Seven months ago when Husband and I came up with The Dream and The Plan we knew we had to get serious with our budget. We wanted to maximize the amount of money we put towards our goal each month, and so we began to pare down our expenses. The two biggest categories after rent were groceries and miscellaneous spending (everything other than rent, bills, food, and gas).
Slowing down on spending was pretty easy. I’m not much of a shopper to start with, and after educating myself about consumerism via books such as Affluenza and films such as Maxed Out on Debt and The Story of Stuff it was easy to get into a No-Spend frame of mind. I fell in love with our local thrift stores and began to take full advantage of an excellent library system.
The grocery budget also seemed an easy target for trimming. We’d recently moved from a neighbourhood where the nearest grocery store was a Whole Foods market, to a where it was a Big Box supermarket. We cut out the expensive foods and I stopped eating organic (The Omnivore’s Dilemma left me feeling jaded about industrial organic) and went for low cost items instead. We managed to cut our food budget almost in half, but my journey to learn more about our food would soon lead me to feel that we were paying for this in ways other than that measured by money.
Over the last few months I have educated myself about modern industrial food production and have found it seriously lacking in both value and morality. The costs the Earth is paying for our methods of cheap, mass food production are too high, the poor quality of the product and its interdependence with the processed food industry is compromising our health, and the suffering of meat animals is too much for my comfort zone. I have come to appreciate the value of eating locally and seasonally. I stopped buying unethical meat, and now seek out suppliers whose animals are allowed to live as they are designed to live (thank you, Joel Salatin). I planted a vegetable garden.
As this summer of local eating progresses I am falling into a new mindset. Each visit to the farmer’s market reveals the next stage of this cycle of growth, yield, and harvest. Yesterday I discovered boxes bursting with zucchinis green and gold, nugget potatoes of all colours and sizes, sweet local corn!, broccoli and beans. Who needs salad now?
The ethical fowl lady finally had chickens and I spent $26 on a 3 pound roaster. I’d waited weeks for this bird, and the value it holds for me is significant. This will be roasted for a family Sunday dinner, leftovers eaten in sandwiches and reheated for the next day’s meal. We’ll pick it clean and then the bones will make a large pot of stock. Nothing will be wasted, and maximum value will be gleaned from it’s carcass. That is what happens when you spend money on quality items and appreciate how much has gone into it. I have never, ever felt that way after buying a Family Pack of boneless, skinless mass-produced chicken breasts.
And so yesterday Husband and I reviewed our food budget. Now that we are sharing household duties, he’s been doing more of the grocery shopping and I haven’t been too happy with what he’s bringing home. For me, the priority has shifted. It’s no longer about eating as cheaply as possible. In his latest book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan notes that North Americans used to spend almost twice as much on food, as a percentage of income, as we do now. Even despite the current “food crisis” and soaring prices. Over the same period of time, spending on health care (at least in the US where it is not universal) has more than doubled. Yes, I want to save money. But not at the cost of our health and my own moral values. I simply cannot in good conscience continue to support an industry that I feel is so destructive.
To my relief, Husband agreed: reduce consumption of processed foods (hot dogs are now reserved solely for camping trips and special occasions), buy only ethical meat and seafood, eat meat or seafood only twice a week at max. I’ll continue to top up the harvest from my meagre garden with produce from the Farmer’s Market. We’ll do this for one month, keep track of our spending, and determine how much this way of eating will cost. I know it will be more than the 8% of our monthly income it was in the original budget, but I’m certain it will be less than 12-15%. The price, as far as I’m concerned, will be well worth it.