Monday, May 11, 2015

Getting a handle on the food stamp discussion

[Crossposted at A Statistician Walks into a Grocery Store...]

I'm going to spend quite a bit of time over the next couple of weeks  talking about the price of food and about what it means to live on a food budget of less than thirty dollars a week. Before we can get very far with that discussion, however, we need to spend some time thinking about the metrics we want to track, the conditions we want to meet, and the properties we want to optimize some of the properties we need to see.

Here are the big four I would like to start with:

Protein – – extremely important and also the only completely objective item on the list. Any proposed diet must satisfy the heart condition of 50 g of protein a week.

Taste – – trying to save money by telling people to eat unappealing food is a false economy. This will lead to problems, particularly when asking people to budget their resources over the course of the week. Obviously, there's a big subjective component here but restaurants and food companies like Kraft have shown that it is a manageable problem, especially if we do a good job with the next item on the list...

Versatility – – we are interested here in variety not on the individual but on the aggregate level. For example, eggs make a good staple because, in addition to being a good source of low-cost protein, they can also be prepared in any number of ways. This is important not because an individual will necessarily want to have all of these different dishes, but because this variety increases the likelihood of our finding one or two dishes that the individual will like.

Satiation – – meals need to be filling and to alleviate hunger. This is largely a function of fiber and protein which is yet another reason why hitting that 50 g target is so important.

Clearly this is oversimplified but it does give us some kind of a framework to proceed. Now we need to address the central question, under what conditions is it possible to have a protein-rich, appealing, varied and filling diet for $28 a week?

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