While I do love cooking actual meals for myself, over the years as an underpaid civil servant, I have taken a liking to frozen meals for lunch or dinner.
Nestle’s Stouffer’s meals — a Shaker Heights restaurant that became famous for pioneering the frozen meal back in the day — as well as the Lean Cuisine line of brands. In particular their lasagna and macaroni and beef are excellent.
Having left government for journalism, I often find myself at Walmart, Safeway, Giant, or Shoppers buying frozen Banquet meals — for a price between $.89 and $1.50. Even if I eat two at lunch, I am spending at most $3.
It got me thinking.
For the low, low price of about $1, I can have five chicken nuggets, corn, and macaroni and cheese. Of course, I pay for the cooking aspect of this product, which costs me pennies. My electrical bill is usually less than $100 a month, and not much of that is used for the microwave. At work, it doesn’t actually cost me a dime, assuming of course, that the money spent on overhead doesn’t come at the expense a higher paycheck.
Are the nuggets as good as McDonald’s? No. But, even for their affordable price of 4 for $1, I get more from Banquet– even if their product isn’t as good.
The economics of the frozen dinner are, when you think about it, pretty interesting.
This is not a gourmet meal, but, it is not a bad meal, especially given the price. Inputs, marketing, distribution, storage, and sale — comes to me for less than $2 a pop.
From the chicken being birthed and raised, going to ConAgra’s plant, being slaughtered, prepared, cooked, breaded, and frozen… to the corn and wheat being grown, harvested, and transported, the cow’s milk being used for cheese and other inputs, like paper, dye, and plastic — all going into a product with a plastic dish, covered with cellophane, inspected, boxed, and shipped from the midwest to me in Virginia — it’s a pretty amazing journey.
And it costs me, more or less, $1 a meal.
All hail capitalism.
Addendum: “But, Jim… don’t subsidies distort the price you should really be paying for that delicious frozen meal”? Yes, that they do. Without the subsidies, the meal would be more expensive, and I’d prefer that the subsidies be eliminated. Even in that universe, the marvels of capitalism would bring me this and other products at affordable prices.