This is a question I've been asking myself lately:
"What am I putting in my grocery bag?"
I alluded to this here when I talked about our goals for the new year. Because of this question, one of my goals is to explore some new methods of getting more real foods into our house while still staying in our new, lower, budget.
What started me down this path? I've been thinking about this for the past few months, actually, wondering how I would be able to put these thoughts into print. I've decided that it needs to be in two parts (to spare you from reading a book), and that I'm going to start with the, well, beginning (duh). Please feel free to comment...I'd LOVE to hear what you think on these issues and what choices you're making for your families.
In that light, here's a little background information (if you haven't figured this out from reading here:-):
--1. I've had an organic garden since I started gardening 15 years ago. I read Organic Gardening magazine and realized that was the only way for me to garden, for a number of reasons (but to be brutally honest, frugality was probably #1- it's just cheaper).
--2. I've read books on organic gardening, where our food comes from, reasons why people are fatter now than ever (including the books by Michael Pollan). Because of these, I don't buy foods with high fructose corn syrup, msg, preservatives, etc. We are trying to stay away from foods with dyes and things with longs ingredient lists.
--3. I make a lot of our food from scratch, and have made all of our family's bread for more than four years.
--4. As an organic gardener, I'm appalled at all the foods made from Genetically Modified (GMO) seeds: conventional corn, soy, cotton, and canola are the big GMO crops- and they're in everything. These are not to be confused with hybrid seeds, which are simply a crossing of two parent plants (say, tomatoes) in order to get the best qualities of those in the "baby" plant. This sometimes happens in the wild on it's own, which is where we get various kinds of plants even in the wild. GMO seeds, on the other hand, have other, foreign things implanted in them (fish DNA, roundup herbicide) that create something otherworldly- and definitely not anything you'd find in nature. Plus, there is good research into how these are not so good for us or the gardening world. So now I'm trying to buy organic versions of corn chips, cook with olive oils, etc. to try and avoid these, but it's hard and slow-going. Go here if you're interested in more information.
BUT (and it's a big "but"),
I don't buy all organic produce (in the winter when the garden is not producing) and foods such as pastas, and I don't really feel the need to.
I know, heresy. Have I left you scratching your heads? OK, these are the things that whirl about in my head over this issue:
-It's more expensive, period. I don't care if you follow a blog about "how we eat organic on a budget" it's going to cost you more. And the good bloggers will be up front with that and tell you that it's just a choice they've made to spend more on food. Unfortunately, most of the ones I've read don't have kids or have little kids. I've got four adults to feed (teens have been known to eat more than adults...) and it just doesn't compute for us.
-I hear a lot of people say that the stores that specialize in this type of food (whole foods, etc) just "feel good" to shop in. Uh-em...they are marketers trying to get your money, people! Of course they want to get you in the store and keep you there. Even Michael Pollan in Omnivore's Dilemma (who's passionate about organics), pointed out the fact that the nice farm scenes and stories above the produce and dairy items were not even related to the items anymore. There are "free range" chickens that never free range, and organic farms that rival the size of conventional with all the crowding that goes along with it.
It's not a religion, it's just food. You're not "good" if you do, or "evil" if you don't.
And don't even get me started on packaged "convenience" foods labeled organic...if something's been processed, freeze dried and run through machines, does it matter? I've actually seen a label with "organic modified food starch" as an ingredient. I just can't pay more for this stuff. Although I do have a caveat: I find I need to buy organic on things like cereal (processed and run through machines) in order to stay away from ingredients like HFC and BHT, and so I do pay a little more- but never more than half the amount of regular, and I will buy regular when it doesn't have those things...like cheerios.
I guess I'm really trying to say: know what you're buying and make informed choices. Don't just buy something because it says "organic" or "natural" or comes from a store you feel good being seen in. Well, unless you have the money to do so, which isn't most of us Dave Ramsey-ites. 🙂
-This really is heresy: I think the jury's still out on the health impact of conventional vs. organic foods in the long run. I know there are studies that show all the health benefits of organic, the more vitamins, etc. and I do think it's true. I garden so our produce for most of the year can be organic. But fresh produce starts losing it's vitamins as soon as it's picked, organic or not. I'm just not convinced it's worth more than twice the amount of money.
And as for health problems, cancers, etc., well, they've always been around. We now know of them a lot more because of reporting and science, but, really, when Aunt Millie died 100 years ago of "natural causes" who knows if it wasn't cancer or heart attacks? The medical establishment just didn't have the ability to know back then. In light of history, our knowledge and what we're basing a lot of information on is relatively new. At the turn of the 20th century, doctors were just starting to wash their hands before procedures!
Again, it seems like herbicides and pesticides should cause a lot of problems, and I don't like them, but I can't yet spend twice as much on food because of something I'd like to be true. As an organic gardener, I'd like to one day "vote" with my dollars, but right now I have to look for the healthiest options for our budget.
-As a committed Christian, it just seems sad to me that a large focus of so many people's lives, time and energy is what they put in their mouths. This is not the most important thing in the world, and we cannot determine our time on this earth by what we eat. It's hard for us "modern" people to hear it, but we are not in control of when we live or die. We are supposed to be good stewards of our bodies and the land, and our lives will probably be better for being healthy, but we all know people who have died young and healthy and those who have lived long with diabetes and smoking like a chimney. God is the only one in control of this.
What are your thoughts on these issues? Or, do you even think about them?
Anyway, over the past few years I've sorta come to the conclusion that the healthiest way to eat on a budget is to cook as many things from scratch (therefore controlling the ingredients) as possible, while buying what you can organic and staying away from junk as much as possible. It's all about balance. For a number of years I've made homemade versions of things I use to buy all the time like mayonnaise, chocolate syrup, and ketchup (see more in Pantry Basics). I've written here about the granola we like to eat daily, the sandwich bread I've made for years, and the soups I make out of bones.
But then last year I embarked on a journey to lower our food bill, which led me to the world of coupons, "buy $25, get a $10 coupon" promotions, rebates, and blogs that keep you updated on all the "hot" deals.
In the thrill of the hunt, the joy in the deal, I got...sidetracked.
Which is why I started asking myself,
"What am I putting in my grocery bag?"
To be continued...