The Ultimate Recession Diet (Part II)

For part I, click here.

In part one of this ongoing series, I attempted to verify whether it is actually common for people to eat dog food out of necessity. My results were inconclusive, so I decided to perform some additional analysis. In this part of the series, I will be assessing the economic viability of eating dog food. The third part will cover the nutritional implications of this unconventional diet.

For my economic analysis, I relied heavily on two federal databases: the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ average price database, which is used to calculate the Consumer Price Index; and the USDA’s national nutrient database. Both of these resources were incredibly helpful, and you’ll be seeing me using the USDA database quite a bit in the future (I’ve got some big plans brewing).

I compiled nutrition information and the most current average national price for a small basket of foods that I feel reflect a good variety of low-cost sustenance options. I also estimated calorie content of both dry and wet dog food, based on the “guaranteed analysis” that is found on pet food instead of nutrition facts. This data is presented as a percentage (by mass) of fat, protien, fiber, and water. I estimated that nearly all the remaining mass is carbohydrate, a fairly accurate assumption. Since average national price data was not available for dog food, I used the prices at my local supermarket: $11.98 for a 20-pound bag of Purina™ Dog Chow, and $0.80 for a 13.2-ounce can of Pedigree™-brand wet food. I used this data to plot how many calories’ worth of each item can be bought for a dollar. Let’s look at the results:

Sure enough, dry dog food provides a significantly better value than any meant-for-human-consumtion alternative. Canned dog food doesn’t fare nearly as well due to the fact that 82% of what you are buying is water. I found it surprising that oatmeal fared so well, but note that the average price according to the BLS is much less than a carton of Quaker. Their price is 79 cents per pound, which is actually a bit more than I pay for bulk oats from the store.

Also important to note is that many of the foods listed require additional gas or electric costs for preparation. I may do a more in-depth study that takes this into account, but I suspect that the difference isn’t severe. Intuitively, I would expect a PB&J to be a slightly better deal than black beans, but it probably wouldn’t catch up to spaghetti.

Of course, calories per dollar is the crudest calculation possible to determine the cost effectiveness of food. A proper ratio of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) as well as dozens of other nutrients are required to stay healthy over even a short period of time. But for that analysis, you’ll just have to wait for part three.