Food Diary: How a 56-year-old chronically ill cookbook author eats on $128,000 in San Diego, CA

Welcome to The Receipt, a series documenting how Bon Appétit readers eat and what they spend on it. Each food diary tracks an anonymous reader’s week of expenses related to groceries, restaurant meals, coffee, and every bite in between. In this time of rising food prices, The Receipt reveals how people — from different cities, with different incomes, on different schedules — are calculating their food budget.

In today’s Receipt, a 56-year-old cookbook author living on $128,000 a year cooks every meal of her week in San Diego. Keep reading for his receipts.

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What are your pronouns? She she

What is your occupation? Due to a chronic illness, I am no longer able to work full time, but I do volunteer as a community liaison for a mitochondria researcher at UC San Diego. I’m a former specialty food store owner and write a cookbook with recipes free of common allergens and inflammatory foods.

How old are you? 56

What city and state do you live in? San Diego, California

What is your annual salary, if you have one? My husband is a molecular biologist working in biotechnology and he earns $128,000. As I cannot work full time, we are a single income family. We have no children.

How much does a paycheck cost, after taxes? $3,300

How often are you paid? My husband gets paid every two weeks.

How much money do you have in savings? $0. We spent every penny of our savings and 401(k) on my medical tests, treatments, and trips to see specialists during the nine years I was mostly housebound. I have ME/CFS (commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome), MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome) and the genetic connective tissue disorder EDS (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) – they often cluster together. Insurance does not cover many therapies. We have to pay out of pocket for things like my neurosurgeries (done by out-of-network doctors) and my bone marrow stem cell treatments. People have developed similar illnesses after surviving COVID, which will hopefully inspire more funding and research. Since these diseases are incurable and management treatments are ongoing, our financial situation should not change. But I am deeply grateful to have access to some emerging therapies, unlike many of my patients.

What are your approximate fixed monthly expenses beyond food?

  • Mortgage, HOA and taxes: $3,000
  • Medical expenses: $2,500
  • Home and auto insurance: $270
  • Student loan: $250
  • Utilities: $350
  • Cell phone: $117
  • Internet/cable: $130
  • Car loan: $568
  • Netflix: $15.49
  • Total: $7,200.49

The system of government

Do you follow a certain diet or do you have any dietary restrictions? Yes so much ! I can react to any food on any day, so it’s complicated, but the foods I regularly avoid are gluten, dairy, cereals, pseudocereals, soy, pork , shellfish, refined sugar, nightshades (eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers), legumes, cashews and peanuts. As a former specialty food store owner who once had over 100 cheeses in my deli case, this is a paradigm shift for me. That said, I’ve embraced this new way of eating and my life is now centered around creating beautiful foods with a focus on fresh organic ingredients.

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