Monday, December 4, 2023
Monday, December 4, 2023

Food Diary: How a 48-Year-Old Salmon Fisher Eats on $30K-$80K in Cordova, Alaska


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 48-year-old wild salmon fisher living on $30,000 to $80,000 a year hunts, catches, and harvests all of her game, seafood, and wild greens and berries in Cordova, Alaska. Keep reading for her receipts.

The finances

What are your pronouns? She/her

What is your occupation? I am part of an independent, small-boat fishing family. We access seafood for the commodity seafood marketplace and directly sell a portion of our catch to individuals.

How old are you? 48, but I identify as a 38-year-old.

What city and state do you live in? Cordova, Alaska

What is your annual salary, if you have one? $30,000 to $80,000. My salary varies greatly based on wild fish runs, and in recent years, market shifts and COVID closures.

How much is one paycheck, after taxes? We receive no paychecks. Our earnings are what’s left after expenses on a paid invoice of fish sales.

How often are you paid? (e.g. weekly) Intermittently throughout the summer fishing season. Then we spend down earnings over our winter months, being ever mindful of having enough in the kitty for the costs associated with the start of our fishing season.

How much money do you have in savings? $25,000. The rest is earmarked for other expenses.

What are your approximate fixed monthly expenses beyond food? (i.e. rent, subscriptions, bills)

Landline telephone: $40

Cell phone: $80

Garbage service: $40

Electric service: $150

Mortgage: $750

Insurances: $225

Total: $1,285

The diet

Do you follow a certain diet or have dietary restrictions? Yes: gluten-free, no tomatoes, no potatoes, no seafood or meat that has been industrially farmed. I can’t remember ever buying meat at a grocery store. The main courses of our household’s foodscape are self-harvested wild seafood, wild game, wild greens, wild mushrooms, and wild berries. The fish is readily accessible from our local waters, including Copper River salmon, halibut, and shrimp. We hunt big game such as moose and deer and waterfowl such as duck and goose. We field dress and then process and pack these at home, most often flash-freezing, but also canning, smoking, and sausage- and jerky-making.

At the heart of every meal is something that my husband and I participated in carrying from a living, breathing animal to a prime cut, carefully prepared, and revered meal. By junior high, I was giving B+ school reports on the horrors of industrial meat production factories. Mostly nobody cared to hear about it, but this is definitely when my meat protocol was cemented. Ending a life is such an intimate process and I need to feel at peace with the way the kill and processing was carried out to be able to consume another creature.


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