Food Diary: How a 56-Year-Old Chronically Ill Cookbook Writer Eats on $128K in San Diego, CA

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Daily News | Online News

Welcome to The Receipt, a series documenting how Bon Appétit readers eat and what they spend doing it. Each food diary follows one anonymous reader’s week of expenses related to groceries, restaurant meals, coffee runs, and every bite in between. In this time of rising food costs, The Receipt reveals how folks—from different cities, with different incomes, on different schedules—are figuring out their food budgets. 

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

Daily News | Online News Jump ahead:

  • The finances
  • The diet
  • The expenses
  • The diary

Daily News | Online News The finances

What are your pronouns? She/her

What is your occupation? Because of chronic illness, I am no longer able to work full-time, but I volunteer as the community liaison for a mitochondrial researcher at UC San Diego. I’m a former specialty food shop owner and am writing a cookbook featuring 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 biotech, and he makes $128K. Since I’m not able to work full-time, we are a single-income family. We do not have children.

How much is one paycheck, after taxes? $3,300

How often are you paid? My husband is paid biweekly.

How much money do you have in savings? $0. We have spent every cent of our savings and 401(k) on my medical tests, treatments, and trips to see specialists in the nine years I’ve been 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 doesn’t cover many therapies. We must pay out-of-pocket for things like my neurosurgeries (performed by out-of-network physicians) and my bone marrow stem cell treatments. People have developed similar illnesses after surviving COVID, which, hopefully, will inspire more funding and research. Since these illnesses don’t have cures and management treatments are ongoing, our financial situation isn’t likely to change. But I’m deeply grateful to have access to some emerging therapies, as many of my fellow patients do not. 

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 TV: $130
  • Auto loan: $568
  • Netflix: $15.49
  • Total: $7,200.49

Daily News | Online News The diet

Do you follow a certain diet or have dietary restrictions? Yes, so many! I can react to any food on any given day, so it’s complicated—but the foods I avoid with regularity are gluten, dairy, grains, pseudo-grains, soy, pork, shellfish, refined sugar, nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers), legumes, cashews, and peanuts. As a former specialty food shop 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 food that is focused on fresh organic ingredients.

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