In 1960 Americans spent 17.5% of their income on food and 5.2% on health care; now we spend 9.9% on food, while 16% of our national income goes to health care, according to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. His point being that if we spent more money on healthy food, we’d probably land ourselves in the hospital less often. In today’s market of expensive “superfoods” and anti-aging, anti-cancer, anti-fat foods, many companies use this argument to persuade customers that they should pay top dollar for their product, be it kale from the farmer’s market or frozen acai smoothies from Brazil. If it’s good for your health, it’s worth it’s weight in gold, they seem to say; and so we siphon our savings into food we think will benefit our health.
But are all health foods worth the money? We can’t guarantee savings in hospital bills down the road, but maintaining a healthy weight through diet and physical activity significantly reduces your chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, and even some of America’s other top killers. So to us, healthy food is a worthwhile expense. Still; we’re not willing to hand out our cash for every new health trend. Being smart about health doesn’t have to mean being stupid with your money; you can be healthy (and even have green drinks) on a budget, too.
One of my favorite health trends of late is green juice – something that sounds like it belongs in the land of the lost, but is practically available by the trough in Manhattan and other health-obsessed cities. Green juice, or vegetable juice, isn’t a brand new discovery, but thanks to celebrity health experts like Dr. Oz, it’s become popular in the mainstream among americans looking to load up on nutrient-dense vegetables without eating five salads a day. Juice made of dark, leafy greens and vegetables like kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, and cilantro is full of cancer-fighting nutrients, helps alkalize the body (i.e. balance the damage of acidic foods like meat, dairy, and alcohol), and some say it can even keep you slim. Now there are myriad articles, how-to videos, and recipes online (even on sites like marthastewart.com) and of course, juice bars that charge an arm and a leg for their fresh-pressed green juice.
Yes, like many other healthy habits, this one is expensive. If I drank a daily bottle of the stuff from one of New York’s juice bars, it would to cost me upwards of $56 a week – that’s $3,000 a year or more that (unfortunately) I don’t have to spare. Here’s a sampling of the juices (and prices) from New York’s most popular green juice purveyors:
One Lucky Duck – Mean Greens, $10 (kale, chard, cucumber, lemon, parsley, cilantro)
Organic Avenue – Green Love, $10 (kale, cucumber, spinach, celery, romaine, swiss chard, collard greens, apple, lemon, parsley)
The Juice Press – Simple Green, $8 (cucumber, celery, kale, aloe, lemon, blue mana, and a pinch of mineral sea salt)
I’ll never really know if my green juice habit is saving me money in future hospital bills, but I do know that it’s something I can’t afford on a regular basis at $10 a pop. But like a lot of food you buy in a restaurant or store, there’s a way to do it cheaper. Buying your own juicer and pressing your own stuff requires a significant investment up-front, but one would hope that in the long run, it could make this whole green juice thing a financially sustainable habit. I want to know exactly how much my homemade green juice is saving me, so armed with a mid-priced juicer, vegetables, receipts and a calculator, here’s what I figured out:
My juicer: Back in January, I opted to get the Huron Slow Juicer. Lots of juice-lovers prefer its masticating extraction methods (long story short: it presses fruits and vegetables slowly to extract the juice, rather than shredding and spinning them at high speeds, which preserves more enzymes according to some). But it’s also compact enough for my tiny New York kitchen, and fell within my price range at $360.
My ingredients: I’m partial to a blend of kale, celery, cucumber, green apple, and lemon. You might say “but you’re not using as many ingredients as Organic Avenue!” but guess what: Even the simplest juice blends tend to cost about $8 to $10, and mine has enough nutritional value that I’m not convinced I need to hunt down dandelion greens and chard for every juice I make (I’ll eat those for lunch).
My grocery bill:
kale (organic) – $2.99/bunch
celery hearts (conventionally grown) – $2.50
cucumbers (conventionally grown) – $.89/each
granny smith apples (conventionally grown) – $2.49/pound
lemons (conventionally grown) – $.59/each
My juice: To make 32 ounces of juice, I use the following:
1/2 a bunch of kale ($1.50)
1/2 a celery heart (approx. $.75)
2 peeled cucumbers ($1.78)
2 granny smith apples (approx. $2)
1 lemon ($.59)
TOTAL: $6.62 for 32 oz. (that’s $3.31 per 16 oz. serving)
My yearly costs: $1,564.84
$3.31 x 7 days = $23.17 per week
$23.17 x 52 weeks = $1,204.84 per year
$1,204.84 in vegetables + $360 juicer = $1,564.84
That’s about half what I’d pay for store-bought juice over the course of a year. Assuming that you do drink this much juice, a $300 or $400 juicer quickly pays for itself; if you’re just in it for a week-long juice fast or you’re dabbling in the trend; stick with the pricey stuff for awhile, and then see if you think it’s worth the investment.
photo: New York Times