And Here Is Your Open Thread

The 4th of July means fireworks and possibly lots of grilling and hot dogs. And if you’re buying them from the store, the package you choose makes a difference!


When Waitressing Pays More Than Publishing

In the restaurant industry, “I’m so broke,” was a constant server/bartender lament. Frequently, I good-naturedly nodded my head in agreement. “I know,” I said, pretending to be worried about making rent or having enough money to fly home for the holidays. “Me too.”


“Vegan, Gluten-Free Chocolate Brownie: $4.50″

Forget you, Fresh Direct; peace out, Peapod. A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new competitor, Good Eggs, wants your money in exchange for delivering groceries to your door. The company seems built to appeal to Brooklyn, which is one of only four places it currently operates: there’s free delivery to the borough, for starters, and its mission “is to grow and sustain local food systems worldwide.” However commendable the goal, and even, it seems, the methods, there’s something unavoidably “Stuff White People Like” about the endeavor. The vegan, gluten-free chocolate brownie ($4.50!) is described this-a-way:

Super dense and intensely chocolately, you won’t miss the gluten in this brownie. Perfect with a cup of ice cold almond milk! Our sweets contain exclusively organic, nutrient-dense, virgin, and certified raw ingredients. We use low-temperature cooking methods to retain healthy enzymes and nutrients. No processed flours, sugars, gluten, animal or dairy products, or genetically modified additives go into any of our sweets.

So, uh, almost $5 for a brownie that has nothing in it but dark chocolate? A Hershey bar will run you a lot less than that.

Is a locavore-oriented and more ethical grocery delivery system the answer to your no-time-to-food-shop prayers? Or are you already satisfied with your CSA, FreshDirect habit, or other hacks to stock your pantry, like using Postmates or TaskRabbit to get someone to bring you the condiments you’re addicted to from Trader Joe’s?

Cartoon by Charrowan artist in Brooklyn.


An Interview with Leanne Brown, Author of the (Free) $4 a Day SNAP Cookbook

Leanne Brown is a Canadian-born NYU food studies graduate whose masters’ project was Good and Cheap, a free PDF cookbook for food stamp budgets ($4/day). She posted the PDF on her website, and it was downloaded over 100,000 times after being discovered by Reddit. Now, she’s launched a Kickstarter to print the book so she can get copies to people in need, and she’s already well past its initial $10,000 goal. I recently talked to her about cooking on limited incomes, food studies, her experience with Kickstarter, and more.


Is “The Ice Cream Rule” Helpful?

Think about a big delicious bowl of ice cream. What could be more delightful during these stifling, humid months? Ice cream is gluten free, so our annoying friends can enjoy it. There are coconut milk-based varieties for the lactose-intolerant and low-sugar versions for the weight-conscious. Slap it between two cookies or in a cone, and you can visit heaven en route to wherever you’re headed.

No matter how much you enjoy your dessert, though, you probably don’t begrudge someone you love a bite, right? Sharing is caring! Even better, what if you were able to put aside that bite for yourself and enjoy it in the future?

You can probably see where we are — or, more precisely, Money Crush is — going with this. The “ice cream rule” encourages us to think about money like ice cream. One bite of a two-scoop serving is about 10%, and if you can convince yourself to put away 10% — without feeling like you’re depriving yourself of anything right now — you’d be in great shape!

Consistently putting away 10% of your salary toward a long term goal can make an enormous difference. In fact, 10% of your salary can make you rich over the long term if you invest it wisely and consistently. 10% of a bowl of ice cream isn’t very much. It’s no big deal. It’s only when you think things like “How can I ever save 10% of my salary?! That’s an extra X thousand dollars!” that you get overwhelmed and it seems like a huge amount. Yet many of us regularly spend more than 10% of our salary on things that we don’t even have any longer without giving it a second thought. The thing is, 10% really isn’t very much in comparison to the other 90%, no matter how big of a number you’re dealing with.

As Lifehacker puts it, “If you think about saving 10% of your income like you are sharing a bit with your future self, saving becomes a lot easier.” It is worth saying, though, that it’s easier to offer someone 10% of your ice cream while the serving in front of you is abundant and you get to see the satisfaction and gratitude in your friend’s face. It’s harder to take 10% of what’s in your bowl and put it in another bowl and put that bowl in the freezer. Not impossible, just a little more challenging.


Concerning Public Assistance, Shame, and Healthy Eating

From a website I was surprised to find myself perusing, since it’s called “Christ and Pop Culture” (neither of which interests me greatly), here is an interesting first-person account of trying to use WIC vouchers at Whole Foods (spoiler: you can’t).


Snacks On a Budget: Everything You Need to Know About Popcorn

Popcorn’s role in the American snack food pantheon is both straightforward and mysterious. Its appeal in the salty snack department is easy to understand—made at home, popcorn is extremely cheap, healthful and delicious. Yet all over America, we insist on consuming it in ways that are less cheap, less healthful and (this is the true tragedy) less delicious.


Why is Salad So Expensive AND The Solution to the Problem

Perhaps you’ve noticed that salad is expensive — like, expensive enough that you could spend the same amount on a decent bottle of wine or some quality hair product. It often costs more to buy a salad than to buy a sandwich or hamburger at restaurants, including fast food chains like Subway. A paltry half-frozen McDonald’s salad, made of iceberg lettuce and vaguely colored cellulose, costs more than a Big Mac. This feels unfair. Salads often don’t taste very good. (That’s why they need such extensive PR campaigns.) They don’t boast uniformly high-quality ingredients that justify the price tag. A lot of them are not even filling, unless they’re loaded with so many fats, carbs, and proteins that they become “salad” in name only. Why must we pay more to receive less?

Sure, it’s about the Farm Bill and subsidies and lobbyists and all that jazz. I have a sneaking suspicion too though that those of us who feel guilty enough to buy salads out, rather than assemble them at home, are being taxed for wanting to appear healthy and/or eat our way to righteousness. Basically, we’re saps.

Either way, I was thrilled to discover the other night that there is a restaurant near me that serves an incredible salad filled with delicious things, including goat cheese, avocado, and corn, for $5. Yeah, you heard me. This salad could make blind see and the lame tap-dance, and it costs five bucks! I will eat there every day forever.

What are your salad hacks? Or are you wise to this boondoggle and do you stick to assembling your own vegetables at home?


Today’s Last Word: The Quesarito

“The verdict: delicious. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.” — The staff at NPR’s The Salt

“Our first thoughts? Delicious.” — The staff at Business Insider

What will the staff of The Billfold think!? (Stay tuned, maybe.)


What Cake Are You Wearing?

Wedding cakes are BACK, y’all, and better than ever, by which we mean, of course, fancier and more expensive.

Indeed, about 90 percent of couples offer cake, in some form, at America’s two million weddings a year. That’s a yearly expenditure of $2 billion, according to Mr. Markel, so cakes are still a vibrant segment of the $86 billion bridal industry.

After the 2008 recession, supermarket cakes for under $200 gained in popularity. But nationally, the average cost of wedding cakes has doubled over the last decade, and now “the average price per slice is about $7,” Mr. Markel said, citing a low of $2.50 a slice in smaller areas to $15 and more in San Francisco and New York. “A few years ago, it was just, well, you get a wedding cake,” said Mary Giuliani, a high-end caterer in Manhattan. “These days, it’s like, what cake are you wearing? It’s so much more stylish, tied in with couture.”

$7 a slice! Who knew wedding cake was the most expensive cake you could buy? Okay, fine, maybe you did, but it’s still shocking, isn’t it? So how does the Wedding Industrial Complex manipulate its victims into paying such an exorbitant price? How else? TRADITION.

Laura Pietropinto, a Broadway assistant director who is to marry her fiancé, Justin Restivo, next month at the Metropolitan Club, said her five-tier cake (being made by Mr. Ben-Israel) will incorporate their white-and-pink wedding colors. Each tier will display textures from her gown. “It’s the symbol of your union and your future together,” she said. “We never considered not having a cake,” she added, talking about their $3,000 cake. “It was about tradition.”

The article goes on to detail more than you ever wanted to know about bare cakes; ombré cakes; rustic cakes; cakes that are taller than the average Billfold writer; and gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan and organic cakes, which, um, why bother? Serve a block of cold tofu on a cake plate instead and save yourself a thousand dollars. But the best detail of all the piece saves for last.


Our Health Food Obsession

David Sax has an op-ed in The Los Angeles Time which discusses how we have a tendency to spend so much of our money on health food trends (because we want to eat the things we are told are good for us), but most of those trends end up being debunked:


Job of the Day: Taco Bell Product Developer

This lady dreams up taco ideas all day! Then makes them and eats them. There is a whole innovation team of people working for Taco Bell: