Someday you may see a glossy picture of me on a brochure smiling broadly from aboard a catamaran heading towards Mazatlán’s Stone Island. Until then, the picture someone really should take is of me grinning as I leave the grocery store with my cart full of bags totaling $63 dollars.
Mexicans like their hot sauce.
Food prices, like gasoline prices, may fluctuate up and down in the short-term. In the long-term, they will continue to go up. Reasons cited for continued upward trends are gasoline prices, climate change, subsidies for biofuels, food stock piling and a great demand for meat as countries become more affluent. Food prices rose 8.2 % in 2017, the highest annual average since 2014.
Reports give us good reason to believe that a greater percent of Americans' income in the future will be spent feeding themselves rather than enjoying themselves.
Prices in my home city of Denver certainly seem high (If you live near a Whole Foods, you’re really in trouble).
While I couldn't find hard data, I know that grocery shopping is generally less expensive in small towns in the United States (unless you live in Aspen). The prices in Elkins, West Virginia, an hour and a half from a ski resort where lived for a few winters are lower than the prices in Denver's grocery stores.
If Elkins is not for you, consider Mexico. According to a snazzy little website called Expatistan which helps you compare the cost of living between any two cities you plug in, food prices are 106% lower in Mazatlán than Denver.
That percentage would be in keeping with the general rule that the cost of living is about half of what it is in the U.S. for a comparable lifestyle. In my quest for journalistic integrity however, I was surprised to find that the highest prices do not always relate to the size of the city. In a list of the most affordable city for foodies, Las Vegas was #1.
The price of staple foods in Mexico will always be lower though. The Mexican government controls prices on items like eggs, chicken, flour, cooking oil, and some produce. These items might be a quarter of what they cost in the U.S. When you look at your receipts, you easily see which items are price controlled if you know what they cost in the U.S. Those savings add up since they are the building blocks of cooking.
To further save money, you quickly learn to avoid grabbing American brands out of habit, like Clorox for example, and stick with Mexican brands.
Open air markets are even less expensive than the Walmart and larger supermarkets in Mexico. In spite of what I've heard about the lower prices, I still prefer bigger grocery stores. They are up to American standards on packaging and cleanliness. Walmarts and Sam's Clubs are where expats do most of their grocery shopping in major expat destinations. Amusingly, Walmarts are considered an upscale store in Mexico (as is Sears.)
While open air markets are fun places to mill around and pick up authentic Mexican ingredients like spices, special sugars and sweets, I have found the produce quality often inferior to that of larger grocery stores, although I have heard the opposite in accounts from other expat cities. Perhaps their weather is more moderate than in the coastal areas, where your greens will go limp within a day (in the refrigerator).
In spite of all the dire warnings about food safety in Mexico, in my four years living in Mexico part-time, I have never been sick in spite of my frequently cavalier attitude without washing every tomato and mango like it was radioactive. If anything will change that attitude, it’s the information on pesticides, a reason you have to wash your produce no matter what country you live in.
Pineapples and avocados are a good deal.
The cut fruit that the vendors sell from carts is beautiful and I hear delicious. This is where my expats friends tend to pick up their occasional intestinal disturbances (I myself avoid these disturbances by only snacking on things covered in chocolate).
Will your diet in Mexico be healthier?
If you are able to learn how to cook with local ingredients that take the nutritional place of healthy ingredients you're used to buying at home but are not available in Mexico, you can develop a healthy, inexpensive menu plan.
My upcoming cookbook, written with food blogger Fabiola Rodriguez Zilcona will be a great place to start. Register for advance copies.
As far as costs go, if you cook simply and like Mexicans do, you can probably live on $200 a month for food as an individual. I've read the same figure in various forums and guides.
Mexico has a problem with obesity too, with some help from an American company.
Although the traditional Mexican diet of corn tortillas and beans might be healthier than American fast foods, the level of obesity here is approaching that of the U.S. Many blame soft drinks. The soda tax rejected by New York City last year was implemented here in Mexico to discourage consumption.
And they consume a lot. More Coca-Cola is sold in Mexico than any other country in the world, leading a pack of 728 countries. Step into line in any convenience store in Mexico early in the morning and you will see practically every construction worker in that line with his 1.75- liter bottle of Coke.
I can't deny the soft drink's power here. Perception is reality. Years ago, people told me the original recipe for Coca-cola called for cocaine. In Mexico I'd be willing to believe it still does. At home, I never think of drinking it. In Mexico I can't resist it. It remains a mystery, like why your nails grow faster near the ocean.
For me, even with my various addictions, my food bill in Mexico runs about a $120 (dollars) every 10-14 days, including the wine I can buy in grocery stores here. My grocery bill in Denver for two weeks worth of food runs around $250, not including wine (since it’s not sold in grocery stores there).
The wine is a less expensive too. The same bottles of white wine that usually run $10-12 in the U.S. run $6 to $7 in Mexico. If you operate from a budget, you will be able to always have a glass of wine while watching your Mexican sunset.
Unlike Mexico's sunsets, pace and spirit, food prices in Mexico may be hard to write a song about. But they are something to sing about (with a little help from James Taylor) :)
"Oh, Mexico...prices so good that you just gotta go..."
"Why are Food Prices Rising" - The Balance
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About the author, Kerry Baker
I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to people considering expat life in Mexico, including most recently "If Only I Had a Place" on renting luxuriously in Mexico for less. Avoid the scams and savor the advantages of renting as a expat in Mexico.
I also wrote the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web. Don't get mired down in Google trying to find free online tools to teach yourself Spanish. Find them in the Guide.