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28 January, 2011

1 Question Fridays - Affording Organics, Fair Trade, Grassfed

Over the last year or so Eric and I have been learning more about the food industry.  It's overwhelming.  A few friends have been writing about their shift to whole foods, organics, fair trade, and grass fed.  No doubt it's pricier than buying just anything at the grocery.  But when you do a cost/value analysis it makes it obvious that eating more naturally is the affordable way to go.

So, today's question to answer is "How do you afford whole foods?"

First let me tell you that before we started eating healthier, I was at the doctor about every six to eight weeks.  Time that by a $25 co-pay and often a $10 or $20 prescription or OTC medicine on top of that.  I also suffered from severe headaches (add cost of advil here) and bad acne (add cost of several skin care products here).  We are easily talking $300-500 a year on just my health alone! I was also nearing needing cholesterol and blood pressure medicine. Yes, at 28.

Now, knowing that it would take a while to reap the health benefits, jumping in to a whole foods life style was a little costly at first.  But with gradual changes in diet, we saw gradual changes in health.  Our budget eventually evened out as far as money spent at the doctor and extra money spent on food.  And once we really understood what we were doing with food, that bill has even gone down significantly as well.

First, we started by cutting out fast food.  A friend once told me "if it comes out of a window, it's not food".  Watch Food, Inc. and you'll totally agree.  Cutting out fast food and sodas means saving $6-8 a meal.  Think of all the produce you can buy a week for that much!

Next, we started shopping at Whole Foods to purchase things to make our own granola bars, pasta, etc.  And to buy our meats, veggies, eggs, and breads.  Our bill was THROUGH THE ROOF!  What we didn't know, is that even though they sell organics, they don't necessarily sell locally grown food.  So you're still getting food that isn't in season in your region and you're paying ridiculous prices for them to ship the foods.

So what we started doing is researching farmers markets.  Once we found the local markets, that's when we really found this lifestyle affordable.  So, here's what we do now:

  • Order meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and goat) through farmers we met at the Farmer's Market.  In the winter we have to pre-order and schedule a pick up. Spring, Summer, and Fall we can meet them at the Farmers Market and have a wide variety of cuts to choose from. This includes our bacon and sausage for breakfast, not just our dinner meats!
  • Eventually we ordered a quarter cow.  This gave us new cuts to try and the bulk price reduced our per pound weight.  All the cuts were labeled and sealed for the freezer.  We store some of it at a friends.
  • Our chicken farmer does a "package deal" if you order a whole chicken and dozen egg combo.  We do this about every other week.
  • To keep our cost of produce regular, as well as eat local and seasonal, we've joined a CSA.  We order a sack of groceries from them each week (unless we know we'll be super busy that week). This has forced us to try new foods as well.
  • I make most of our sweets, pastas and breads from scratch on the weekends or my days off.  I'm still learning how to find quality ingredients for these, but just making them from scratch reduces a lot of filler and artificial whatevers.
  • I buy my "junk food" like pretzels, cereal and popcorn from the bulk health-food store.  But I still read the labels: the fewer ingredients the better. I've learned, just because it's at a health-food store, doesn't make it good for you! I buy the biggest bag I can to get the most bang for my buck, or only buy the snacks on sale.
Other ways we've kept cost down:
  • Stretch dinners when we can to make a double batch and freeze one for later in the month
  • Use small portions of left overs for lunches (especially those that don't freeze well)
  • Learn what's in season and only buy that produce.  In season grapes = less than $3 Out of season grapes = $7+
  • Buy frozen out of season produce (make sure it doesn't have a syrup!)
  • Cut out all drinks except milk and water
  • Homebrew beer (definitely not a hobby for everyone!)
  • Order my organic, fair trade, carbon free coffee online and bulk up when it's on sale

(Admittedly, I eat frozen entrees from Trader Joe's for lunch. I eat a lot of prepackaged salads at work (eek!).  And I love an occasional Capri Sun and bag of Doritos. And we eat out for dinner at least once, sometimes twice a week. )

Not sure where to start?  These are a few things we did early on that made a big difference:

  • Cut out fast food
  • Don't drink your calories, eat them! It's cheaper and better for your waist line
  • Trade fancy, flavored coffee creamer for a splash of milk and pinch of sugar
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery, skip the middle
  • Trade up to cage-free eggs
  • Switch to organic milk
  • Watch the sodium on your food labels
  • Check for code words for sugars and salts in your packaged food (yes, Fiber One has aspartame in it!)
  • Buy cheese in blocks and shred it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese has styrofoam on it to keep it from sticking.

If you're in Atlanta and want to try our CSA, check out:

What are you doing to cut food costs?  Eat locally?  Eat sustainably?  We'd love to get food tips!
What are some of your book or web resources for leaning about whole foods?

PS:  As requested by Eric, next weeks question will not be about money!  What do you want to know about us?

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