I have written here extensively about my own personal Food Revolution this past summer. Eating locally, supporting sustainable farming practices, and choosing healthy, whole foods for my family have become incorporated into my own system of personal values. They are important to me. In his latest book, In Defense of Food, author Michael Pollan points out that the average family used to spend about 15 – 18% of their income on food, and about half that on health care. These days the average family spends less than 9% of their income on food and double that on health care. Regardless of whether you believe the inverse relationship between these numbers is causal in nature, the fact that people used to spend more money (and got better quality food, as fifty years of nutritional analyses have shown), really struck me.
Most people, when going out to purchase an electronic device (computer, big screen TV, camera), do not buy the cheapest model on the floor. There is an ingrained belief with these products that “you get what you pay for”. And yet how many of us, when purchasing a block of cheese, carefully price check each brand and compare between stores to find the lowest price we can get?
Guilty as charged.
Back when we started The Dream and The Plan the grocery budget was the first thing we slashed. And even though I have now come to appreciate the value of quality, local food I confess that my shopping habits did not completely reflect that.
I do buy organic eggs, based largely on revelations about how battery hens are treated. I also get local eggs whenever I can. I buy organic yogurt for the kids, organic apples (I hate the wax they put on conventional apples), and sometimes organic produce (when I’m not buying it at the farmer’s market). I have switched to fair trade tea (especially after watching the movie Black Gold and figuring it likely applies to tea growers as well). I buy only ethical meat (grass fed beef and pork, free range, non-medicated, local)…but I buy conventional cow’s milk and the cheapest cheese I can get. What was my reasoning for this?
Really it was about price – we don’t eat much yogurt so choosing organic doesn’t cost me much extra per month. We’re used to not eating much meat, so splurging on a $25 roasting hen when we only eat one a month didn’t seem so hard. On the other hand, my kids drink a lot of milk. I use it for baking, I have it in my tea and my cereal/oatmeal every morning. Our family easily goes through 12 L of milk per week, and that adds up to a lot of money. I can get 4L of conventional milk in a plastic jug for less than $4 at my local supersized grocery store. Local, organic milk in returnable glass bottles is $3 per L. Thus, in one month, conventional milk will cost us about $50 whereas organic milk will cost us $140. That’s a pretty big price difference.
Recently the subject has come up in a couple of different places in my life and I finally had to acknowledge to myself that my “system” didn’t make sense. Cheese is easily the largest source of protein for my children, so why on earth am I buying the cheapest crap I can find? If my children are drinking tons of milk, shouldn’t it be good, quality stuff? Wanting to save money is admirable, but doing so at the cost of my family’s nutrition and health is not the answer. I thank my friends for finally making me realize that there was no logic to what I was doing. And I thank myself for finally recognizing that this is about staying true to my own values. By choosing local, organic food I am making a statement while at the same time taking my money away from the industrial agro-businesses that monopolize and jeopardize our food industry. And so…
…I am joining an organic buying club and will be purchasing organic cheese by the case (my friend swears that the shrink-wrapped portions will keep for weeks). I have signed up for a local organic delivery service that will deliver my 12 glass bottles of local, organic milk each week and take them back the following week.
I feel better already, and I haven’t even drunk the stuff yet.