Wednesday, June 10, 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 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,
grub and i
are always
trying
to buy (& grow)
all organic,
local produce.

no doctors

grub and i
had
a long discussion
(which
i continued
the next day
with
my knitting group)
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
she was
feeding
her children.

flower & bricks

now,
i totally understand
that many families
need to
cut costs
during these
tough economic times.
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)
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 would
argue
for
cutting
cable,
your second car,
unlimited texting
on your mobile
but
not
sacrificing
the
quality
of food.

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


xo

25 comments:

Rachel said...

There's an amazing organic market with locally-grown produce on the beach a few miles from my house, which my family goes to every Sunday. Though the prices are steep, we have fresh, tasteful, healthy vegetables for the whole week, and therefore, we cook at home most of the time. I just don't understand people who are skimpy on their groceries, but have no problem going out to dinner 4 times a week or buying low-quality produce that wilts and has to be thrown out. Organic is so much healthier and better tasting, and is much more economic, I believe, than going to to eat.
It's so nice to see other people who care about their food :-) Kudos to your organic diet!

Jessica said...

Here, here! I always wonder the same, EXACT thing.

Kelly said...

Hey, I wanted to respond to this, even though my thoughts may not be fully formed. I am someone who shops local and organic (and has belonged to food co-ops when they were close-by). However, I also work for a bargain grocery market. A lot of what I do is research ways to make healthy and ethically-produced food inexpensive enough that the lower and middle class can afford it. It's really changed my perspective.

That particular blogger spent a lot of time in the Dominican Republic (it says on her page) and developed a habit of shopping frugally. It's likely and possible that her food choices aren't made with sustainability in mind, but the fact of the matter is, a lot of people can't afford to eat sustainably.

Now, I don't really think that she's a particularly good example, because she doesn't seem to be in the working poor. And I totally agree that if you can afford another car, maybe you should be making better choices about where your food comes from. But at the same time, families that have kids, especially families with two working parents, need both cars. And they need bargains, because feeding 5 people isn't cheap.

And frankly, cutting down on consumption is a worthy goal. If she's buying less (and you'd have to, with meals costing only $5), isn't that kind of a sustainable behavior? And why shouldn't it count?

I guess my point is that the system is really at fault here. We can choose by what we buy what there is demand for, but for a lot of people, they *have* to choose the cheapest option, and that doesn't make them bad. It just means that the system has failed them.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post! I adore your blog for many reasons, and read it religiously, but this particular post really nailed it. I looked up the $5 dinner blog and it made me feel sick just reading it!

It's the same here in Australia. So many people continually put crap into their (and their children's) mouths for the sake of saving a few dollars (fast food sales have increased in Oz in the last few months), yet continue, for example, to drive their (2nd or 3rd) cars a few blocks to drop their (overweight) kids at school rather than walking! Short-sightedness and laziness are also contributing factors to the "$5 dinner", as well as the thrill of a "bargain".

hannah said...

oh yes. i totally agree with you and grub. after doing some reading, i decided to adopt michael pollan's theory of buying less, but buying better. so i adjusted my grocery budget, i still spend about the same amount of money, but the bulk of it goes towards better meats & produce and i cut way back on processed things. it's really working out for us. and yes, the $5 dinners might be cheap, but the hidden costs comes in trips to the doctor and diabetes medicine.

f. pea said...

Amen, sister!

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

I'll second that (as a native Angelino who was raise by bike riding farmers market shopping canvas bag toting parents in Topanga)

A Day That is Dessert said...

Amen! Alexi and I just had a discussion about this topic yesterday. We spend a shocking amount on food...it is a priority for us to eat healthy, delicious, nutritious foods and to know where they come from. Well said.

Gina said...

It is very interesting. There's another popular blog about frugal living, and the woman spends day after day trolling the Salvation Army, etc. and buying stuff. Great... the stuff is cheap, but how is that frugal to buy something just because it is inexpensive and you "might need it some day". That isn't frugal to me at all.

As we're read and heard countless times about food: garbage in, garbage out.

Barbara Campbell Thomas said...

My experience has been that cutting out processed food in favor of whole, LOCAL organic foods, bulk grains, beans, nuts and flours had really not made grocery shopping more expensive than what is found in the typical American grocery store.

There is a degree to which organic food has taken on an elitist tenor that, quite frankly, is not accurate. Yes, $7.00 for a small hand full of Whole Foods strawberries in February is ridiculous--organic or conventional. I'll wait to buy them in May from the farmer down the road--$8.00 per flat.

At the end of the day, the issues I keep coming back to is time--we want it quick and NOW--and lack of planning. It takes time to cook with non-industrialized food.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Kelly. That was exactly what I wanted to say (but much more elegantly worded).

I do want to add, though, that I volunteered with a small, local food co-op a few years back. We were constantly trying to find ways to bring in people who wouldn't normally shop organic and local - writing labels for things in Spanish, trying to keep costs as low as we could, carrying more specialized produce, etc. But the reality is that a lot of folks were just turned off by the whole experience, in large part because they felt judged. No one wants to shop someplace where they feel looked down on by the staff, volunteers, and other shoppers because they do not make the same choices we make. (And right now, all of us could be making better ones in some area of our lives, right?)

I think it's good to try to keep in mind the way food choices are influenced by things like class privilege and culture, and to be aware of how our own backgrounds quietly color our perceptions.

mamzelle CarnetO said...

oh, $5diner will kill you I think :)
I'm trying to let my bad habits (and their of my mother) and get only organic food. Not so easy !!

lisa s said...

hi there... of course i feel lucky that i have a local market where i can buy sustainable and local [or not so local if i so choose] produce -where things are labeled and it's easy for me....

i think food is definitely the one area you don't want to skimp... but i also can't fault the $5 mom.... i agree with kelly - our SYSTEM is flawed - so is our mindset.

like how great is it that the obama's have planted a garden?? but then michelle goes on record saying she doesn't like cooking. of course i don't think she realized that cooking from the garden is the next step and she should encourage that - even if in her case someone else is doing the cooking....

the only way to get anywhere, though, is to talk about it.

bravo for the post! [maybe cross post on SG??]

carol finney mayer said...

i couldn't agree more.

bugheart said...

i just wanted
to thank
all of you
for your great
comments-
all of you have
added excellent
points & perspectives!

i also
want to emphasize
that it is
always important
to recognize
the place
(and priviledge)
from which
your 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 you eat
i think you have
a certain
responsibility
to your readers.

thanks
for reading
everyone!

Anna said...

this is so beautiful. thank you for writing it. i also appreciate your comment above and the consideration of where we come from and what our means are. i also get concerned when people dismiss 'local' or 'organic' or 'farmers market' as being elite and expensive. of course, sometimes organic does cost more. but other times farmers markets offer competitive prices to supermarkets, without all the hidden costs of transporting food from across the coutry.

thanks again.

annie said...

word, dawgie.

ohthecuteness said...

Great thoughts on the matter! I don`t have much money but I also don`t have cable and shop at Whole Foods!

johnny said...

Kelly...not to jump down your throat but here are a couple of thoughts...

While you can say the system has failed them...REAL CHANGE comes from everyday folks like you and me WHO ARE DISSATISFIED WITH THAT SYSTEM (in caps for emphasis..not yelling...)
A good friend, and sister in law, said: "Your buying power is your voting power"...because WHO we choose to support is our way of telling the folks who have "the power" what we think....
$5 MEALS may or may not be able to afford good food...(it's sad isn't it that truly good and nutritious food is a luxury in this country...), but making small changes a little at a time is how you start...
And eating cheaper food is not sustainibility as it is contributing $$$ to the folks who are bringing you that failed system...

EVERYONE IN THIS COUNTRY should be reading Michael Pollan's IN DEFENSE OF FOOD...it will wake you up to this crisis in so many ways...

I can't afford right now to buy organic at all...but I do grow my own Basil, and thyme, and rosemary...and have discovered wild berries in my neighborhood that are free...growing on bushes to put on my morning yogurt...noty bad for a dude who lives in NYC...It ain't much, but it keeps these thought alive in my head, so that I can build on them as my situation improves, and makes me think about ways to make better choices regarding MY food, as well as other people's...

ANYWAYS...you have to start somewhere...and while $5 MEALS may have her (her?) heart in the right place, she may need a slight course correction is all....

Photographer Sydney said...

i simply adore your foods..

Isabelle said...

My husband and I have committed to spending a lot of money on food so we can eat organic and local as much as we possibly can. Sometimes when I look at what we spend I feel dismayed, but I know it's totally worth it. Besides, nothing gives me more pleasure than shopping at the farmers' market and buying my food from the people who grew it or made it, then coming home and cooking delicious meals. If I were to lose that experience a huge part of my life would be gone.

Sometimes I feel strangely guilty or elitist when I talk about it with my friends or family who don't do what we do. I have learned in the past few years that it really pays to look at where your food comes from, but I'm still not so good at explaining why I do what I do without worrying that I sound like a snob.

I am trying to use my blog to talk about it as well. And Michael Pollan's books are high up on my list.

I do agree that the food system in North America (and probably other places too) is hugely flawed, and markups on organic produce keep a lot of people from buying it.

Thank you for such a thoughtful, well-written post. I discovered you through habit and I love your blog!

Ruby Green said...

While I'm reading your post about the $5 dinners, there is a story on the news about the increase in children having kidney stones. Guess why this is....crappy diets. We love our farmer's market and enjoying growing our own.

Saphron said...

Great post and I totally agree.

Anonymous said...

I can see your point, but...

We don't have cable. We don't have a car. We have internet because we need it for work.

We sometimes get local organic produce boxes, but it's a luxury. We don't get to have that many luxuries so we have to choose among them.

We buy the cheap chicken breasts too. Sometimes we buy tofu. But sometimes chicken breasts are cheaper than tofu.

I think it is important to avoid blanket judgments about how people should feed their kids. I was not raised on organic stuff and I am very healthy. I agree that it's better to buy organic local stuff, but it's expensive because it can be. If it were cheaper or comparable, I'd always get it.

Honestly I think the best solution is not necessarily continuing to pay a lot, but figuring out how to make the good stuff cheaper. No disrespect intended; it's just a thought.

Kelly said...

Johnny, thanks for your comment. Look, I'm with you in a sense. I've read both In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma. I live in Oakland, go to farmers markets, to Berkeley Bowl, etc.

However, I also work for a bargain grocer and after extensive studies and focus groups about our customers, I've come to realize that some people do not have a choice. This buying power you speak of? That only applies to lower to middle-class people and above.

Our target customer is a working mother with multiple children. That woman can't afford to spend a lot of time and money thinking about what she feeds her kids, even though she wants to. Time is money. She's working and taking care of her kids; that's a full-time proposition, nevermind food preparation. She's stuck. The working poor usually have to work multiple jobs, just to survive. That doesn't leave a lot of time or energy to be thinking organic. That said, with some ingenuity, you can feed your kids relatively healthy meals for cheap using things like frozen organic veggies & fruits, and buying perishables at a bargain market or wholesaler.

Now, when it comes to $5 Dinners, I do think that she has the time and the energy to apply to the meals she makes, and perhaps her example is not one that fits with what I'm trying to say. All I was attempting to point out is that we often assume that there is choice, because we have a choice. Other people may not, and that's not their fault.

bugheart, thanks for posting this. I love your blog and you've given me a lot to think about. :)