Monday, May 25, 2009

You Are What You Eat

We spend a lot of money on food.  I won't say how much because it's embarrassing. 

In the spring and summer we get all of our meat and almost all of our produce from our CSA, which is more expensive than getting it at the grocery store.  But it's worth it to us to know that the majority of what we eat comes from less than 2 hours away and that we can actually go see where our food is grown anytime we like.  I never worry about foodborne illness, chemicals, additives, freshness, and I just can't put a price on that.

We also get all of our dairy products from the Farmer's Market--cheese, ice cream, and milk--plus eggs and preserves.  It adds up.

Of course we still go to the grocery store.  My list for this week includes soy sauce, applesauce, olive oil, and garlic.  And whenever possible I buy local or organic at the store.  

I've felt guilty about the amount of money I spend on food for awhile.  I've tried to get excited about clipping coupons, but I rarely see coupons for the things I buy. (Except that just this week I got an envelope from Kroger with targeted coupons that I'll actually use.  Hooray!)  And I've checked out websites that promise to help you cut down your food budget by providing meal plans, but our participation in the CSA guarantees that our meals for the week will consist of whatever shows up in two big boxes on Sunday afternoon.

Oh, the guilt.

Until the other day.  Jay and I were shopping with the kids together and I was cringing over the grocery bill.  And the light went on.  "Jay," I said, "I'm done feeling guilty about the amount of money I spend on food."  (Let me be clear here that Jay has never once criticized my food spending.)  

As I thought about it I realized that we don't waste food.  We don't throw anything away.  We hardly buy any processed food at all.  If we are what we eat, then I would much rather my kids be wholesome and fresh and natural  and vitaminy than processed and preserved and junky and sugary.  And if I have to spend a truckload of money making sure that my family gets the highest-quality food I can find then so be it.  In fact, I realized that if feeding my kids the freshest, most nutritious, most ecologically friendly food available means that I have to forgo a vacation or clothes or home improvements or whatever else, then I'm willing to make those sacrifices.  And I have.  There's a lot I'm willing to compromise on in our budget. What my kids put into thier bodies isn't one of them.

Two things come to mind as I write this.  The first is that I realize that not everyone is in a position to spend whatever it takes to feed their families this way.  And the second is that it shouldn't be that way.  When you can get three boxes of macaroni and cheese for the same price as one head of organic broccoli, and when you don't have too much to spend and a family to feed, that macaroni and cheese is going to go a heckuva lot farther than the broccoli.  

So at this point I'm stuck.  Grateful to be able to feed my family whole foods that are local and good for them...not sure what I can do within a system that leaves people less fortunate than me deciding between virtually nutrient-free food and this month's rent. 


Sarah said...

Thank you - this is really thoughtful - and though-provoking.

Amy said...

Mary Beth, I'm right there with you on the embarrassing food cost in our house. And I try to make the same decisions you do on food--local, organic if possible, quality, few processed foods. And it adds up. And yes, we have the financial ability to make those decisions--many do not. That needs to change.

Kat E said...

If this were on facebook, I would "like" it ;)

I just finished reading "In Defense of Food" too...

Jennifer said...

Check out Ominvore's Dilemma if you haven't already read it by Pollan. I hear you all it is a challenge. Mary Beth - would love to know about your CSA - Allan and I have been looking for something like that. Jennifer Trently