Sunday, August 30, 2009

What To Do About It

This may be the most controversial post I ever write. So get ready. You may be a little shocked and hate me at what I have to say here- but of course, I hope you don't!
Today I'm going to talk food ethics and budgeting and how it pertains to me.
Last week I read an article on about the "real cost of cheap food" and it really hit home with me. In a huge way. I haven't been able to see the movie Food, Inc. even though I am really looking forward to that coming out on DVD- I hope they do soon! Or at least put it On Demand (cable companies.. I hope you are reading this!) I have a genuine interest in the way our food is produced. I think it's a crazy process and sometimes I think it's all a big government conspiracy- and in fact, if you read the article or have seen Food, Inc. you might be agreeing with me right now.

Here's what I agree with in the article:
1. At a time when the nation is close to a civil war over health-care reform, obesity adds $147 billion a year to our doctor bills.

2. Sustainable food is also pricier than conventional food and harder to find.

3. As the developing world grows richer, hundreds of millions of people will want to shift to the same calorie-heavy, protein-rich diet that has made Americans so unhealthy — demand for meat and poultry worldwide is set to rise 25% by 2015 — but the earth can no longer deliver. Unless Americans radically rethink the way they grow and consume food, they face a future of eroded farmland, hollowed-out countryside, scarier germs, higher health costs — and bland taste. Sustainable food has an √©litist reputation, but each of us depends on the soil, animals and plants — and as every farmer knows, if you don't take care of your land, it can't take care of you.

4. Farmers aren't the enemy — and they deserve real help. We've transformed the essential human profession — growing food — into an industry like any other.

5. Organic food continues to cost on average several times more than its conventional counterparts, and no one goes to farmers' markets for bargains.

Erin from I Walk In This World posted up her thoughts about this article. I agreed with everything she said including her "rebuttal" of the comment I left. Here's where we are getting shifty people.. This is the comment I posted- I read this article when it came out online last week (I think) and I absolutely agree with EVERY POINT made in the article! Especially- the last one- price is the factor. While I admit to buying the occasional sugary sweet snack, i tend to stock up on produce and meat and potatoes to make the meals around my house. Feeding four (4) people on 175-200 dollars a month (thats how much my food budget is people.. scary) is a daunting daunting thing. how often do i eat cereal for dinner because i dont “feel” like cooking? actually its more like because thats all i have left at the end of the week and i would rather let the kids or the hubz eat the good food. I buy meat on sale- cheapest i can find. i feel like sh*t morally for doing it, but until the food prices go down, i do what i can to get through. until they find a way to make organic, farm raised meat and organic produce as cheap as any other kind.. i have to buy what i can afford.
its a great article, and i really wish i could do more to support the cause, until then! i dream! lol

And here is what Erin said in response: A@ Please Don’t Eat Me - instead of buying discounted factory farm meat on your budget, you could easily substitute cost-effective vegetarian dishes full of beans, brown rice, and frozen veggies.

We do this in my house all the time.

Please don’t let your budget be the reason to excuse your choices. I live on a budget too. And we have VASTLY cut down on our meat consumption in order to make ends meet and not support the factory farming system.

And here we go!!! Girlfriend, I AGREE!!!! Definitely! I really and truly do! I do my best with the small budget we have to make sure that the bulk of our food is fresh fruit, veggies (ok so most are frozen.. but we still eat them- even the kids!), and yummy potatoes, and lots of rice. I think I buy ice cream for us once a month and rarely do we have any "snacky" things unless you count the rice krispie treats for the kids and the chips for Carlos. The kids eat like me, mostly vegetarian, plus some nights I'm making stuff like "breakfast for dinner". Like I said in my previous post I only eat meat a few times a week because 1. I don't really feel like I NEED it and 2. it's too much cash-ola.
My issue with the cost though is having a man at home who would rather kill himself than be a vegetarian. Meat at lunch and dinner is his thing and I can't make that choice to eat less meat for him. So when I have my limited funds to work with and I would rather make sure the rest of the food is decent- I go for the bulk buys and cheaper stuff for meat. I won't buy meat from a hole in the wall grocery store- however when Stop & Shop has their sales going on I stock up. I also buy frozen shrimp and fish from Target- they sell it in individually frozen bulk bags- $8.99 for 10 pieces of fish where as at a speciality store that $8.99 might cover one salmon steak. I never go for fast food (ignore the time I went during my trip to Baltimore desperate times...) so I'm not supporting the fast food industry.

Is this supporting the government funded corn farm industry and also supporting meat making plants that I don't necessarily agree with their ethics and processes? Yes, probably.
Do I feel like I should be setting more money aside towards the food budget so we can buy more sustainable veggies and meat products?
At this time in my life. No, I just can't. And I feel like a lot of people might be in the same boat. Might it seem wrong and selfish of us to not desire giving up the things we want to eat because we don't agree with the ethics? Is anyone going to compare this to something crazy like me believing slavery was a necessary evil? God I hope not! (And I hope PETA isn't reading this right now either!)
In my world I see people making the choice between paying the electric bill or buying food. Paying the doctor bill for an emergency room visit or putting gas in their car. Paying for child care or paying for heating oil. In today's economy people who were just skating by two years ago are now wondering how they will survive the winter. The older folks on Social Security are going to the grocery store and buying $20 dollars worth of food for the week - so they HAVE to buy the cheap stuff and I don't argue with that one.
What I hope to see is that either my (and everyone else's) financial situation turns around so I (we) can do more with my food buying than I (we) can right now or we can turn around the price of sustainable food so that everyone can support the cause.

The likelihood of either happening anytime in the next year?

Slim to none.

I do what I can with what I have unfortunately. And Erin, believe me I'm not trying to put down what you said in reply in any way- I hope this clarified what I was thinking about just a little bit. I love you!!!!!!

What do you guys think? Am I a quack? What are your views on this?


  1. wow. great post.

    My thoughts in a few words: I choose local or organic produce plus the sometimes organic meat instead of a lot of other things... and that is ok with me. If it means I can buy one sweater all fall, then I will. I know that will probably change with children, but for now that is simply our priority. We still spend a much lower percentage of money on food than our parents did, so I feel like it is not unreasonable to spend what we do. I truly hope that our food system changes so that everyone can buy local or organic food without having to sacrifice anything, as we all deserve healthy, vitamin rich food!

  2. wowwww good post!!!

    I agree with you, and with Erin, actually. I think in a perfect world, it would be easy for everyone to do as Erin says: Rely on veggie-based protein sources instead of animal-based.

    But as a girl with a bf with similar tastes as your own, forgoing meat would be absolutely impossible. And I think your opinion/situation represents the bulk of Americans, whereas Erin's, although I find it reasonable and smart and ideal, is just that: Ideal, and not necessarily realistic for everyone.

    I also think that education plays a HUGE part in this problem; although it's easy for people like us (educated about food, where it comes from, what it does [or doesn't] do for our bodies, portion control, et cetera) to make certain food choices, we must remember: We're food bloggers! We have a natural inclination to seek out the freshest and most in-depth food news and ideas. Most Americans just don't give a sh*t, or aren't even aware that they should. Maybe if our country were more educated (as in classes on food safety and responsible eating in grade schools, even!) it would be easier for more boyfriends like ours to give up meat, at least for one or two meals a day;0)

    As for buying local or from a farmer's market: I LOVE to do this, but it's just another example of idillic v. realistic. Most people probably don't live in the vicinity of a farm stand or farmer's market or whatever, and the cost of gas prohibits them from traveling any farther than the super-store down the street. Again, it's hard for us to understand: I'd say, if you don't think you live near a farmer's market, google it just to make sure, and to check on other options! Google is ALWAYS your friend!!! But in reality, most people don't think that way, or would choose to remain blissfully ignorant because it's easier, or it's what they're used to.

    This is a realllllly long comment! Sorry for that. I just get juiced on this issue because it's SO hot for me. I think what it comes down to isn't even not caring. It's just NOT KNOWING.

  3. I think it's really scary how so many people pull the budget card to excuse eco-unconscious behavior. I'm by no means an all-organic gal, nor have I sworn off eating meat, but I make the best effort I can. My diet is mostly veggies--and I support eco-initiatives wherever I can. Because we have to.

    Esp with the shift toward prevention... I wish more people understood how much sickness/medical cost could be eliminated when they full subscribe to a healthy lifestyle..

    Knowledge is power, and those who really seek out the info can't help making changes to their lifestyles and spending habits.


  4. I wouldnt necessarily call it scary though to pull the budget card. i think a lot of people hear the news and want to make better food choices but cant. i dont pretend to think that people who are overweight unhealthy already and load up their grocery carts with processed junk are pulling the budget card. i think they just want to eat what they want to eat and nothing will change their mind.

    but i think today there are more families who are struggling to get by and are cutting more discretionary spending in order to pay for basic necessities (by basic necessities i dont mean cable tv and monthly spa dates and MAC makeup)

    I know for me, i spent more way more money in food last year and was able to afford to buy organic meat and fish, organic veggies and snacks, but as things got worse money wise (lay-offs, rent increase, medical bills...) things had to go and i had to shift my priorities.
    thats what im saying here.. do i think its OK? not really i feel bad about it, but what can i do? pay rent or buy organic meat? not to say to have one i have to do without the other.. but do i give up my daughters dance classes so we can add more money to the food budget? im not sure right now if thats the right choice for me.

    i think a lot of other people are in the same boat, it might not be the popular opinion.. but its what im going with!

    thanks for your comment sarah!!! i definitely agree about prevention!!

  5. thanks so much for sharing your opinion, girl. I agree - far too many Americans use their budgets as an excuse fo unhealthy living when in reality - it is totally possible to eat a healthy diet without blowing a ton of money. You raised some very interesting points!

  6. We do not live in an ideal world. Bad things happen all the time.

    While I do aim to purchase as much as I can that falls within the ethical eating guidelines-

    I think that it is important to buy organic products, research the companies that we support but I also think that it’s important to make healthy food accessible.

    At this price point, it opens up the option to many more than other options.

    I can honestly say that there are many weeks wherein the $1 container of Greek Yogurt is a stretch for me. The $2 organic one isn’t even an option. I sacrifice a lot to be able to purchase as much organic/local goods as possible- I’ve spent about $50 dollars on new clothes in the last year, I metro everywhere, I live in a tiny studio to cut costs, and I don’t purchase any meat because I can’t afford to buy meat I can feel comfortable eating.

    So, while it may not be the most ethical option out there it is the most ethical one I can personally make and I know that my current situation is far better than that of many others.

    I just feel really uncomfortable with the focus on this around the blog world. Yes, it's important but I feel like there's a lot of judgment included and well, frankly, just because you're a blogger or a blog reader doesn't mean you have the $$ to buy the best options all the time and that's a lot of unnecessary pressure on people.