Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cost of Responsible Eating

Recent posts in the blogosphere about eating local, sustainably/humanely raised food got me thinking about our own food purchases.

And if at this point you were expecting the commencement of a cohesive, clearly processed ideology, you would be wrong.  Welcome to my random scattered thoughts.  Sure,I've read Omnivore's Dilemma and Fast Food Nation and are somewhat aware of what's going on with our food culture and the benefit of eating locally, responsibly raised food, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. I like to keep my head empty.

A few years ago, I remember a woman saying she disagreed with the whole organic/local movement because she thought it was something just for the upper middle class and above who could afford it. So it was classist, or something like that.  I didn't have anything to respond with because I was like "guuh duuuh" but some people who were there responded that the more that people buy local/organic/whatever food, the more it will make it affordable for everyone in the long run. People can debate this forever, and I won't get into it because like I said I'm kind of duuuh about the matter.

I will say this, eating responsibly is not cheap, at least for now.  

This is an extreme example, but Kevin and I recently contemplated joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) group. We had thought about it in the past but various things got in the way, like the unavailability of half-shares (they give out 8-15 lbs of produce per week, folks, which means I would be pooping out straight spinach) and pickup times on weekday evenings, which are not ideal for someone who likes to cook/plan meals on weekends.  But a few weekends ago we saw that a little restaurant around the corner from us was working with one of their farm suppliers and offering CSA shares, with pickups on Saturday mornings.  Right around the corner! Perfect! I immediately emailed the folks inquiring about the price of a share.

One thousand dollars per share. Yes. $1000.  

This is almost twice the amount of other shares I've seen in the area. COME ON do they come with diamonds?  Or those coffee beans pooped out by wild cats? Needless to say, this particular CSA was not in our future.

As disappointed as we were not to create fuzzy wuzzy connection with one farm in particular, it wasn't too much of a blow because I love LOVE my nearby supermarket and we go to the farmers' markets on a regular basis.  I was curious this week as to just how much it costs for us to purchase and eat local food that is presumably raised with responsible and humane practices, so I kept tabs.

Here's the list of what we purchased from the farmers' market:
  • Chicken (not pictured): $37.40
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes: $6
  • 1/2 dozen eggs (not pictured): $3.50
  • Cantaloupe: $6
  • 1.5 lbs fava beans: $6
  • 1 bunch basil: $3.50
  • 1.25 lb okra: $4 (about)
  • 1/2 gallon milk: $7
  • 1.5 lb potatoes: $4 (not sure)
  • 1/2 loaf bread: $4.50
Total: $82.40

Obviously the chicken is the biggest component of this bill. It's awesome chicken, by the way--I'm not a huge chicken person but this stuff is so tender and flavorful that it's worthy of a special occasion meal, which is usually not the case with chicken. But it's expensive (also, I bought at least a pound too much, which is now in my freezer--I feel like I'm committing a sin by freezing such beautiful chicken).  I get why it's expensive, but it's yet another reason why Kevin and I have reduced our meat consumption.  We'll let other folks splurge until the prices come down, that one day far off in utopia. 

I also had to buy a few supplies from the supermarket, such as pasta.  Add on other things like cereal, canned tomatoes, garlic, etc. and I spent about $25 at the grocery store.

So our total grocery bill for this week is about $107.40. I can get about 3 meals out of this, which should feed us for almost the whole week, but there will still probably be one or two times that we buy lunch or dinner.

Anyway, just food and money for thought.  How much money do you spend on groceries each week?


  1. okay dokay... I started writing a comment, but around the third paragraph I started thinking perhaps I should probably write a post. haha :)

  2. I'm lucky because my work offers a farm to work program. They contracted (or whatever business agreement they used) with a local farmer, and he brings shit tons of produce to us every Thursday. For $25/week I get about 15-20 lbs of produce. I usually split it with a co-worker because like you said, pooping spinach. So, that makes it about $13. And, they even have a trade out bin if you don't like one particular item in your bunch of produce. For me it's usually beets because I don't know what to do with them. I know, I'm a bad vegetarian.

  3. Great post, M!

    We joined a CSA for two seasons. At first, we loved that feel-good fuzzy feeling of supporting local agriculture, but with each passing week and another giant bag of potatoes and kale sitting unused on our counter, we realized we were putting it to good use. We love to cook, but there are some days where we're just too wiped to throw together a meal and it's cheaper and faster to get hot food from our local grocery store. Other days, when we really want to cook, we don't want to be confined to ingredients/produce provided by the CSA. We prefer to go to the farmer's market or Fairways to pick out items we really want to eat. It may be a bit pricier at the moment, but it balances out (considering we threw out about 20% of what we got from the CSA which is totally anti-sustainable!)

    We totally support localism, but I agree with you that it is NOT affordable for everyone and is pretty classist. Have you seen Food Inc.? They address that issue in the film. Farmers markets around the city are trying to close the gap on that with EBT machines so people can use food stamps, but still the value isn't there. If I can buy conventional broccoli at the supermarket for half the price of what it is at the farmers market, why wouldn't I just go to the supermarket if I'm already on a budget?

    There are a lot of contentious points to this discussion!

  4. I'm also a guhh duhh person on this, but I'd like to learn more about it. It doesn't seem right for us now, since we eat out a lot and only cook occasionally.

  5. you sell yourself short. I know that there's a lot more thought to your food beliefs and actions than you give yourself credit.

    we're blessed in CA to have such a wealth of food providers that not only do I have a choice of 1 million stone fruit varieties at our local market, but competition seems to keep prices at a merely above-average level (as opposed to your $3.50 for basil -- that's EGREGIOUS).

    for 2 people, we probably spend $200-300/week on groceries, depending on how much meat we're eating, because we look at our food sources as a priority, and work it into our budget as such. for ex, I haven't had a new set of panties in years.

  6. I was talking to Mrs. Lemon about groceries the other day and she said that "so and so spends $160 a week on groceries! Can you believe it!" I was thinking, "Does she think that's cheap or expensive? I think I spend way more than that."

    We do spend more than that. Like your friend (or is that friend me?) I am much more interested in buying local produce than organic produce. I'd rather buy something non organic that was farmed within 50 miles from my house than organic so-and-so from the middle of the country.

    I do think you sell yourself short like sashacleo said. You clearly think about your choices all the time. I think because you live in an urban educated environment you're surrounded by people who care about things like this, so a lot of it is innate or "fed" to you via farmers' markets and shops making local/organic/"happy" produce to you.

    I will say we probably spend about double on groceries a week of what you spend. We go to many different markets to get what we want. Mostly, we eat a lot of fresh fish and that really sucks the budget. We never buy frozen foods (save for total junk food like frozen taquitos and croissants and pre prepared meals!) but meat/veggies never come frozen in this house if I'm going to cook them. I don't go out of my way to buy organic produce (I look for local, like I said) but if the organic is just a few cents more, I will certainly go for organic.

    I wouldn't consider myself "too healthy" (I eat spaghetti-os and frozen meals for lunch mostly) but when I'm going to cook something I just try to get as much fresh local ingredients as I can.

    This will probably all change when we have a kid and we're all poor and stuff.

  7. thanks everyone for your thoughts!

    i'm not sure how i'm counting, and maybe it's because it's the beginning of the week and i haven't done all my grocery trips, but i would say that we usually spend more than that on groceries. not sure where i'm getting that unusually low number.

  8. Wow, how many pounds of chicken can you get for $37.40? I am inconsistent about eating organically and responsibly. Mainly because I am cheap, but love food.

  9. Yeah... I'm the cheap one here. I think it's mainly because we don't prepare food for breakfast/lunch that our weekly food intake is so cheap. Also... I plan meals around what's on sale at the market and buy in bulk so that I don't see the staples included in our weekly totals.
    When I shop for a week of dinners, I try to stay under $60. Now if the hubs is the one shopping, he'll spend $60 for a weekend with no thought at all because he buys what he wants. I, sadly, limit my temptations and just stick to my list at the store. I let fun happen at the farmer's market and when eating out instead.

  10. $1000! Woah. This is our first season with a CSA, and I'm still evaluating whether it's worth it. I love getting fresh veggies, but it really involves a lot of thought and work to plan your meals around them. And if you have weeks (as we have recently), when you're traveling or eating out, you end up with a lot of unused, rotting produce, which to someone like me who despises wasting food, is egregious. So, I don't know . . . I'm thinking your farmer's market approach might well be the way to go.