June 15, 2009

the price of food

never enough

i grew up in LA.
we were not the farmers market shopping, canvas bag toting, family biking type of family. it surprises me when i think back on it...
my mom was from germany and gravitated towards those things.
she always stopped at the roadside stands on the coast for strawberries & green beans wrapped neatly in white butcher paper.
she bought pasta and cheese at the italian grocer who flirted with my shy, soft-spoken, red-headed mother who always had at least 2 kids in tow.

sunday french toast

i care an awful lot about what i eat.
although i am not the chef of the house,
we are always trying to buy (& grow) all organic, local produce.

no doctors

my partner and i had a long discussion about a blog that he read
which has received a lot of press called $5 dinners.

market flowers

we couldn't get over how much praise she was getting for making cheap dinners with little regard (nutrition is mentioned) to the quality of food that she was feeding her children.

flower & bricks

i totally understand that many families need to cut costs during these tough economic times, some have fewer choices than others,
but there is a cost/benefit depending on where you decide to cut.
i couldn't find on $5 dinners where she usually buys her food, but if she is buying most things on sale or with a coupon at prices, such as chicken breasts, sliced ($1.66), i think it's fair to make the assumption these are mass-produced items.
is this really the meat you want to feed your kid?

certainly you pay a price for buying cheap.

how can feeding the cheapest quality food to kids (or yourself) be the best way to cut cost? yet americans will cut food costs before they cut cable (also here).

my point is not to criticize this woman for trying to keep costs down
but rather to question why cost is the most important consideration.
i also want to emphasize that it is always important to recognize the place (and priviledge) from which our perspectives evolve.
not everyone has access to the same foods or the same choices.
i speak directly about those who DO have those choices.
if you are on the internet, blogging about food and what your family eats, then i think you have a certain responsibility to your readers.

i would argue for taking local vacations, cutting cable, your second car, or unlimited texting on your mobile but not sacrificing the quality of food.

as my partner put it,
the sacrifice that $5dinners talks about is only temporary... real sacrifice is sustainable...it has to be or we (or our children) will wind up here again.

we'd love to hear your thoughts.

note: this was cross-posted here.


Adrienne said...

Ugh. I have to assume this woman doesn't know anything about sustainable food. Unless you truly have to do things that way for financial reasons, there's no excuse. I wonder what she would think if someone sat her down and explained where all that $1.50 a pound beef is coming from, how all the GMO corn is grown, if she would change things at all.

lisa s said...

an interesting take on cooking and food and money just posted here:


thanks bug for a thoughtful post!

Anonymous said...

If only the rest of American felt this way. We'd be so much healthier and happier. So many are SO misled by the food industry giants. Let's hope she can learn-- I suggest the book What to Eat by Marion Nestle, a great starting point for those who want to understand more about what they fuel their bodies with.

Great post by the way.

Anna said...

I'm a single mother on a budget but food is my most expensive item because I refuse to do it on the cheap. We're vegan and I buy as much organic as I can find. We have an organic box of mainly local vegetables delivered each week (sort of like a CSA) and that forms the basis of our meals. There's very little convenience food in our house (I think there has to be some having 2 small boys but I try and have it as healthy as I can!). Once I've bought the food I go on to paying the bills. I refuse to cut back on quality or organics just because my budget may be a little tight. I believe that what I put inside their bodies is one of the most important things I can do for my kids and no matter how tight money gets I won't be compromising on that!

nettlejuice said...

We live the simplest way we can in order to raise out children with their parents around and close to nature. We cut costs everywhere, but do not sacrifice quality on anything, especially food. Food is one of our biggest expenses, as we feel very strongly that our health is very dependent on it. Yet we have found ways to be frugal...buying local, growing our own, eating wild plants, buying in bulk, and buying almost exclusively whole foods.

I'm starting to see more families around us becoming conscious of the quality of food. I hope the trend continues.

Carolina said...

The last two years I have been a "starving college student" and I am now also a newly wed. I refuse to skimp on what I put into my body. I go without tv and will use public transit if it means eating healthy, organic, and local. My husband, who is born and raised Mexican, constantly tells me I'm so different from other Americans he knows because I care so much about the quality of the food I purchase and eat (and that I make it a priority to fleeting entertainment). As flattering as that is for me to hear, I look forward to a day that he can't say it anymore.

Kendall Micayla said...

wonderful post!! i agree, taking the extra money for good quality food out of another thing- like the examples you posted- is well worth it. and if healthy food is too expensive for your income- grow it... its even better for you.
bravo :)

Laurie said...

Amen, sister! I notice that many of the people who insist that they can only afford food from Walmart or Aldi have plenty of money to spend on satellite service or cell phone calls or new cars every few years. I don't skimp on food. We do splurge on travel, but we shop yard sales and thrift stores, and grow many of our own vegetables, and don't eat much meat. I walk to work but when I drive it is in a 92 Tercel. And I'm not ashamed to trash pick or accept hand-me-down clothing!

Stefanie said...

I too get frustrated with all this blab about making cheapo meals. This is so short sided. What about medical bills? What about local economies and the higher nutrient content of fresh local food? And not to mention that healthy can be economical and positive as well. We often forget to vote with our dollars in America.

countrymummy said...

Hi - I'm not a vegetarian but one of the simplest ways of cutting food bills must be to reduce the amount of meat we consume. There's a new campaign 'Meat free Mondays' (http://meatfreemondays.co.uk/) that's just started over here in the UK. Reducing meat consumption not only saves the pennies/cents, it has less impact on the environment.

I totally agree that cheap isn't always the best. Even if budgets are limited, there are creative ways to make quality ingredients go further.

Glad to see you back, too!

Pamela said...

My SIL, who was obsessive about the guidelines for some foods while pregnant, would not touch tuna, but would have a McDonald's shake. She feeds my nephew a steady diet (daily) of store brand (i.e. cheap) mac and cheese from a box. The noodles are kind of strange and the cheese is powdered. She would not eat my tuna nooddle casserole, made with real noodles, real white sauce, real Vermont cheddar cheese and real tuna.

She did not understand why my nephew would not eat packaged frozen breaded chicken nuggets, heated and reheated in a microwave, but would eat real chicken and green beans prepared by me. If given the opportunity children will choose to eat good food.

She even hired a nutritionist, because she did not know what to feed the child. My SIL is a woman with a graduate degree and a high powered career. Some people are utterly clueless about food and don't have the time to deal with it. She is naturally thin so can get away with eating crap. When she had high cholesteral, she simply stopped eating a daily candy bar. My brother has been diagnosed anemic. I think it is because they eat so little meat. Of course, he could do some of the cooking. We have a family history of anemia, so I have cautioned my daughters against vegetarianism.

My other SIL in the UK eats just as badly. The whole family will argue over who has to put the frozen pizza in the microwave. It's too much work you know ;-) I often wonder if they think I am a fool for taking the time to prepare real food and if they even notice the difference when they are at my house.

Ironically, they are all thin and I am not. I like to bake as well as cook. If I had to eat the processed crap they all eat, I would probably be thin too.

carolyn jardine quinn said...

Great article, thanks for posting! As the mom of a preschooler, I'm constantly concerned with eating and serving minimally processed foods to my family. It does cost me a little bit more at the grocery store, but I too feel that's a small sacrifice to make for our health and general well-being. I get crazy looks from other moms when my 3 year old eats raw mushrooms and tomatoes! And the same blank stares and crazy looks when I tell them I'm not buying a certain product because it's either not grown in the USA or it's full of preservatives (and I'm not even talking about organic items -- that might really blow their minds). Glad to know I'm not the only person concerned about where our food comes from and the amount of crap we're willing as a society to ingest.