Our endeavors to eat local, raise our own food, build up social capital amongst like-minded farmers, and eat ‘naturally’ as much as possible, are relatively new. For us, coming to this point has been a process, an evolution in our way of thinking and our way of life. I am confident we are not done. When friends and family get wind of our lifestyle changes – eat local, grow your own, and buy organic/fairtrade – their reactions are something like this: “Wow, you guys are crazy!” “I just don’t have the time or the money waste on something that seems relatively frivolous like buying organic.” “It doesn’t taste as different as I thought it would, must not be worth it.” “I just don’t have the time and money to do that kind of thing.”
I get it, I really do. I was always that person. I think this is in part the fault of the way ‘organic’ is portrayed to us. I go to the local organic and natural foods shops and I am surrounded by single, hippie-looking, vegans munching on overpriced rabbit food. Each to their own, but this certainly was not the way I wanted to go for my family. It was not affordable. I was never going to sell it to the men in the house. The food was still frequently imported green from other areas of the world.
Let me introduce you to a new type of eating. It is a simple, you-are-what-you-eat, know-your-food-and-love-it approach. There are a few simple principles to this approach:
1.Buy local, and create relationships with local suppliers as much as possible. Ask around, find where your friends recommend and who they know. Find people who will swap goods and services with you.
2. Make from scratch. Things like bread are so, so easy to make yourself. Cheaper than artisan breads and yummier than the plastic bag stuff.
3.Grow or raise your own food as far as you can. Use methods like blanching and freezing, and canning, to store local, in-season foods for when they are not as readily available.
4. Buy organic and if possible fairtrade what you can’t get local. Decide on what is most important to you to purchase this way: better to have organic sugar or fairtrade sugar? What do you make exceptions for?
People often ask me ‘where I shop,’ and I tell them something like this: Well, I get my milk from a local dairy, and my meat from the farm shop down the road, and I grow, store, or get from a farm stall my vegetables. My flour I buy in bulk from a local mill, and the rest I shop around for the best price on organics. At this point, you are probably thinking, that’s all very well, but why? Why not just pick one store and get it all? Before you decide for yourself to dismiss this lifestyle as too fringe, too expensive, time-consuming, or just plain odd, let me explain to you why we make an effort to eat this way.
1.My husband is a businessman. For him, a change or investment of any kind requires first and foremost a logical, business-sense approach. You may be surprised that such an approach is possible in the world of local and organic food. In fact, this approach to eating offers me more economic control. When I eat local, I have greater control over what I pay for my food. Take this article from just yesterday, for example “Businesses Worry As Pork and Beef Prices Rise” (http://www.myfoxal.com/story/25314889/businesses-worry-as-pork-and-beef-prices-rise). Why are they rising? Because of drought in California and a virus on feetlot-type farms. When I purchase meat from my small-scale local farmer, I am not paying for things happening thousands of miles from me. Nor do I find my food prices suddenly and drastically increasing because of factors that have much less impact when purchasing local, like fuel prices to drive that food hundreds or thousands of miles. Making my own food also makes economic sense: from scratch ingredients can be purchased in bulk, are cheaper than their shop equivalents, and allow me control over how much we use and therefore how much we spend. When bread prices rise in the store, it’s not a problem, I just a)use the flour I have stored in bulk from when prices were good and/or b)make smaller bread rolls or half a loaf. I spend the SAME AMOUNT now on food each week as I did before. Some things, like my local wholesale honey, cost me less than the cheapest brand at Walmart. Other things, like beef from my local farmer, cost me more (although it has less fat and more nutrition). To counteract this, we eat less meat, more vegetables, more homemade, less sugar. And we do it conciously, as part of a lifestyle that puts us in control of our pockets, our waistlines, and what comes into our home.
2. Voting with your plate. I believe in standing up for the moral right whenever possible. What I eat is no different. There are numberless moral issues about what we as a country eat. I could talk about animal rights issues: as a sensitive human being with animals of my own I do not like to support places that condone using animals without feeling or humanity. As a christian who has read in Matthew “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” I cannot justify it either. And since food labelling is so convoluted, I like to visit the farm and know my farmer. I also think it is unethical to regularly purchase food for which the very people producing it (i.e. the farmers) are squeezed and pinched as hard as possible, while lining the pockets of the big companies selling it on. Even in times of drought or disease this is the case. For example:
“While higher wholesale prices are a boon to suppliers including Tyson Foods Inc, they are eroding profit margins at restaurants and… charging customers more…” (bloomberg.com)
If you think your little weekly purchase wont make a difference, you are wrong. Why do you think Walmart has started actively approaching small farmers and stocking organic food? Most of all, they will make a huge, direct difference right there in your community. Your neighbors, your friends, your farmers all benefit directly, without the middleman, when you buy local. You are building your community and supporting the local economy. I pay $2 a gallon for my local raw milk. That is less than I can buy milk for in the store. But it is 10 times as much as that farmer gets paid by the company that trucks his milk away for retail. In contrast, big companies who are able to purchase corn-based products (everything from soda to diapers to ketchup) and animals raised on corn as less than it costs to grow it because of tax subsidies from our pockets, are getting us to pay double for their food-like products. Are you one of those people who gets angry when you see individuals spending food stamps on potato chips instead of potatoes? You will be thrilled to know that you are paying for those chips not once but twice: with your tax dollars for food stamps and with your taxes that subsidize the corn and gas to get those chips there more cheaply than the fresh potatoes grown right in your neighborhood. I like to know the money I spend, and the things I put into my body, are supporting good people and good values. Your community is filled with good people who grow or raise food with enough trust and care that they eat it themselves. They would love to build a relationship with you and share that good food.
3. Food is key to how our body works, how well our mind can function, and how our children grow. It is worth our time and our money more than many other things we invest in. We will spend so much of our money on technology for our home, cars, clothes, etc. and yet the very thing that creates and strengthens the building blocks of our mind and body we look to purchase as cheaply, easily, and quickly as possible. Mass food producers are thinking about the bottom line, not your health. If we as consumers are demanding cheap food-like products, that is what we will get. McDonalds and almost all major beef companies were, until recently, ‘washing’ their burgers in ammonia to meet the demand for cheap but disease-free food. (Here is a case where consumers made a difference and this practice was stopped: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/31/10282876-mcdonalds-drops-use-of-gooey-ammonia-based-pink-slime-in-hamburger-meat?lite) It is very, very difficult when shopping in superstores to make sure your meat is not undergoing things like this. For example, food safety in China is infamous. As I was shopping at my local superstore I wanted to purchase some fish that had not come from a farm in China. I finally found some “wild caught off the coast of Norway, all natural” fish. I purchased it and as I opened the box to cook it at home, saw the size 3 font tiny print on the flap stating “fish was processed and packaged in China.” Oh goody. When I buy my food locally, I have to wait for the cows to cross the road on the way to the shop to purchase their milk or meat. I see how they live. I can visit the butcher and watch them processed. I can live with what I see and I know what I am consuming is good for my body. Not to mention, many many organic and fresh local foods are much healthier than their store-bought alternatives. Some, like vegetables, are obvious: store bought vs. home grown tomatoes anyone? Others, like beef, take chemical analysis to show you that they are lower in bad fats and higher in good fats. Same with eggs. Ever wondered about the vitamin labels on your milk? When you pasteurize it at such high temperatures, you have to add the nutrients you destroy back in.
4. We want our children to know how to program a computer, play and instrument, and compete in sports. But we feed them nuggets we can’t even name the ingredients of. When my kids visit a farm and scoop the milk fresh from the vat as the cow is being milked, they understand where their food comes from. As my six year old runs his own egg business, he knows the value of hard work, the importance of keeping his animals healthy and clean, and appreciates the value of money. He is a more responsible, caring person because of it. I love that my children know where their food comes from, how to work for it, will eat more and experiment more with food when they see it, and appreciate farmers. My son will now ask me “is it homemade?” for just about everything (we make fruit snacks, cheese strings, and granola bars here as well as our breads and cheeses), followed by an enthusiastic “yes!” when I tell him it is. How wonderful is that? And let me tell you, the birds and the bees talk was so much easier with children who have already seen, observed, and accept what it as part of a natural and wonderful process that produces the chicks and calves they love.
In the end, the way we live is a logical addition to our family values. We believe in supporting what’s good and right. We believe in building our community and developing fair and meaningful relationships with our neighbors. We treat our bodies as temples and care very much about what goes into them. That’s not to say that some days don’t still look like this:
But most days look like this, and to me, that’s a beautiful thing worth spending time, money and occasionally sanity for..
2 thoughts on “Vote with your Plate”
I have to say, this is probably my favorite post that you have done to date. As you are fully aware, I am also a HUGE believer in knowing your food. You are starting out for different reasons than I did but the bottom line is still the same.
As for meat prices, I want to extend a little something. I know everyone has seen those high-end restaurant plates of meat. THOSE are serving sized portions, not that 2 lb. ribeye steak or those double 1/4 pound burgers. Also, many local farms sell meat in bulk, which is actually cheaper than supermarket beef when spread over all the cuts. A half a beef will also include cuts that range up into the $20/lb range when purchased as individual packs. You can also request additional things that would normally go to waste, like soup bones and oxtail for the best broth ever and it doesn’t cost a penny extra.
I think the gap from farmer to grocery and the reason why most people just go to Walmart is ease and convenience. It’s just like pasta. You’ve made it, you know fresh batches are rather easy and fun to make with the family. Others just grab a box and go. The flavor difference is out of this world. I don’t think most people know how simple it truly is to make some of this stuff.
Absolutely! This is one thing I wanted to bring up in this post and didnt get time to address: The average American eats over 200 lbs of meat a year! Do we need to eat that much? No way. I love learning about different cuts from my local farmer and experimenting with different flavors. And homemade always tastes best!