Little bitty steps to change the food world

We lost the Safeway nearby our house about four or five months ago. There was some sort of scuffle over the lease, and Safeway moved out.  It was sudden–and for me–dismaying.  I am a Safeway customer, and have been for many years.  Not that any other store is better or worse, but once you are used to a particular market, it saves time (and money) to shop there.

But mainly, I loved Safeway’s fairly recent Organics brand.

As I live in Suburbia, there are many other supermarkets within a very short distance, two within a mile. There is also, if I want to drive an extra couple of miles (and spend a lot more money), a Whole Foods, which I enjoy visiting, but don’t enjoy shopping regularly since they are so MUCH more expensive.  It’s not that I can’t afford it–I can.  It’s just that it goes against the grain for me, raised by a mother who could feed a family of six for a week on seven cents, to spend twice as much on groceries.

That said, I am a big believer in organic food, and in supporting that industry as much as possible.  ItGirlscoldframe makes a difference–organic eggs are more expensive, but imagine how many more chickens are living reasonably decent lives.  I’ve discovered I’m quite sensitive to the hormones added to milk and meat, and eating cleanly there is worth it.   Safeway made that quite possible, and for a reasonable rise in cost. 

There are cost issues in eating organically, even in eating whole foods.  One of my side-jobs stints was as a residential aide in boarding homes for functional schizophrenics (which is where a lot of the material in Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas came from). The food budget for the houses was small and had to last a month, so the group meals relied heavily on trash meats like pressed lunch meats, white pasta, white bread, sugary drinks that can be mixed with water, lots of coffee.  At least there was a lot of milk, and some eggs.  As a whole-foods person, I was shocked at the poor (practically non-existent) nutrition available in that food–and I couldn’t help but wonder how much better the residents would function if they consumed whole grains and organic meats and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’d still be interested in studies that examined the functionality of schizophrenics eating whole foods vs those eating that old-school cafeteria style mush.

But it was an issue of cost. The homes were always struggling to stay afloat and house as many clients as possible (to save them either from the state hospital or living on the street–not great alternatives), so eating whole, highly nutritious foods is a long way down the list of priorities.   

The same is true of feeding a family on a budget–whole and organic foods cost more.   It takes a lot more time for a busy mother to get to the farmer’s market than to stop by the supermarket on the way home.  If the organic meat is $7 and the regular is $4, most budget minded mothers have to choose the $4 version. 

Which brings us back to Safeway and their much more affordable Organics line.  Bulk organics creates a standard for the food industry–if we as consumers say we want whole, organic produce and a meat supply that’s unpolluted with chemicals and harvested from animals who have been treated humanely through their lives, then the price comes down.  We change the world by changing little bitty things, one at a time. 

So, here’s today’s food challenge: pick two or three things you will commit to buying organically for now. Milk is insanely expensive at the moment, so if you haven’t started that, choose something easier for awhile.   Eggs are a good place to start.  There are lots available in most grocery stores.   And then choose two other things–peppers, maybe, or onions, or adding one pound of natural chicken to your usual week’s shopping.   If you are raising children, I highly recommend either skipping beef entirely or choosing natural, antibiotic and hormone free.

Who has other tips for whole and organic eating on a budget?   Have you tried adding organics to your food cart?

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13 thoughts on “Little bitty steps to change the food world

  1. HB

    Not only are organics expensive, but healthy food generally. When I went on a healthy food eating plan, I was shocked at how much more the whole grains, etc. cost than the easy (unhealthy) foods. It’s really too bad.

  2. Mel

    I’ve been doing organic eggs for ages (or where there’s no organic, at least free range) because I hate the thought of the hens in those cages. I’m trying to do other things like flour and meat when I can…the vegetables are ridiculous at the moment. The normal ones are sky high prices, let alone the organic stuff.

    Did they show Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s School Dinners” in the US, where he goes into a school (UK schools having much the same budget approach as your boarding houses apparently) and changed the menus from junk to good stuff (nearly getting lynched by the students at one point for getting rid of the chips etc). It was amazing the behavioural differences in the kids. They’ve expanded the programme over there now…food for thought.

  3. Denise

    This is a very relevant subject for me. I am gluten intolerant and have an auto immune disease as a result of only recently being diagnosed with g.i. I have to be SO careful about what I eat…of all the foods on the planet, there are about twenty that I can eat as my body has developed sensitivities to so many foods.

    Organic is definitely better. On one of the morning news shows there was a piece on which foods are worth buying organic and which are not.

    The Dirty Dozen that you should ALWAYS buy organic because no matter how much you wash them you cannot eliminate all the pesticides, etc are:

    strawberries

    raspberries

    blueberries

    cherries

    apples

    peaches

    nectarines

    apricots

    plums

    potatoes

    tomatoes and Onions I think

    not 100% sure on the last two(and I can’t find my list at the moment, I’ll look for it) but basically the thin skinned fruits and veggies. The one surprise for me was potatoes.

    The okay to buy NOT organic were the thick skinned fruits such as bananas, grapefruits, oranges. Those are the only three I am 100% sure about.

    I buy organic when it’s in season and affordable in the categories (above) that matter.
    Organic chicken when it’s been moved to “reduced for quick sale”.

    My naturopathic doctor is of the opinion that caged chickens are crazy chickens and are incapable of producing good healthy eggs. She contends that organic eggs can be very beneficial, particularly during menopause and post menopause.

    RE: the schizophrenia issue…our bodies basically run on a bunch of chemical reactions, so of course it matters what food we put in them. I think there is a lot of evidence supporting how important diet is in treating mental illness symptoms. The high carb simple sugar diet exacerbates them. We certainly know how sugar affects children!

    Kind of off topic…did you know that low thyroid produces many symptoms that mimic ADD…inability to concentrate or stay on task and terrible organization skills are a few. Many kids being diagnosed as ADD and treated with drugs are actually low thyroid.

  4. Oh, Barbara, I loved this post! We try to buy organic or pesticide/hormone free whenever possible. One struggle that I have is that we often shop at Costco where the prices are good, but their organic range tends to be very limited.

    One thing that I want to look into is delivery of a share of organically-grown local produce. (In addition to buying organic, I try to buy locally grown food produce and meats to cut down on the carbon footprint for what we eat.) There is an outfit that delivers all over Colorado, and I have to admit that part of me is intrigued by the challenge of actually cooking things that are in season! Here is the link to the Colorado outfit that does this.

    http://denver.doortodoororganics.com/

    Not to be too Colorado-centric, but have you ever been to Vitamin Cottage? They have locations all over the state. This company is perhaps the worst-branded grocery store on earth. It’s a more affordable version of Whole Foods, and they only stock organic produce even if it means that they don’t have onions that week! They also have naturally-raised meats and hormone-free dairy products. I’ve heard that the store is committed to selling produce at 10% over wholesale, so the prices are very good. You might try it out.

    I have to laugh whenever I go into “Whole Paycheck” at the unbelievable prices there. Back when we lived in Cambridge, MA, we lived less than a block from the Whole Foods, which was very dangerous indeed. : )

  5. I’m totally with you here. My supermarket, Publix offers a line of organics from produce to meats to boxed items. They occasionally put those items on sale and when they do, I snap them up. We gave up red meat at the beginning of the year and are happier for it. Committing to a few organic items is a great idea. I also try to get to the farmer’s market when I can and patronize a local vegan restaurant that uses slow foods and organic items.

  6. Such lovely tips and commitment!

    Melissa, I LOVE the link to the organic delivery group. I may give that a try. And you know, there is a Vitamin Cottage not far away. I have been there, but not often, and you’re right–they’re more affordable.

    I don’t want anyone to think I dislike Whole Foods, because I *love* it. It’s one of the most beautiful supermarkets ever, and it’s an artist’s date to simple go wander around in there, admiring the wholesomeness and delight of all the displays (especially the delis and cheese case and produce). I also love the general happiness of the employees. It’s expensive to shop there for good reasons. So I’m not dissing the place, just looking for ways budget-minded shoppers can share in the organic and whole foods world.

    All of our little steps do add up.

  7. Denise, fascinating info on eggs and on low thyroid.

    I strongly believe a lot of problems are based in nutrition–either a lack of good nutrition, or sensitivities to various compounds. And we’re all so very, very particular beings in our own skins.

  8. I think I’m quite fortunate here, because I have easy access to organic food direct from the suppliers. aka. my family, who own a sheep property and also have a few cattle. And ME, who has a large organic vegie plot in a local community garden. If I don’t grow it, my neighbouring “plotter” surely does and there’s a lot of basic bartering/swapping that goes on.
    Many, many of my artist dates have been spent in my community garden. It is just a superb place to spend time in. There’s something about sticking your hands in soil that (no pun intended) completely grounds you.

  9. Renee, that is so true–sticking your hands in the soil IS grounding. I have often had a vegetable garden of my own, but this property doesn’t loan itself well to that purpose. It’s also a very short growing season (I am just not getting a few ripe tomatoes!) which I’m sure I can work with once I remember that it isn’t Pueblo, which has a luxurious season .

  10. Eating healthy is darned expensive. My only tip is to pray a Trader Joe’s is near you. They have good, organic produce that is often cheaper than regular produce in the regular store. (They do have non-organic, too, so you have to look at the labels.)

  11. There are rumors that a Trader Joe’s might be coming to our neighborhood. We’re all crossing our fingers.

  12. I know I am coming in a little late with the comment here, but I read this blog entry and the idea of doing a little bit, not being discouraged because you can’t fix everything, resonated with me, and then I read Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (with those GORGEOUS Christmas lima beans on the front)about her family’s year of being “locavores”, eating food grown/raised locally, 99% of which they grew. I think everyone who’s commented would LOVE this book and Barbara you certainly would as well!
    I really am not able to afford to shop organic–in fact I have had to switch from walmart to dollar store as things get more & more difficult for us financially–But! local farmer’s markets can be very affordable and you are supporting your local grower’s ability to make a living. eating local muscadine and scuppernong grapes now!

  13. Elena, I hope things turn around financially and you can buy buckets full of fresh food.

    Can you grow a garden where you are?

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