more. This is just another illustration that economic analysis, not simply financial analysis or accounting, is the most effective planning framework for diverse kinds of individuals to obtain their heterogeneous goals. Even when it comes to things like eating.

Today I am leaving Territory for meal replacement shakes once again, but I am not going back to Soylent. Tina hasn’t been eating Territory meals with me for a few months, so the benefits of certain meal shakes (aka -lents) are expected to be larger than their costs in my view. I continue to recommend Territory if someone really does need to comply with a diet they support, because complying with those diets yourself by shopping for specific ingredients and cooking them is costly in both dollars and time. However, I am going to try basically abandoning Whole 30 and just stick with intermittent fasting. In addition, I could arguably be getting better and certainly more consistent nutrition from some of these shakes. The shakes are certainly cheaper.

I looked into Ample, Ambronite, Bertrand, Huel, Nutberg, Shakeology, Soylent, Vega One, Atkins Shakes, Super Body Fuel (schmilk), Vitalhouse, Queal, Biolent, and TrueNutrition. Below are some articles reviewing the different -lents, or modern meal replacement shakes, I checked out:

  1. BlendRunner
  2. July 2015, Living on liquid meals Ambronite, Huel and Soylent – future of food or forgettable fad?
  3. August 2017, Soylent vs Ample vs Ambronite (Part II) – 2 Months Later
  4. 6 Reasons to Avoid Meal Replacement Shakes
  5. July 2017, Compare the Most Popular Meal Replacement Drinks to Select the Right One for You
  6. June 2018, What are the best food substitutes?
  8. October 2017, Update from Chris at Biolent
  9. August 2017, Bertrand Meal Replacement vs Huel Review

A huge shout out to TrueNutrition. They focus on allowing you to make a custom powder mix and they offer some amazing ingredients. I didn’t end up picking them because I’m worried I’ll make an unbalanced mix, but if you know your nutrition stuff they may be a great choice for you. There’s a rumor Super Body Fuel will be coming out with a just-add-water product, which would have put it on my short list.

My preferences weighing the decision:

  1. Care about
    1. Probiotics
    2. Exclude soy and artificial ingredients
    3. Preference to non-synthesized vitamins
    4. High protein / low carb
    5. Just add water
  2. Kind-of-care
    1. Price
    2. Comes in a bottle
  3. Don’t care
    1. Flavor
    2. Vegan
    3. Non-GMO / Organic
  4. Short list:
    1. Ambronite
    2. Bertrand
    3. Huel
    4. Vega One

For now, I’m trying Bertrand. Their whole foods approach has me stoked. I don’t care that it’s organic, but I do like that it’s whole food with nothing artificial. They also have a line of so-called active products which have double protein. Plus it’s an add-water-only situation and you just add water. People also said the flavor is solid. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s not the most expensive. After shipping and the exchange rate it came out to $121 USD for 21 meals, or under $6 per meal. This was the high protein option which is a bit more than their cheapest meal option. I didn’t see anything indicating that it has probiotics, but it wasn’t explicitly disconfirmed. The others on the short list have various things going for them as well.

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