Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Recession and Responsibility

In a time of lay-offs, wage freezes, pay cuts and rising food prices, how is it possible to resist the urge to abandon responsible farming and ranching practices for the siren's call of low prices for low-quality food?

I've been guilty of never thinking about how much food costs.  (I would be a terrible The Price is Right contestant!)  For years now, I've sought out local/organic/biodynamic food and never thought about how much I was actually spending until we started discussing our pressing need of new transportation.  Unfortunately, we live in a place, like most towns in America, where driving is a necessity.  The city is spread-out, bus schedules are inconvenient and infrequent and there is no tax support for improving public transportation.

We have old cars that are falling apart and don't get great gas mileage.  Thankfully, due to the fact that I work at home, we can get by on one new car rather than two.  However, a car payment will be a huge adjustment for us.  I started looking at our credit card statements and realized that we spent over $600 on food and liquor last month.  I was rather shocked because there are only two of us and we're rather normal-sized people who aren't marathon runners or alcoholics.  Is it possible to spend two-thirds (or even half) that amount and still feel good about what I buy?

I've done a lot of research into cutting a food budget and, frankly, most of it doesn't appeal to me.  Every time I try to clip coupons, there's rarely ever a coupon for anything I would eat, because most coupons are for processed foods and store specials tend to be on conventionally-raised meat or non-organic produce.  I also looked into Once a Month Cooking, but I find that concept rather bleak (I think having to eat exclusively foods that freeze well is rather limiting and I couldn't face having to make an entire month's meals in one day) and I have a tiny freezer and no microwave.

One place I know I can start is by significantly reducing our food waste.  According to Wasted Food, more than 40% of the food produced in America is thrown away.  Granted, much of it is thrown away because no one buys it, but a good chunk is thrown away after it goes home with us.

The plan for now is to shop more often, taking stock of what is in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry before going to the grocery store or farmer's market.  I'm going to only shop for a day or two at a time, so I don't accumulate a lot of food that will just go bad before I use it.  I also think that eating out contributes to our food going bad before we get around to it, so we're going to attempt to eat at home every night.  Granted, we get invited out to eat occasionally and sometimes we just want to go get Chinese food, but we're not going to say, "Oh, we don't feel like cooking or doing dishes.  Let's just go out."  In addition, it's also near-impossible to eat ethically in a restaurant.

I'll keep you updated on our progress and share any tips along the way.  Let me know if you have any suggestions!


I may have to get creative with leftovers.  How about these chicken croquettes shaped like chickens:
from a 1929 Mirro recipe booklet


Further information on responsible food:

  • Here's a link to video from today's The Future of Food conference at Georgetown University.  If you have the chance, be sure to watch these videos.  Georgetown got an all-star lineup!
  • If you haven't seen it, please rent Food, Inc.  It's also available streaming from Netflix.
  • You might also like Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution, a film about a community in France that decides to change the food in school cafeterias and their meals on wheels program.  You can also watch this film on Netflix Watch Instantly.
  • Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Nina Planck's Real Food give the whys and wherefores of changing what you eat.
  • A Slice of Organic Life by Sheherazade Goldsmith, The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and The New English Kitchen by Rose Prince are all excellent resources to help you make that change.
  • Visit for a list of farmer's markets and producers in your area.


  1. I totally feel ya on this topic. My boyfriend and I shop pretty exclusively at the farmers market. We spend about $20-25 each week for our week's worth of food. Granted, my beau is vegan, so he eats a plant-based diet that is also wallet friendly. I think the biggest thing that helps us save is eating at home more. We cook dinner at home nearly every night, using up the veggies we bought at the farmers market. My bf also cooks a little extra each night for dinner so he has something for lunch the next day, which I think really helps keep the food bill down. I am excited to see what things you come up with!! :)

  2. It is so easy to spend (and buy) too much at the grocery store. Eating at home more should make a huge difference in money. Shopping every other day also works well - I liked it when I managed to do that one summer. Eating lunch at home has also helped our food budget!

  3. I am very passionate about the local and slow food movements, as well. I shop like Europeans do: every day or so, head to the market and buy fresh where possible. I also try to shop the outer aisles--that's where the non-processed food is kept--produce, dairy, bakery, butcher. The middle aisles are usually where the processed food is stored (according to my brother, who is a grocery store manager).

    We also have gotten into canning/preserving and freezing goodies from the local markets and our own kitchen garden, so we have veggies and fruit to last us through the winter. Mind you, we're VERY lucky here: I live in the heart of Canada's Niagara region, so our local grocery stores stock local produce, meat, cheeses, dairy, eggs, you name it for many months of the year. Also, orchards and farms are right outside our door. Anyway, I think there are little ways you can stick to a slowfood 1,000 mile diet and save money, even while living in suburbia. Just takes a little strategizing? Good luck with everything!

  4. I find that I save the most on groceries when I stick to buying raw ingredients rather than prepared food (olive oil and vinegar instead of prepared dressings, baking ingredients instead of boxed cookies).

    While it is true that most processed food is in the center of the store, that is also where you will find the olive oil, flour, sugar, rice, cornmeal, bulghar, couscous, dried beans, pasta and the like. I find that it saves me money to have less perishable pantry staples on hand.

    And, you might consider a vegetable garden . . .

  5. I have one more tip: cut up your vegetables when you bring them home. Roast some. You will be more likely to eat the vegetables before they go bad if they are already cleaned and cut up. You will be more likely to snack on them if they are ready to eat.

  6. Mom and Emily- leftovers for lunch is a great idea--helps break up the monotony! I'll have to plan on doing that more often. I get really tired of the same lunch every day. (But, oddly, not the same breakfast!)

    Baroness- you are lucky to live in such a fruitful part of the continent! I'm jealous. Local produce is tricky here because most of the land in Kansas is devoted to commodities. Thankfully, we have a farm share program! I'd love to know a little more about your experiences with canning. I'm tempted to give it a try.

    Laura- Your tip on cooking vegetables at once is a great one. I'll definitely apply this to potatoes! Unfortunately, any gardening we do has to fit in a container, since we rent. I'd love to have a real kitchen garden someday. I've got a few things going in pots right now; we'll see how they turn out.

  7. It would probably shock me if I examined how much I spend on food in a month. However, using up leftovers is a great idea. The chicken croquettes are cute.

  8. I hear you. We spend a lot of money of food and liquor too.

    I'm with you on the coupon clipping. It's not really saving money if you are saving money on stuff you never buy.

    I am always torn between going shopping once a week, versus every couple of days. I see your point, but the more times I go to the store, the more often I find stuff I randomly can't live with out. Good luck with the car payments. :-(

  9. I agree as well. i try to buy local produce where I can, but I also look at what I already have in the freezer and buy food to go with that to make meals, so I don't just purchase random things that are more likely to end up in the bin. xx

  10. oh thanks for all these so interesting links. I only knew the french film. I (just like you) only eat organic and mostly local food. to spend as little as possible, i only buy non transformed fresh products. maybe you can subscribe to a local farmer cooperative where you live? do you know about CSA (community supported agriculture)?

  11. i looove the farmer's market! my family tries to shop there as much as possible. Supporting local food is such a good cause!<3

    love, polly

  12. I love how you and I were both on the same page last week. It's taken me too long to post it, but I think there is definitely something to be said for savvy but healthy food planning. It's tricky though!


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