Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Going Organic in this Economy

...is not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. For many reasons, both for our health as well as our desire to live a little more peacefully with the planet and the other animals that inhabit it, we have made the decision to eat more local, organic, naturally produced, chemical and hormone-free, ecologically responsible foods. This presents a dilemma, of course, for a frugal girl to navigate, seeing as how organic seems expensive. But surprisingly I am quickly learning that with the right adjustments, some that we are making, some that are just happening, you can do organic without increasing your food budget. Here's what I've learned:
  • We eat less-meat, or meatless. This is so easy to do with pastured, grass fed animal products. The eggs, for example, that are produced by cage free and grass fed chickens, are so rich you only need one egg! Plus they are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and beta-carotene. Regular eggs don't measure up to this because the chickens are fed a steady diet of corn. Corn is not the natural diet of any beast. Also, if you are paying a higher rate for your meats, you will naturally learn to eat less, which is so much better for your health.
  • We try to avoid processed foods. We are only okay at avoiding processed, though we get better all the time. We make exceptions when we can get something on sale or with a coupon, and yes you can find deals on websites like coupons.com even on organic foods. Also a quick google search can land you a lot of organic coupon websites. The best thing, though, is to wean yourself off of stuff that comes in boxes altogether. The closer to the original form of the food you get, the more nutrition you get. One thing we're doing a lot more is eating fruit, and not drinking juice. We also bake a good bit of our own breads and add our own whole grains. Yet we can't quite kick the golden arches yet. We are human.
  • We waste less. Eating better quality foods has opened my eyes to how much wasting we do as a family. When you paid almost $5 for the gallon of antibiotic free, grass fed, pastured-cow's milk, you don't keep filling the sippy cup to the top only to have the kid refuse to drink it. Now the kids get managable portions of food and milk, with seconds only if they ask for them. Ditto for the bag of romaine hearts---you don't let them turn brown in the fridge because they were an investment!
  • We think of your food as an investment. I have been considering how eating right will save medical bills down the road.
  • We learn about how our food was made. For me this whole odyssey began after I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, and learned all about the horrible conditions animals suffer in at the industrial farms, or CAFOs as they are called. Aside from being very cruel, you can also clearly see why they end up having to give so many antibiotics and growth hormones to the animals. If we "vote with our dollars" I vote for the local farm market where I can meet the guy who raised my beef and chicken and lettuce.
  • We try to eat seasonally. It's both cheaper and tastier. Eating bing cherries shipped from God knows where, in December, just isn't right. Also I have learned if you are looking to make the move to eating only local meats, there are certain meats for certain seasons: cows and sheep are slaughtered in the fall; in a natural setting, these animals are too young in the spring to eat. It also happily makes sense that we would require a boost of red meat protein in the winter, when our fruits and veggies are not at their peak.
  • We grow our own. Last year I proved that two 8 x 8 foot beds can produce enough food to make a vegetarian meal a day for two adults (plus the bits that the kids picked at) for at least a month or two out of the summer, and it really wasn't that hard. You can do great things with containers too.
  • We learned not to try to do it all at once. For us this has been maybe a year long process, making small changes here and there along the way, plus reading and learning. Going to the local organic mega-mart and buying all the organic brands of the foods you are used to will give you the kind of sticker shock that will have you swearing off organic forever. Better to focus on one thing at a time.
  • We make meals an event, especially when we have something awesome to eat. We sit at the table together and drink from glasses and use cloth napkins every day. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a package of four grass-fed, free range lamb. (Granted I broke the rule about eating lamb out of season, oh well.) We opened a nice bottle of red wine and served it with some asparagus, then cooked the lamb on our cast iron skillet, with just a bit of seasoning. We sat and ate and talked and it was just really good. I think we didn't eat meat for two days after that, not because we were trying, but because the well prepared meal was so satisfying that we literally didn't need any meat.
  • All in all, our food bill hasn't changed, though the makeup of our foods has. We don't follow all this 100%; if a particular food is too high, then I go with the industrially produced version. Cereal is something that I can't seem to go totally organic with because I can always find coupons to make my cereal purchases under $1.50 a box, and I know these cereals are a good source of fiber as well as vitamin enriched, so though not ideal, it's an economic must for us with two small boys at home. And that's okay. We can at least say that we are coming closer all the time to having our food choices reflect our life values.


  1. Glad you liked the rings. They are really easy to make. All you need to buy are those adjustable rings and glue the old buttons to them.

    Just read your last post-Wow-I love what you are doing!
    Did you read the book Animal,Vegetable,Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver? You MUST read it if you haven't. You are doing more or less what she did and then wrote a book about it. Her family made a pledge to only eat food they grew themselves or from a local farmer's market for a year. They were scared at first that they would starve but it turned out so well that they have kept it up. The book even has recipes to follow.
    I try to do what I can where I live but here in Puerto Rico it is very hard. Almost everything is imported-but still there are some small things I do. I have the book Omnivore's Dilemma but haven't gotten around to reading it yet.
    Good luck with your eating...I am sure you will see that you feel better when you eat better, right?

  2. Great post, I've been thinking about the change in diet as well, thanks for all the info! I also posted about what mudding is in case you are interested.

  3. Shannon, what a useful entry! Matt and I are doing pretty well eating few "land and sky" animals (but if you swim: get in my belly). And we also try to eat locally and organically. At times it IS noticably nore expensive, which we then chalk up to our "giving program" -- we are investing in safer agriculture with our purchase. It is nice to appreciate the food we are blessed to have, rather than treating it like "shovel food" that you just shovel into your gullet. Feeling satisfied begins in the mind and I have learned a lot by seeing where your head is at!