Oh dear readers, the Shmethicist has been AWOL for a while. But now I’m back and better than ever (not unlike that pea soup that was even more delicious when we reheated the leftovers!).
I am currently feeding a family of four (two adults, two toddlers) on a very small food budget ($150 a week). A couple of years ago, my husband and I were able to buy all organic dairy and produce, and free range meats and eggs. Now, it is a rarity. Our costs are so tight, that even at $150 a week, we only cook nice dinners on Shabbat.
We have noticed a difference in how we feel and would absolutely love to do this again. We do not have our own yard in which to garden, which I would love to do someday. There are several farms near here, but they are not open to the public (instead, they drive their goods to the farmers markets in the large city, which is over an hour away and which we cannot afford to drive to regularly, at $20 gas for the trip and $10 parking for the day).
With the only food access regular grocery stores and the occasional (every 2-3 months) Costco trip, how do you make the best (ethically and healthy) choices? If you can only afford 1 organic thing out of your grocery trip, should it be eggs, poultry (free range is almost always too expensive ($10 for two breasts!), we have been buying frozen Foster Farms chicken breasts from Costco), beef (we rarely eat beef because of price, and when we do it is a pot roast on sale or from Costco), milk (this we always splurge on organic, because my kids love milk), or produce?
What are some money-saving tips at the grocery store (or at home, I can cook) that would allow for more organic and ethical purchases, and healthier meals for my family?
Hungry for Help
Healthy, ethical, and affordable—alas, not an occasion when even the most heartfelt rendition of “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad,” will do the trick.
I’m pretty sure that Meat Loaf wasn’t kosher, organic, or healthy, actually.
Your question raises a number of shmethical dilemmas.
For one thing, as I have noted elsewhere, we should buy organic produce not merely to protect ourselves from harmful chemical exposure (that’s just the pareve icing on the cake), but to protect farm workers and their families, since they are the ones suffering most from Big Agra’s long-term love affair with toxins.
For another thing, your question about how to prioritize organic purchases suggests that there is some logical way to make such a choice. Which there isn’t. Because really, no one knows for sure the long-term effects of choosing organic milk versus rBGH-free, non-organic milk, versus “conventional milk” (that last phrase being one that only makes sense if you happen to believe there is something charmingly customary about farm animals being kept in confined spaces, fed who knows what, and pumped with antibiotics and artificial hormones).
Why doesn’t anyone know about the relative long-term effects? That, at least, is a question I can answer: Because the folks who (nominally) regulate our food supply haven’t cared to find out.
Which means pretty much the entire state of Nevada couldn’t lay accurate odds on what your one best organic purchase (milk? eggs? meat? produce?) might be.
Nevertheless, I am the Shmethicist, and as such, am ready to tell you what to do. Or at least to suggest some ways to make choices that will have you and your family feeling good in as many ways as possible.
Although my meat-loving lover may not want to admit it, one of the best ways to dine ethically, healthily, and cheaply is to give up meat. Doing it now, when your kids are too young to notice, can mean a lifetime of easier food choices for them.
I realize that “give up” sounds so, well, deprivational. But actually healthy food choices don’t always have to involve sacrifices.
Or at least, not sacrifices that you’ll regret. Last year, I got a little freaked about the chemical exposure inherent in eating canned foods. So my would-be carnivore and I ate our way through the larder (note to self: should I be calling that the Crisoer?) and then stopped buying canned foods. With legumes as our at-home dietary staple, that’s meant a lot of time in the bulk aisle, scooping up dried beans. Which I’ve now realized are cheaper, tastier, healthier (because we control the sodium content) and (because they’re shipped at a much lighter weight than cooked beans) better for the environment.
Besides bulk bin bean-ocentric begetarianism (oops, guess I went a little boverboard on the balliteration),you should also making your dreams of future gardening come true today. If you fashion yourself a Che Guevarberg, try some guerilla gardening. If you’re not ready to join the underground just yet, you can always spy out some unused land in your community and ask the owner if you can have permission to turn it into a food plot; offering to share your bounty may sweeten the deal. But if you, like your dear Shmethicist, have a chronically brown thumb (seriously, am I the only one who ever planted zucchini and produced not a single succulent squash?), log onto Local Harvest and check for a CSA near you.
Even if all you have is a sunny spot somewhere around (or inside) your house or apartment, try growing a few fresh herbs. I’ve already managed to kill my basil and my mint (it’s a weed and still it is shriveling and dying . . . seriously, how bad a gardener can I be?), but even I have managed to sustain rosemary, thyme, sage, and parsley. All of which make any home-cooked dish taste superdeluxe.
The more you cook from scratch, the more you can control cost and assure the healthiness of ingredients. And as produce is plentiful this summer, you might try preserving things to enjoy year round.
Okay, let’s face it, I’m a Jewish girl from Long Island. I’m about as likely to can vegetables as the Pope is to order from the Glatt kosher menu at CitiPark. But I do know that the extension arm of the state university here in the Oregon Territories has great tips for home canning (which doesn’t even involve cans, good news for keeping the BPAs at bay), and thus I heartily pass that idea along, in case you need something to do while I proceed to belt out Side B of Bat Out of Hell, which has been catching in my head lo these many paragraphs.
Meanwhile, dear readers, any other tips for Hungry for Help?
Or other questions entirely for the Shmethicist? Cause I’ve got a whole lot more 70s rock I’m itching to quote.