Friday, July 24, 2009

How Much Are You Willing to Pay for Food?

This passage from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for me:

“Grocery money is an odd sticking point for U.S. citizens, who on average spend a lower proportion of our income of food than people in any other country, or any heretofore in history. In our daily fare, even in school lunches, we broadly justify consumption of tallow-fried animal pulp on the grounds that it’s cheaper than whole grains, fresh vegetables, hormone-free dairy, and such. Whether on school boards or in families budget keepers may be aware of the health tradeoff but still feel compelled to economize on food – in a manner that would be utterly unacceptable if the health risk involved an unsafe family vehicle or a plume of benzene running through a school basement.”

So I (like almost everyone else who has read this insightful, compelling book) am officially starting our family’s mini food “revolution”. In fact, you can read all about it here.

I’m starting slow, as I want to get this right. I’m trying to balance organic and local, making sure nobody feels "deprived" and re-working our household budget to accommodate any food cost increases (although I believe they’ll be minimal when we move away from frequent eating out and processed foods…albeit organic ones, but still) and move to making more items from scratch. I think the additional “cost” will come more in the currency of time than money, but responsible eating is time well spent -- I firmly believe that.

I’m curious about what others are doing. (I love this account from our green nest on how their family of three affords to eat 100% organic on $100 a week!) What percentage of your food budget is spent on organic food, local food? Do you have a garden? How often do you go to the farmer’s market? What do you always buy conventional?


  1. I buy a mixture of local, organic, and conventional foods, depending on money, availability, and [i'll admit] impulse. We cook a lot of food from scratch and buy ingredients in bulk, an preserve veggies when they're fresh, so last winter, my husband and I didn't go to the grocery store for 2 months! And we're pretty new to this.
    Just this weekend, we picked two gallons of wild raspberries in a neighbor's back field. Totally free, and so many more raspberries than I could afford to buy. They are in our freezer now, waiting for December tarts, and February smoothies.

  2. Raheli -- i am insanely jealous of your raspberry five year old is nuts for raspberries...and the good ones are so pricey!

  3. I think maybe my household could use a "food" revolution, too. Though I do buy a mix of organic, local and conventional foods now, I'm sure there are things I could be doing to cut out more of the conventional and add in more organic/local. The biggest thing for me is to take advantage of farmer's markets during the summers so I can stock up on all the fruits and veggies and flowers (which I know aren't food, but I still feel better about buying locally).

    I just might have to get that book.

  4. I try to buy organic for the "top 10" pesticide-riddled fruits, and I am less picky about the list of produce least-affected by non-organic practices. Milk products and eggs are organic, cheese we're working on. Local for sure.

    I've been making a bigger effort to eat local, seasonal foods and go to the farmer's market, since it seems silly to buy organic produce from another hemisphere. It's hard to resist mangoes, though... sigh.

  5. A timely post for me. My husband and I were at the grocery store last night for hours. We're very new to eating organic and local, but interested. There's just so much to learn. So lucky I can read about your journey!

  6. Great post, Jos!
    Our new strategy is pretty simple. We get our CSA box every week and base most of our meals around those veggies. I keep good quality dried grains in the pantry.
    Because we're mostly eating out of our box, we can easily afford to buy high quality, organic meat once a week. It's pricey, but I'd rather have expensive, good meat once a week than cheap factory farmed meat every night.

  7. This has been a learning process for me... And I'm still getting there.

    - We spend $15 on a CSA box - and I buy other random fruits and vegetables that are on sale - the CSA usually sustains us and form our meals

    - I am part of a food coop at my work - we buy raw milk, raw honey, farm raised eggs, and bison for great prices

    - I am part of a Frontier Catalog group - thats where I get cleaning supplies, personal products, and bulk spices for wholesale!

    - I go to Wholefoods for bulk items: beans, lentils, nuts, etc

    - I got to Trader Joes for random items, canned tomatoes, cheese, olive oil, vinegar, etc, etc.

    ... we try to avoid most processed foods (some sneak in there), we don't drink soda, and we don't eat fast food.

    I actually enjoy the process: finding the best deals, organizing it all.. but I'm strange!

    Thanks for sharing :)

  8. i try to buy local getting as much as i can from the farmers market, if not local, then organic, if not that, then conventional. we spend a lot of money on food but that's also because we eat out a lot. i actually need to run to the farmers market now for milk!

  9. I have a friend who is a coupon queen - really amazingly skilled at finding food bargains. We've been discussing how to do organic/local without significantly increasing budget. As with all things, you get what you pay for, and higher quality ingredients are going to cost more. However, farmers' market produce seems to be very reasonably priced and even our tiny back yard garden is proving to be an inexpensive source for us this summer. As you say, cooking at home and cooking from scratch is much cheaper than eating out, so I think there's a trade off that families will see if they'll take the dive.

  10. I love this topic (of course:) and it's so interesting to hear what others do. I have to say that since that post was written in March, Lovebug has been eating alot more food so it's pretty much at $125 a week right now (but still 100% organic) although our weekly trip to the farmer's mkt really helps keep it at that amount or a tad bit below it. Hopefully soon we're going to have some bounty from our garden too which will further help a bit...Anyway, looking forward to reading other comments on this much-loved topic of mine! :)

  11. We aren't 100% organic, but all of our summer produce (with the exception of some occasional boxed organic spinach and citrus) is local. My boy is allergic to growth hormones in dairy, so all of our dairy and meats are at a minimum hormone and antibiotic free. Most are local. I'm less picky about dried beans, but I get my grains from WF. Next weekend we're headed to a city with a Trader Joe's, so we'll stock up on sustainable fish, organic dry goods, and other organic pantry staples. I think we spend well under $300 a month on all of our groceries, but I have a well-stocked pantry, so I spend less frequently. My weekly farmers market runs average $20 unless I'm buying tomatoes to can (14 quarts for $14, pesticide free), meats, goat cheese (he's bi-weekly). We're drying figs from our tree, freezing and drying (fruit leather!) peaches from a local orchard (no sprays!), and going to get more (again, no sprays) blueberries to dry tomorrow. My summer fruit cup runneth over!

  12. Jos -- This is my first year making an effort to harvest wild growing foods, and I'm quite shocked by our raspberry bounty.

    Also -- I just got chickens last year and love having fresh as-local-as-they-come eggs! It's super easy, and I encourage everyone with a little space to try it! We free-range ours, but you can keep yours in a coop & feed them kitchen & garden scraps, as well as an organic feed. One of my hens has just gone broody & is sitting on a nest of eggs, so we might have babies in another two weeks!

  13. I am so in love with this blog and all it's great wealth of information!

    All of our fruits and vegetables are organic, if not available at the Farmer's Market (frequented 2-3 times a week), then we don't buy them. I make granola, beans, grains, etc. from the organic section of local markets/WF. We also pick blackberries and other great seasonal fruits that are growing in open spaces near our home. Meat is rarely purchased, and if it is, I only buy from the local farms. In fact, I'm trying to 'wean' us off meat because I do not want my daughter to eat it and I feel much better being vegetarian. My goal is to have a place for a garden next year and grow most of our food. Our budget is somewhat open when it comes to food - if we need it, then we buy it. I'm a firm believer in "you are what you eat" and if most people considered this, then most likely doctors offices wouldn't be so filled with sick patients(sorry, I digress).

    Living in Northern California affords me the beautiful luxury of endless organic bounty, and I am beyond thankful to call this magnificent place home.

  14. We just moved out of my parent's basement, and to my delight, there is a farmer's market just a few blocks away. I find it so wonderful to go there and buy what is fresh and local, and plan my meals around those foods. Since it is summer, it is mostly fruit, so we eat a lot of simple protein (i.e. grilled on the barbeque) with fresh fruit. I have loved replacing all of the processed snacks that we ate at my parents house with fresh fruits. I've loved this little blog of yours, and my kids will be eternally grateful.

  15. Oh! We are also fortunate to have grass-fed/local/organic/humane beef from my parents little farm. It is such a huge difference. They also grow fabulous tomatoes and chiles. Summer is so wonderful!

  16. Great post. Find this so interesting.

    We actually live in Asia and have two daughters, 3 1/2 and 1 1/2.

    We buy all our fruits, vegetables, eggs, seafood and tofu at traditional local markets we visit twice or three times a week. We eat vegetarian - seafood once a week - at home (and our oldest just began kinder and eats vegetarian there) simply because there is so much variety in the fresh vegetables available here. We buy organic brown rice from a local store, make pasta, breads, crackers and cookies from scratch. We limit the processed sugars and cook with honey and molasses.

    I keep a calendar in the kitchen to plan meals and we rarely eat the same meal twice in a month.

    Each Tuesday evening we have a 'social consciousness dinner' of a bowl of single grain (millet, quinoa, brown rice) and put the equivalent of $5 USD in a can to donate to a food bank. Over dinner we discuss with the girls how the majority of the world eats this meal once a day at best. It's made a real impact on them and reminds Mama and Papa as well our abundances.

    Thanks for beginning this blog and I look forward to following it.

  17. Matt -- I think the 'social consciousness dinner' is one of the best ideas ever. definitely plan to steal ;-)

  18. We are a family of four (two adults, and two children, who are ages 3 and 4.) We are 100% organic. We are also dairy free, soy free, gluten free, and low sugar. We mostly eat (at home), protein, and veggies (not a lot of starch - b/c it just turns to sugar.)

    I'm a foodie, and love to cook. So my husband and I "cheat" on the w/e's. I'll make something a bit "extra special." And I DO love cheese - but just on the weekends!

    I once read that a family of four w/ two children under the age of five have an average grocery bill of between $500-$1,000 a month. I try to keep ours at around $150 a week (this includes eating out & wine.)

    I make a list on Saturday of what we're going to eat for the week. And early Sunday morning I go to Whole Foods first, then to our local grocery store. I spend $60 at WF's and the rest at the grocery store. We live in the city, so there are not a lot of farmer's markets to choose from. But if there were, I'd go there, too.

  19. About a year ago we started doing 95% of our grocery shopping at Whole Food, mostly organic items, and if not organic, we choose local (origin is clearly displayed at Whole Foods).

    I was concerned that we may spend too much on groceries. Around the same time I started planning most of the meals for the week, making sure to eat one meal of fish, one of beans, etc. The planning allowed me to buy only exactly what we need and to balance expensive meals with almost free bean/rice meals. Overall I don't think we spend more than before. I try to keep our weekly grocery bill between $100 and $150 for a family of 4.