Food Security for the Faint of Heart
My Emergency Coordinator Guy, Bill, says it is silly to worry about food being organic if we are facing an immediate crisis, and of course, he is right. We will eat what is convenient, then we will eat what we have to, then we will scrape scum off the inside of the fridge. But if we are thinking of food security in terms of the big picture, then secure food is that which is grown locally and with available inputs (Do you see a phosphate mine in your town? An oil refinery for those trucks? Didn't think so.) That way, the birds and bees are safe and happy, conscientious farmers are getting our dollar, and we are supporting keeping a larger segment of our farmland as clean as is possible. Besides, anyone reading this who has trouble affording food can just take out the word "organic" and will usually end up with the information being useful.
When people make the switch to organic, they usually get a shock over some of the prices. Why is this stuff so expensive, they ask? Are those crazy farmers saving up for their own helicopter pad? But no, organic growers, especially the small scale local growers who we want to support and encourage, are out there in the rain, hand-digging weeds so they won't have to spray, hand picking bugs so they won't have to spray, improving the soil for healthy plants, so they won't have to spray. Doing things the proper old-fashioned way takes time and energy, but leaves resilient healthy earth that will be productive for decades to come. And small local farmers generally have mortgages and plumbing problems, just like you, only without a steady income.
One thing a bag of hard-earned organic food does is make you appreciate it as a valuable commodity. You no longer slather butter on a piece of toast so thickly when you are paying for the farmer's extra work in bringing you a clean product. When you're paying good money for the farmer to do it right, you're bringing home food of value. You tend not to stick it into the back of the fridge and forget about it. You waste less, toss more veggie ends into the stir-fry, take better care of that bag of grains.
In fact, the price of organics may make people more respectful of "real" food in several ways. People paying more for good food start to look at waste differently. The stale corn chips are put aside to be dried out in the toaster oven with a layer of cheese, and hard old cheese at the end of a package is scraped off and grated into the potato leek soup. Seeing food as valuable and worthy brings us back to a respectful relationship with the material that builds our body cells and fuels our brains.
So how can we switch to healthier foods, and then be able to afford them? The price we pay for organics more closely reflects the true cost of doing healthy business, but it can also make you reconsider the foods you will choose to buy. Meats and butter are deadly expensive in organic form, but fortunately, it is good for us to eat way less of them, so treasuring every ounce, or deciding not to eat much or any at all of them does us no harm.
Some people make the switch in small jumps. First, they begin buying organic fruit and greens. Then they start buying milk and cheese. Then cereals. And one day, the funny thing is, it's easier to just JUMP. Your body seems to suddenly know what's good for it.
Several Methods for Eating on a Budget
Just skip the worst of the expensive foods. For instance, North Americans eat way more meat than is necessary, and it can take up a lot of room on a food budget. Although many people cannot imagine giving up meat forever, it can seem more agreeable to find ways to use way less of it. For instance, chopping a bit of cooked chicken over a stir fry can give it a delicious edge with very little meat involved. Small flakes of ham in a pea soup can stretch a slice into several meals. Chopping a hunk of meat into a vegetable stew will give it more mileage. Chop a single piece of bacon into an omelet instead of putting several rashers on the side. Add a bit of salmon to a salad instead of eating a complete steak.
Other cultures are way better at this, with no suffering to their health, and it does seem shocking, when coming back from a trip to Asia, to see a whole hunk of meat taking up half a plate.
As far as skipping the worst of the bad food goes, the Consumer's Union in the United States has named the following ten foods the non-organic ones to avoid if you are trying to reduce pesticide levels in you or your children.
Here are details taken from the Consumers Union website on just a couple of the above named foods to help us understand the implications of our food choices.
Peaches: Summer's blushing fruit contains high residues of iprodione, classified as a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and methyl parathion, an endocrine disruptor and organophosphate (OP) insecticide. Methyl parathion has caused massive kills of bees and birds. According to Consumer Reports, single servings of peaches "consistently exceeded" EPA's safe daily limit for a 44-pound child.
Winter Squash: Dieldrin, a chlorinated, carcinogenic insecticide, exceeded the safe daily limit for a young child in two-thirds of positive samples. Another potent carcinogen, heptachlor, also showed up. DDT and its breakdown product, DDE, were detected in baby food squash.
Green Beans: These can contain acephate, methamidophos and dimethoate (three neurotoxic OPs), and endosulfan, an endocrine-disrupting insecticide, which showed up in baby food, too. Acephate disorients migrating birds, throwing them off course.
Grapes: U.S. grapes contain methyl parathion and methomyl, a carbamate insecticide listed as an endocrine disruptor; imports may contain dimethoate.
Strawberries: The enhanced red color of strawberries comes from the fungicide captan, a probable human carcinogen that can irritate skin and eyes, and is highly toxic to fish. While the lethal soil fumigant methyl bromide doesn't show up on the fruit, it has harmed California farm workers, and depletes the ozone layer.
Some foods are not labeled as "organic," but are naturally just very clean foods and it is good to know what these are. Italian olives are frequently grown in the same manner as they were five hundred years ago (before pesticides), so they are a good bet for a clean oil. Many old European wineries refuse to become certified organic, but use ancient, scrupulously clean standards. Your local liquor store employees may surprise you by knowing which wines are technically organic, and you can compare prices from there. Beside this, new international regulations will make it illegal for organic farms to call their food organic unless they pay to certify, which will make this term too expensive for small or marginal farms to afford its use, even though they may be growing clean-as-possible food. If your local farmers understand and follow your national standards, then by all means purchase their food, even though it might not be called "organic."
Compare food value with other financial investments. We ignore the cost of that fancy design magazine, but curse over the price of a block of cheese that will last us several days. We are upset at the cost of feeding our children basic food items but then spend generous amounts on computer games and fancy hairstreaks.
We could get a grip on our priorities and value the foods we buy as investments. We are nourishing a body, supporting a farmer (hopefully an organic one) and looking out for the birds and bees with our well-spent dollar.
Be aware of what you spend money on by checking your gro- cery print outs from time to time. I was shocked to find that a good chunk of my monthly grocery expense was taken up with snacks to take to work -- dried fruit and nuts are darned expensive. I switched to apples and rice chips and saved about thirty dollars a month in that one step.
Don't Waste a Thing
Restaurant chefs should be teaching us how to plan meals. They know when they cook up a batch of food that they will have to invent meals around the leftovers for days to come, and then, unlike many of us, they do it. This idea might be as simple as not taking a big hunk of something out of the freezer when you know you'll be out of the house for the next three nights, but certainly automatically planning soup nights after a meat dinner or learning several good stir fry recipes for leftover cooked veggies is a good thing.
Limit the amount you buy so that the last batch is not begging for airtime in the crisper as the replacement comes in the front door. And don't cook in bulk to save money if you hate leftovers. Put the extras right into marked containers in the freezer and then eat them.
Buy in Bulk
Every time our food is handled for packaging, the price goes up so that the worker can be paid. To measure, fill and label a jar costs the same whether it is a gallon of pickles or just a few grams. That is one of the reasons that large quantities of products are sometimes not much more than the small amounts. It was not really the product in the jar or bag that costs the money, it was the transportation, storage, workers, labels and marketing. And food producers aren't unaware of our habit of running in and grabbing just what we need for the least amount of money. They make a lot more profit selling small amounts twenty times a day than one big one.
Our savings are in that bigger size package. Naturally, we would all be buying large sizes if we had the money, right? But it's frequently impossible to invest in a flat of tomatoes when we haven't paid for our bus pass to get to work.
This is where the co-op comes in handy. If you can find a friend or two to share the cost, it gets easier to buy a flat or large package. If you can find five friends and buy the giant size, all the better. It takes very little to start a food co-op. Someone needs the ability to get to a grocery store when there is a good sale on and bring home the largest size they can manage. Everyone else needs to pitch in their portion of costs, and to have lots of small bags and jars on hand for divvying up the abundance. Someone needs a small scale or measuring cups so that flour and grains can be divided fairly. And then you're all off home with sacks of affordable loot.
Politics in these groups differ depending on circumstances, so things can be as casual or formal as the members desire. And if a group doesn't suit you, start one that does. Be watchful of someone doing more than their share. They may be good at what they are doing, but be sure to lighten their load or they may back out.
This is a step beyond buying bulk food or large sizes from your grocery store. You can approach wholesalers and distributors and ask their minimum amount for opening an account. Buying this way gives you even better savings because you cut out the middle guy. You do have to come up with a whack of dough to get started, and the more you buy, the greater the responsibility of collecting funds from a larger number of people. You also need a reasonable sized space to unload and distribute this food from, and the greater issues of keeping insects at bay and worrying about what to do with a case of frozen fish when the power goes out. Still, this system works.
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