Recession and Responsibility

Wednesday, May 4, 2011
In a time of lay-offs, wage freezes, pay cuts and rising food prices, how is it possible to resist the urge to abandon responsible farming and ranching practices for the siren's call of low prices for low-quality food?

I've been guilty of never thinking about how much food costs.  (I would be a terrible The Price is Right contestant!)  For years now, I've sought out local/organic/biodynamic food and never thought about how much I was actually spending until we started discussing our pressing need of new transportation.  Unfortunately, we live in a place, like most towns in America, where driving is a necessity.  The city is spread-out, bus schedules are inconvenient and infrequent and there is no tax support for improving public transportation.

We have old cars that are falling apart and don't get great gas mileage.  Thankfully, due to the fact that I work at home, we can get by on one new car rather than two.  However, a car payment will be a huge adjustment for us.  I started looking at our credit card statements and realized that we spent over $600 on food and liquor last month.  I was rather shocked because there are only two of us and we're rather normal-sized people who aren't marathon runners or alcoholics.  Is it possible to spend two-thirds (or even half) that amount and still feel good about what I buy?

I've done a lot of research into cutting a food budget and, frankly, most of it doesn't appeal to me.  Every time I try to clip coupons, there's rarely ever a coupon for anything I would eat, because most coupons are for processed foods and store specials tend to be on conventionally-raised meat or non-organic produce.  I also looked into Once a Month Cooking, but I find that concept rather bleak (I think having to eat exclusively foods that freeze well is rather limiting and I couldn't face having to make an entire month's meals in one day) and I have a tiny freezer and no microwave.

One place I know I can start is by significantly reducing our food waste.  According to Wasted Food, more than 40% of the food produced in America is thrown away.  Granted, much of it is thrown away because no one buys it, but a good chunk is thrown away after it goes home with us.

The plan for now is to shop more often, taking stock of what is in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry before going to the grocery store or farmer's market.  I'm going to only shop for a day or two at a time, so I don't accumulate a lot of food that will just go bad before I use it.  I also think that eating out contributes to our food going bad before we get around to it, so we're going to attempt to eat at home every night.  Granted, we get invited out to eat occasionally and sometimes we just want to go get Chinese food, but we're not going to say, "Oh, we don't feel like cooking or doing dishes.  Let's just go out."  In addition, it's also near-impossible to eat ethically in a restaurant.

I'll keep you updated on our progress and share any tips along the way.  Let me know if you have any suggestions!

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I may have to get creative with leftovers.  How about these chicken croquettes shaped like chickens:
from a 1929 Mirro recipe booklet




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Further information on responsible food:

  • Here's a link to video from today's The Future of Food conference at Georgetown University.  If you have the chance, be sure to watch these videos.  Georgetown got an all-star lineup!
  • If you haven't seen it, please rent Food, Inc.  It's also available streaming from Netflix.
  • You might also like Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution, a film about a community in France that decides to change the food in school cafeterias and their meals on wheels program.  You can also watch this film on Netflix Watch Instantly.
  • Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Nina Planck's Real Food give the whys and wherefores of changing what you eat.
  • A Slice of Organic Life by Sheherazade Goldsmith, The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and The New English Kitchen by Rose Prince are all excellent resources to help you make that change.
  • Visit localharvest.org for a list of farmer's markets and producers in your area.

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