I have an addiction to food. It started when I was real young and I haven’t been able to stop it ever since. I’ve tried on many occasions, even once going almost 4 hours without eating something. It was awful. So I deal with it as best as I can. Namely, I eat every day. Hey, it’s not easy keeping this svelte figure of mine without some sustenance. Trouble is, it’s getting more and more expensive to eat around here.
Not too long ago, I had a family out on a kayak tour who were from Utah. As we made our way around the mangroves, we talked of many a thing and the subject of food came up, of course. It always does. Said family was very surprised, they said, at the apparent high cost of groceries in Key West. Having not shopped for food anywheres else in the country for lo these many years, I really had nothing to compare to what we pay for food in the islands. But according to these folks, it’s definitely cheaper to eat in Utah. Difficulty, you have to live in Utah.
Anyways, I didn’t get into too many details with them but wondered later if indeed we are paying more for food here. In the restaurants, no doubt. Eating out in the Keys is very expensive. The restaurants, and I am counting only the real restaurants, not any fast food joints, will tear your wallet apart when you go in for a meal. There are some decently priced places, and if you pay attention, you can catch a special now and then, but overall, eating out is way out of the range for most of us who live here. So, that leaves the grocerterias.
There are two main chain supermarkets in the Keys, Winn Dixie, and Publix. There are currently 2 Publix and 1 Winn Dixie in Key West, all within about 3 blocks of each other on North Roosevelt. Many say the Winn Dixie is the cheaper of the two, but I’ve always favored Publix myself. The stores seem cleaner, more variety, and they don’t have those wretched membership cards to get any discounts. Publix also has a nice bakery, deli, and a good line of generic brands.
There are two other small local chains on the island, Dion’s and Fausto’s. Dion’s is more of a convenience store but they do carry some more stuff at the store on Stock Island and make it handy for things like milk and such. Fausto’s is more of a neighborhood traditional type grocery store with 2 locations in Old Town. They are handy if you don’t want to make the trek to the big chain stores, but they are more expensive.
And of course there are many one off specialty food stores including many seafood shops, an artesian bakery, and organic shops, all of which charge a major premium for their wares. So things can get expensive if you have particular tastes. BTW, artesian and organic come from the Latin meaning: To charge excessively for a current fad food.
How we compare in pricing to the mainland, unknown to me as I don’t shop up there, but bargains can be had if you take some time to shop a bit. Publix frequently offers 2 for 1, or buy 1 get 1 free. Things of that nature so if you can time it right, you can get some deals. Still, it’s seems to be getting more and more pricey.
One thing to remember is that everything in those stores has to be shipped in. Watch US 1 and everyday and night you will see truck after truck of food for either store chain roaring down the highway. That’s a 120 mile run to supply the island with chips, dips, beer, and wine. Not too mention the hundreds of other items that the stores stock. And then an empty run back to the supply house for more. I have no doubt that shipping costs are factored into our food down here.
There are no farms in the Keys. Closest is in Homestead. The closest farmers market is the flea market in Big Pine Key but that runs only in the winter months. The only thing you can get locally down here is seafood, which comes in real handy if you like seafood. And I luv’s me some seafood.
Fish, shrimp, lobster, and stone crab abound in these waters. But just because it’s local, don’t mean you get any deals here. It’s way more cost effective to send said seafood up north where one can get premium prices, than sell it locally to the great unwashed of the island. But, if you hang around marinas, and fisherman, and occasionally get out on the water yourself, you can score a fillet here, some shrimp there, and so forth. I’ve offered a free service to the fishing customers who come back in with lots of fish, I will clean it, cook it, and eat it for them, at no extra charge. Haven’t had anyone take the bait, so to speak yet, but I’l keep trying. Despite the prices, I do seem to always come up with enough seafood to keep me going. Many a time here on the dock we will all chip in together and do up a nice catch of snapper or something on the grill. Everyone donates something to the pot and we all enjoy a good evening on the dock. Which by the way, is the type of thing I always envisioned when living on a sailboat in Key West.
As for everything else, it’s a constant battle to keep the eating budget within a reasonable range. Right now, if you go back and look at my budget posts you will notice that I am averaging a little over $10 a day in the consumables department. That includes not just food but things like cleaning supplies, most of which I get at the dollar store, cat supplies, they account for about $30 or more a month, and other essentials. Many would say that living on $10 a day for food is a pretty good average, and all things considered I guess it ain’t too bad. I’ve stood in line behind some people with a cart full of crap and seem to have no problem with dishing out a couple hundred dollars. They must have a lot of cats. Nevertheless, it does represents about 20% of my monthly expenditures.
I don’t eat three meals a day. In the morning it’s usually a banana and some yogurt, or some chocolate milk, maybe a sammich on occasion for lunch but that is rare. And then a modest dinner. I do pick throughout the day with a steady supply of things like celery, grapes, apples, and such always on hand. I have a nasty sweet tooth so that really eats into the budget, and no, I ain’t trying to cure it. If I am out and about, working at the marina with the kayaks, I get real thirsty during the day so I will be buying Gatorade or water in the store, $2 here, $1 there, and that adds up.
I stay away from boxed, frozen, processed foods as much as possible. When I want fruits or vegetables, I go to the produce section. I have cut back on the bread quite a bit but when I do want some I get from the bakery at Publix. It’s more expensive but very tasty. Problem is, since I don’t eat that much, and bakery bread has no preservatives, a loaf don’t last long and I wind up having to throw half away. Either that or start making my own penicillin. I also only shop for what I can carry home. The messenger bag holds about the same as a shopping bag so it does limit me. It also means more frequent trips to the store, but upside is I get fresh food all the time. Overall, I rarely leave the store without wiping out the majority of a $20 bill and yet, have enough to eat for 2, maybe 3 days.
So, I don’t know. I’m guessing that yes, food is more expensive down here. But I ain’t starving either. I would like to lessen the impact on the budget but it’s one of those things that require self restraint and discipline. Two things that anyone who has followed this blog knows I do not possess. I’ll just have to keep feeding my addiction as best as I can. But for those of you contemplating a long stay here in the islands be aware that you may encounter sticker shock when you walk into the grocery stores here. It’s the way it is and there is little you can do about it short of readjusting your diet to cheaper brands and less on the table. Just another cost of living in paradise.
At least it ain’t Utah.