Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where to start?

"Voting with your dollars" has become a common refrain for people in the sustainable movement. When you buy conventional apples, you are voting for conventional apples. Farmers will grow what we are willing to buy. Since cost is the number one objection most people voice against buying organic, that has to be discussed first. Yes, some organic foods are more expensive than conventional, but the key word is some. That tea in my grocery cart is a store brand organic, and it costs exactly the same as the conventional Lipton tea. When people buy Lipton Earl Grey instead of the organic Earl Grey, they've just voted for conventional tea. What really confuses me is that I've seen Tazo tea -- in two different supermarkets now -- priced the same for organic chai and regular chai. If the regular chai isn't gathering dust on the shelf, then the Tazo people are might stop making the organic, especially if it costs more to produce. So, my first tip is to simply pay attention to the prices. Organic is not always more expensive. In fact, yesterday the organic gala and honeycrisp apples were actually 20 cents a pound cheaper than the conventional gala!

Second, if you can't buy organic, at least buy natural. Instead of buying the broccoli with cheese sauce in the freezer section, just buy plain broccoli. Educate yourself about the difference between food and food-like substances. Cheddar cheese is food; Cheez Whiz is a food-like substance. Your best bet is to buy things without an ingredient list or nutritional facts -- things like fresh broccoli and apples. But if it has an ingredient list, read it -- and avoid foods that contain ingredients that you can't pronounce or that have undergone a process that you can't repeat in your own kitchen, like ethoxylating and hydrogenating.

Third, grow what you can. I had big plans for bringing tomatoes into the house this fall, but the blight killed them all. At times like this, it's nice that we have the ability to bring in food from other places, but it shouldn't be a regular habit. It was actually a little frustrating, however, to see organic tomatoes from Canada in the grocery store. If they can grow tomatoes in Canadian greenhouses, why can't we do it in Illinois? But I digress -- you can grow some of your own food, even if you live in an apartment. We grow alfalfa sprouts and bean sprouts regularly, and there are all sorts of fresh herbs you can grow in pots. In fact, some do better in pots than in the ground. You can also grow tomatoes and potatoes in pots. My tomato plan fell through this year, but I'm still hoping to try potatoes.

Know that you can change your eating habits if you're motivated to do it. My kids laugh at me when I say that 22 years ago, I thought pickles and potato chips counted as vegetables in your diet. I am not joking. I thought a cheeseburger (on a white bun with American cheese) and potato chips was a nutritionally complete meal. But I started reading, and I started making changes where I could. As a result, my children have grown up eating a nutritious diet, knowing how to cook for a family, and now knowing how to grow a lot of their own food. And it all started two decades ago when I stopped buying a liter of soda every day and started buying unbleached flour and brown rice. Today, I'm researching how to grow my own mushrooms in the basement. Don't worry about growing your own tomatoes if you're still eating Twinkies and Bic Macs. Figure out where you're at today, and make one little change. Next week, make another change . . . and then another . . . and then another . . .

Today's post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade! and Frugal Friday at Life as Mom!


Twwly said...

Go figure there are no CDN tomatoes in MY Ontario grocery store.

Laura said...

Thanks for the reminder. I have made changes in what I buy. That doesn't mean I've changed everything I buy, but I do make an effort. It's true...we all have to do what we can, make a difference where we can. There are a few things I always buy organic and other things it just depends on the price difference or how I'm feeling about it that week. More ideas like these in future posts are welcome, at least by me. Thanks!

SkippyMom said... an ideal world.

It is not a matter of not wanting to make certain choices, it is the ability to do so.

Your ideas are admirable, but not plausible in the make up of our life [and I know, many others]. There are those of us who would have loved to pick up and move our family to a farm and raise our children the way we were raised, but life didn't work out that way. We would love an all organic diet, home grown produce and meat 365 days a year, but the reality isn't there. Nor is the money.

We do actually eat pretty healthy and always have. We don't eat out and soda has never been an option in our house [as a staple - it is a definite treat] so we do the best we can with what we can find and afford. Surprise - all my kids can cook too! And all have been able too since before they were teens. They also know how to make healthy choices and budget.

And as nice as growing our own herbs and sprouts - it is a nice thought [and we do like our oregano and basil plants] but it isn't exactly a dent in the scheme of things, is it?

Keep espousing these tenets, but could you make it a little more realistic? A lot of what you tout is just not doable.

Kara said...

Great post...the blight got most of our tomatoes too and we lost all our potatoes. There is always next year. Little changes at a time is great advice.

Deborah Niemann said...

Twwly -- I did think it was very odd that we had Canadian tomatoes in our supermarket. I thought to myself, do they produce more tomatoes in Canada than they can consume themselves? I'd love to know why/how they wound up in Illinois.

Laura -- great points! Thanks for commenting!

SkippyMom -- Sounds like you're already doing exactly what I espouse. I've NEVER said that anyone should move to the country, but we do need more farmers, so if anyone is so-inclined, I'd be cheering for them every step of the way. In the meantime, keep doing what you're doing!

Kara -- Seems like a lot of people had blight hit their gardens this year. I lurked on a garden forum for a bit, and it sounds like it won't stick around through the winter, so that's good news.

Sarah said...

Deborah, this is good, healthy advice. :)

People resist these ideas of changing their dietary and shopping habits... but often, spending a little more time and money on your meals saves you time and money at the doctor's office. It's definitely worth it.

It is sad that not everyone can afford organic produce. BUT those of us who can afford to, should support organic farmers, and maybe we can help change the way things work. If we want organic, it's possible that someday the government will respond and subsidize organic food instead of food-like chemicals!

Idealistic? Maybe. But I greatly respect everyone who continues to fight for a healthier lifestyle.

Hannah said...

Good post! We don't buy everything organic, but I am surprised how there are some items where the organic choice is not much more than conventional. And we do try to stick to food in their most natural form, because they're much healthier that way! We do quite a bit of gardening in our suburban backyard, which helps during the summer months.

On a side note...we're currently in the Chicago suburbs, but dreaming about life in the country. I have lots of family in Southern IL, so we'd love to get back there someday.

Anonymous said...


We buy grass-fed beef, raw milk and cream and eggs from a cow- share program. I get organic produce half of the time. I buy pastured butter from the health food store. I get fermented cod liver oil for my family. I buy in bulk which saves a money. We don't spend that much more on food than others who shop at their local grocery store. Our diet is far superior than most people's I know.

Here's what my family does w/o so we're able to eat well: no cell phones, no cable, we don't eat out often, I buy our clothes at second hand stores, I keep our home cool in the winter, I get my kids toys from yard sales. You get the picture.

Cheap food is an illusion.

Jenny Holden said...

Good post :o)
We shop for our food on this principal, though we gave up our allotment when we moved up here. Hopefully we'll get growing again this year.
It really disturbs me that I know people with kids who haven't a clue how to cook veg from scratch!

DangAndBlast! said...

I so *want* to be able to do it that way. I've tried several times to grow my own things, read up about it, bought what's recommended, tried to do right as to water and sunlight and all of that, but I seem to keep killing them (heck, and all my flowers too), and at about $20 per tomato that I've successfully managed to bring to something approaching edibility, I've now given up on everything except my kitchen herb garden (which does die frequently, but gets enough use before it dies that it's worth it not to buy the fresh-cuts from the store, to say nothing of convenience -- reach out your window for herbs!). My excellent gardener mother and grandmother ridicule me for my brown thumb...

When I was teaching, or otherwise free of a job that sent me home just before dinner time, I cooked such beautiful things... now, with the husband's schedule (must be awake by 3:30 am) and mine (lucky to get home more than 2 hrs before he needs to go to sleep), I put eating together and seeing each other on occasion as a higher priority than making lovely dishes to eat separately (mine fresh, his always a day old). So, my options are (and I vary between them): something I can put in the crock pot in the morning and that can cook on low all day and be ready when I get home (that's always hand-assembled -- couldn't ever stand the bagged crock-pot meals), something that I can cook in 15 minutes or less from scratch (and from things that can store for a long time in the fridge, as shopping daily -- what my sister insists is the only progressive option -- is not at all an option for us), or something made by someone else (sometimes the freezer stir-fry bags they sell, more often the "dinner for two" options we get at Central Market, which are always glorious but relatively expensive -- although much cheaper than eating out). I can't cook after he goes to sleep, because I'll wake him. (I can craft, but that's in a different part of the house.) On the few days he's off (which rarely line up with my days off), he'd rather go out and spend some time talking to me than sit at the computer while I cook for him. The most I can do on those days is keep an extra homemade lasagna in the freezer and call him at 4:30 to tell him how to cook it, but it's a small freezer, so I can't do the cook-for-a-month concept either. Maybe some day I'll be able to do what I'd like to again, but not now. I do buy the "right" things when I can, but it's often not feasible ... do always buy the organic apples, though, as they're the only ones that taste like what I used to have in Boston, and they're not *that* much more expensive (as opposed to the bananas, four times as expensive for organic down here in Houston).

Some of the people you so regularly criticize aren't the ignorant wastrel schlubs you make us all out to be -- some of us simply are not currently blessed with all of your opportunities.

Heidi said...

Great post. It can be so hard to know where to start, and I still find it overwhelming, there are so many things to think about. So I am trying to just take it one thing at a time, get that to be routine and then work on the next step.

Sometimes I wonder if we are really making any difference, but knowing how it is, how could I do any less than try my best?

If everyone would try, even one small thing, like paying attention to the price of organic tea or reading the ingredients list then maybe we could really change things for the better.

Christy said...

I think that your post was very inciteful. I too can't grow a tomato or cuke or fill in the blank, at least not with any certainty - though i am not willing to give up trying. I am slowly changing what I am buying - organic, local if at all possible - but if not I don't sweat it. My kids were awefully big before I started down this path - and are very resistant - but I do what I can to the best of my ability and leave the rest to God. I think this is what is right for me.
Thank you.

Deborah Niemann said...

DangandBlast -- "ignorant wastrel schlubs?" Your final paragraph really shocked me, as I was nodding my head and agreeing with your comment all the way. Sounds like you're doing everything you can -- and that's all I've been advocating. If everyone does what they can, then it adds up to something big.

I feel your pain about the gardening, because I also had a mother who could grow anything. I think she made it look too easy, so I didn't expect it to require much effort. I've been trying for 20 years and am still NOT good at it! You must have missed my posts about all the plants I've killed.

Millie said...

Your last line "Figure out where you are at today, make one little change. Next week, make another change...and then another... and then another..."
Is the method that we use here.

Too much too fast and the changes will not last. Either my head will explode or my budget will (possibly both).

The changes that we choose to make do not have to be the changes that someone else would choose because our circumstances are different. Once I stopped comparing our food journey to others it took a load off of me.

Knowing where we are at and making changes that are within our ability has been huge. It is all a step forward. And if I don't make a change next week then that is okay. I'm doing the best for my family that I can today. I suspect that is all most of us want.

Ginny said...

I guess I do not understand all of the criticism from some of the replies. Making small changes has saved me time and money. My youngest son has viral-induced asthma, but since we've been cutting out fast food, eating more veggies and fermented foods and not as many packaged foods, he has not spent time in the hospital. Previously, he has had 4 overnight hospital stays, 2 of which he had to be on oxygen for at least 16 hours each! I know that his health is a direct result of his diet. I have 3 children, am student teaching full time and have course-loads of homework in the evening. I don't have tons of "extra" time to plan or shop, nor can I afford to spend a bunch on groceries. Once a week I spend some time making a menu and going to the store for everything I'll need that week. When I get back from the store, I cut up veggies and divide up meat into baggies for the freezer, which saves me time during the week. For me, it’s priorities. We don’t eat 100% organic, but we do our best. (I can't afford to buy a whole free-range chicken for $17 every week, but I do buy "all-natural") Eating well does not have to consume your life, nor does it need to break your bank. Like Deborah said, if you can’t afford organic, at least eat natural. Broccoli from the produce section costs less than the frozen broccoli with cheese. Steam or cook it and top it with a dab of butter.

Anyway, enough of my rant. I thought it was an excellent post and I enjoyed reading it.

Greenearth said...

Enjoyed your post very much.

I am personally now growing my own food after recovering from a third breast cancer.

I am amazed at the difference this fresh, organic food from richly cultivated soil is making to my body.


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