I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately. In the midst of not blogging for a week, taking some time to reset my priorities, I found that I couldn’t turn off the part of my brain that was trying to wrap itself around all of the questions of food and eating and mindfulness; mentally, I was blogging anyway, or at least trying to. I still took a little time to read others’ blogs and articles, too — always learning, that’s me. In some ways, it’s possibly worse for me, sanity-wise, to NOT blog, because then I’m not giving voice to all the stuff that wants to come out.
One very important realization came to me, though, during those seven days or so of “time off” from the blog; and J. and I have been talking it through somewhat carefully, examining the evidence, looking at it from all angles before deciding what to do. We’ve realized that this business of trying to be more conscious eaters and feeders of our children is a multi-level journey, which we can choose to arrest at any point. There are gradations of conscious eating just as there are of almost any other philosophical or ideological practice in the world. There are those who swear off any and all processed food, to the extent that they won’t even eat commercially milled flour or grains of any type; there are those who eat exclusively locavore diets; there are those for whom conscious eating extends only as far as taping a list of the “Dirty Dozen” to their refrigerators and buying Annie’s mac and cheese instead of Kraft. It’s all a matter of individual principles and comfort level.
For many people, though, it IS a journey, not a single plateau, and J. and I feel as though we’re ready to take another small step down the road. One of the things I’ve talked about quite a bit over the past few months is this idea of affordability — quantitative value vs. qualitative value. We still don’t have all the answers to that. But as we’ve been pushed closer and closer to the edge of being truly, deeply troubled by things like GMOs and staph-resistant bacteria in conventionally raised meats, we’ve started to see that it may no longer be a question of luxurious priorities that shapes where we shop and what we eat; it’s becoming a matter of firm belief that there IS no other way for us to be certain of doing our best to protect the kids’ health (and our own).
With all of this in mind, as well as a hectic weekend schedule that kept J. from doing his Friday evening grocery store run, I proposed to him that we try a little experiment. I would take L. with me to Whole Foods and do an ENTIRE week’s worth of shopping only at that store, and spend no more than $200. (We’ve recently re-calculated our household budget, partly because of the rising cost of food and gas, and determined that in order to comfortably feed us all within our standards of quality, $200 was a manageable upper limit. For those who are curious, without snacks, that comes out to about $2.38 per person, per meal.)
I didn’t know if we could do it, truthfully, but I was damned determined that I’d give it the best shot I could. And surprisingly, even with a splurge of $18 worth of smoked salmon in the cart, and the purchase of two whole roasting chickens that weren’t needed this week, but which were on sale, we were EXACTLY at $200 when we got to the register.
When I got home and showed J. the receipt, he was as much in shock as I was. I’ve said before that we realized a while back that many items we tend to purchase ARE more affordable at Whole Foods than at a conventional grocery, but I’d never done our WHOLE shopping list there, produce and all. This trip proved that every single item, from fruits and vegetables all the way through to yogurt and nuts, was either priced comparably to our chain grocer, or was even cheaper. (Meat is the only exception, but we knew that, and I’ll pay more for grass-fed beef any day.)
However, there’s no room for extras, we observed; while we plan to spend the rest of the spring and summer shopping as exclusively as possible at our farmer’s market and at Whole Foods, going to the large grocery only for very occasional selected purchases (like major deals on plain Cheerios or oats, or the great price they often have on a high-quality 2-lb. block of our favorite cheddar — which isn’t even carried at Whole Foods), we know that it will likely mean we have to stop doing something we’ve gotten all too accustomed to doing. We’ve become lazy and indulgent with ourselves and have started jaunting to the store for the odd trip during the week to pick up extras of this, or to replace a bit of that, when we see we’re running low. We find we’d like more of something in the house for whatever reason, and we pop out to get it, as long as it’s not a big expense. Unfortunately, that type of habit quickly adds up and could take us dangerously over our budget limits if we allow it to continue.
“We just have to think more carefully about what we buy, and how we eat it,” I told J., illustrating my point by crafting six smallish burgers out of just under a pound and a half of white meat turkey (in another time of our lives, we’d have gotten four or five burgers out of that much meat). “We’ll round out the meal with extra greens and fresh fruit, and we’ll just have to realize that there is no more to be had. Besides, this is a perfectly appropriate portion of meat, and it’s good for us to watch that.”
He agreed, though I could see him warily eyeing the size of the things — when I met J., he’d think nothing of knocking back 2 or 3 conventional burgers at a backyard barbecue. But after the meal, he admitted that he was more than satisfied and happy to have had the excuse to eat so many vegetables. (So was I.)
With this new mindset, we’re having to adapt in ways I hadn’t considered, but I’m so glad that we are. Instead of buying tortillas and pita bread this week, though I knew we’d need both, I reached for the whole wheat flour in my pantry and made both from scratch. (Turns out that the extra effort is SO worth it — both were so far superior to market varieties that I don’t think I’d want to go back.) And tonight, with a planned “breakfast for dinner” on the menu but only 2 eggs in the refrigerator, I had to get very creative very quickly in order to avoid falling back into old patterns and going out for ingredients.
We happened to have some organic sourdough bread in the house, which was rapidly going stale; and of course, our freezer wouldn’t be our freezer without a well-stocked drawer of frozen fruits and berries. It occurred to me that if we were really going to work in this new model of “making do,” we’d make something out of nothing, and that’s what we did.
Who knew you could make a decent French toast dish with only two eggs? The resulting casserole, with so little egg in the custard vs. the ratio of other ingredients, was feathery-light; the bread itself almost became a silky custard to complement the fruit. We served a little nitrate-free uncured bacon alongside, and a platter of raw vegetables and fruits in case anyone wanted to nibble. But no one really did — we were too happy with our “humble” makeshift meal.