Sensible Primal and Abenomics

This isn’t going to be a post about the pros and cons of the Abe cabinet’s fiscal policy since the LDP came to power in 2012, but rather a calm look at the facts and some suggestions as to how primal enthusiasts can navigate the reality under Abenomics.

This post has been in the back of my mind for about 12 months now. Prices of imported foods in this country have always been notoriously high, thanks to the various tariffs and other protectionist mechanisms in place. Having said that, prices had at least stabilized and become more competitive in the months leading up to Kuroda’s announcement in late 2012 that he was committed to debasing the value of the yen.

My Observation

As a massive consumer of imported Australian grass-fed beef I noticed the impact almost immediately, with said beef prices shooting up 30% over two months as the US Dollar surged against the Yen – a dollar which previously bought less than 78 yen now was buying over 100. Other imported ingredients also rose, but at least the price of locally-produced vegetables, plus locally-caught fish remained somewhat stable.

Then in April this year the Abe government raised Sales Tax from 5% to 8%. So something that previously cost 105 yen (about a buck) would now cost 108 yen, right?

Wrong. Countless websites have documented the fact, matching my own observations, that prices have risen on average by about 25% across the board with regards to food and restaurants.

Two months ago Bloomberg published an article which echoed my man-on-the-street observations with regard to food prices:

“The price of everything we eat on a daily basis is going up,” Tatsunami, 70, a retired kimono dresser, said while shopping in Tokyo’s Sugamo area. “I’m making do by halving the amount of meat I serve and adding more vegetables.”

The Facts

The article goes on to give us the actual overall year-on-year inflation as 3.6%, with food prices having risen 5% overall, 10% for fresh food (this 10% is the figure we should care about – we don’t give a shit that Pop Tarts have only risen 5%). And a little further down they confirm my observations with regard to imported beef:

The cost of imported beef rose to 230 yen ($2.24) for 100 grams at stores in central Tokyo in April from 187 yen a year earlier, government data show.

What to do?

I think that the wrong answer is to lower the quality of the food we consume. Just because the price of heavily-processed 90% of foods you find in Japanese supermarkets have “only” risen 5% year-on-year doesn’t mean you should go out and take advantage of these awesome savings.

The biggest advantage you have is that as a regular forager you are acutely aware of the quality, price and nutritional value of the products in the supermarket. You have an innate sense of when something is suspiciously expensive, compared to when it actually represents good value. Imagine the poor suckers who wake up one morning and find their instant noodles have risen in price and they are trapped as they feel they have no other options for calories! You’re already 100x better off than these folks.

Furthermore, fortunately there is a driving force of Japanese who demand quality at a reasonable price. Obviously there will be a limit to how low they can push prices, but this is a large enough faction that producers cannot afford to ignore them. These folks are going in to bat for you every day, making decisions that are somewhat in line with what we are trying to achieve as Primal devotees.

So what are some concrete things you can do in order to keep afloat?

  1. Substitute vegetables for meat. Like Tatsunami above, you can just cut back on the amount of meat you eat and this will make a significant impact. Of course, you want to keep an eye on the amount of protein you are consuming to make sure you don’t unnecessarily lose lean body mass (unless that is your goal – see below)
  2. Increase your consumption of fat and oils. You already know the benefits of the various “good” fats and oils out there. In particular they satiate one and so are a good source of calories when calories are tight. If you’re currently consuming less than 35% of calories from fat and are feeling the pinch, I’d personally increase consumption to anywhere up to 60% (if you don’t get sick of eating first). Remember, your body is fat-adapted and in pretty good shape overall – it knows what to do with the calories you don’t need. Japanese statistics for inflation have calories from rice as a large component of the calculation, so the relative cheapness of this food group is hidden from the official stats.
  3. Increase consumption of other “inferior” meats. If I was in my home country I’d be suggesting everyone go out and stock up on offal, but unfortunately Japanese offal tends to sell for prices comparable to mainstream cuts. Still, there are “unpopular” cuts that you can take advantage of. Chicken breast comes to mind immediately – you can still find this for under 30 yen/100g. The price of certain bone-in cuts also has risen less than their fleshy counterparts (try pig neck, pork ribs prepared by a Chinese butcher), and there are a few offal offerings that Japanese steer clear of but Chinese would have thousands of delicious ways to prepare.
  4. Be more vigilant than ever with regards to choosing local produce. You have to make every mouthful count, especially if you are increasing your fat consumption at the expense of vegetables and meats. Imported fruit and vegetable produce tends to be less nutritious due to having been picked while still unripe, left to ripen in the shipping container over here (ethanol spraying optional).
  5. Decrease your Lean Body Mass. Sacrilege? Maybe. It’s more a suggestion the for protein-shake-gulping, gym-five-times-a-week mega-macho folk. I know you have worked hard to get where you are, but if your muscle addiction is causing you to either go broke or eat low quality food then you might want to consider leaning down a little. Remember, Japan is a different world now compared to two years ago, so if you don’t absolutely need those massive pecs it might be time to reconsider your priorities until at least we all receive the promised salary increases.* And we’re going for “lean” here, not “flabby.”
  6. Substitute protein shakes for meat. Not recommended as a complete replacement for your protein requirements. And make sure you find one without any added sugar. Note that this is the only item in the list that I haven’t done myself, but I have a buddy who has due to a short bout of underemployment.
  7. Fast. If you’re not already fasting intermittently then this is a good chance to start. And if you are already doing intermittent fasting then this is a chance to increase the length of the fast. Remember, skipping all meals for a day a week saves you 1/7th, or 14% off your food bill. Depending on what you were eating previously this may be the only change you need to make!

When I have a look at my YNAB** spending over the last two years I can see I have managed to keep my produce spending fairly consistent without limiting my eating pleasure much. Small changes add up, and sensible substitutions and compromise are key here.

So what about you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments some sensible changes you have made to tighten your belt while adhering to a primal way of living!


* I know, I said I wouldn’t make this political. Sorry.

** You Need A Budget, budgeting/kakeibou software. Highly recommended.

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