Recently J. and I have been having passing conversations about food, what it costs, and how we want to feed our family. It started because I notice that every time we go to the farmer's market together, he's a total grump (yes, you are @theJB, don't EVEN try to front) when he sees his 60 fresh-from-the ATM machine dollars whittled down to zero dollars in a matter of 20 minutes. It is startling, but since I am the one that normally does the shopping, it doesn't phase me as much. I know what we are buying is exactly what we need and that it's things that my girls will eat. They help to choose our produce and I'm teaching them to support their local food growers, their local community. J. and I don't exactly see eye-to-eye on this subject. In fact, I'm realizing we have two divergent opinions on the matter.
I like to shop at farmer's markets for organic, locally grown produce. I do the cooking so I should have the most say. I read Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver and don't want to feed my kids genetically modified foods or tainted beef. Plus, rainbow chard makes a pretty picture in the morning sun. See?
"Giant packs of frozen burritos are BOGO at Safeway! That's 20 burritos for five bucks! That's lunch for, like, two weeks! Michael who?"
"But I like shopping at the farmer's market because everything is fresh and organic," I'll say.
"And I like Safeway because it's cheap," he'll counter.
The thing is, he's right. He is. But I want to be right, too. Though, when I find myself noticing the "pretty chard," I have to stop my visual-learning-self and say, "You sound like an idiot." Shopping at farmer's markets is expensive, hell, it's a luxury, and we live in one of the most expensive communities in the entire country. You can make six figures here and still never feel "wealthy." So how do we strike a balance?
First, we need to kick this discussion off with a little levity. I really don't want to be one of these people:
I do find myself wanting to feed my family as well as I can and I am definitely attracted to the bright shiny newness of a Whole Foods, but my wallet says ouch. I can't afford to shop there. Plus, I choose to support my local natural foods store. We've talked about this before.
What we've been doing is shopping the farmer's market, spending $60-$80 a week for a family of four on fruit, veggies, tofu, fish, cheese, and eggs and then stocking up on staples (spending more) at Safeway (our local large chain market). Meat comes from the meat market, still more dollhairs. I don't buy name brands, I shop sales, I use coupons, I stock up. In general, I don't spend money on frivilous food items or treats. I make my own salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, and almost everything else. I balk at the price of processed foods. I love to cook, but I am also cheap.
But as I walked Safeway today, it was too hard to pass up $1 boxes of Zatarain's jambalaya and mac and cheese, BOGO chicken thighs, and cheap cans of beans and tomatoes. When I looked at the amount of money I had budgeted for grocery shopping this week and compared what I could get at Safeway versus our farmer's market, I found myself sliding bananas and lettuce into the shopping cart along with the popsicles and dish soap.
I don't mean to be one of those "white whiney" a-holes grousing about the high cost of food at the farmer's market when plenty of people in our own community are struggling. There have been many times in my life that I've had to empty the change jar to buy milk, as it were, and I know it's hard to feed your family when only one parent works. My jobs come and go. When I work, food shopping is less stressful. I believe you can eat cheaply and well and support programs like the Pennywise Eat Local Challenge, farmer's markets in low-income communities, and farmer markets that accept food stamps. I feel like I constantly struggle against my own non-extravagant food budget and maximize at every turn. I meal plan to organize my meals, but also to save money. We use everything in this house. Very little is thrown away.
I was talking to a friend this morning about the high cost of food and when people in our community would start to feel the pinch. Gas here was well above $4 a gallon months ago. Costco limits rice purchases. When will the dotcom millionaires start to feel in their pocketbooks? I think about our local farmer's market and what a long haul it was to get it going. Will people stop shopping there? If they do, what will happen to the farmers? What will happen to their efforts as they struggle against giant food conglomerates to grow good, clean food? Why can't I just be happy with sprayed strawberries and non-organic, non-hormone-laden milk when plenty of other smart, decent, hardworking people have no other choice. Plus, and here's the kicker: I'm not above the occasional corn dog or Happy Meal—or the boxed Jambalaya and popsicles, so why am being such a hypocrite? I definitely fall into the trap of telling myself that my kids eat healthfully most of the time so the occassional trip to McD's won't hurt. (It's good to be a Libra sometimes. /eyeroll.)
I don't know what the answer is. I just know that we all do what we need to do to feed our families and we need to accept those choices.
How about you? What's your food budget? Are you feeling the pinch? What trade-offs do you make? How did you learn to accept your choices?
I'd love to hear from you.