How Food Inc. Changed My Mind About Grocery Spending
It wasn't the ick factor of watching cows stand almost chest deep in their own E. Coli riddling poop.
It wasn't the gross factor of looking at deformed chickens sitting in the dark with breasts so big and bones so weak that the chickens can't stand up under their own weight.
It was that we're being fooled into thinking we have lots of choices when we enter grocery stores. We don't. It's all created by a handful of "food" conglomerates and most of it is just re-jiggered corn. We're fooled with pictures of farmers in the heartland lovingly tending their flocks, when in real life, food isn't born, it's grown in factories.
It's that our food system is run by companies that function like the mob, but instead of big guys with guns and brass knuckles, they send lawyers after farmers who dare use their own seeds instead of the genetically engineered ones the company is literally shoving down our throats.
It's that the employees of these conglomerates join the federal agencies that are supposed to create and enforce rules for these companies. Who's looking out for our interests? Apparently, no one.
Am I being melodramatic? Maybe. But that's what really made me mad.
Grocery Shopping: I Want to Do It Differently
I never saw the point of buying organic. Mostly because I didn't really know what organic meant. I thought it was just a marketing gimmick to get me to spend more money on eggs, vegetables or boxes of raisins. So, when the brand I "chose" didn't matter to me, I picked the cheapest thing on the shelf. "Keep your $1.09 can of organic black beans," I thought, "There's an $0.89 can right next to it, not organic, so be it."
I was a loyal Walmart shopper when I lived down South and was deep in debt. I could get a week's worth of groceries for $40. While I was living there, a girlfriend of mine told me how she had "gone organic" after taking a class in nutrition. I smiled and nodded, thinking she was becoming a hippie.
Maybe I am now too.
This Saturday night, I went shopping at Whole Foods, which you know can be more expensive than the typical grocery store (Giant and Safeway are local for me). I wanted to buy beef for a stew. I went to the meat section and asked the man behind the counter, "Do you have any grass-fed beef?" I felt like some stuck-up suburbanite... for about an eighth of a second. I thought of the cattle sloshing around in poop, dining on corn and left over cow bits and that feeling went away. I got my grass-feed beef, chuck, $5.99/lb to the $4.34 of the regular beef.
I bought a quart of organic milk from grass-fed cows: $2.19 compared to $1.29 for regular milk.
I bought organic garlic: $4.99/lb. I didn't even see another kind. I bought one organic onion that cost me $1.27. The onion cost more than a double cheeseburger off McDonald's Dollar Menu.
I spent $38 on about 15 items.
I plan to do more produce shopping at local farmers' markets as the weather warms up. There's one that takes place down the street from my yoga class every Saturday morning. Yoga, then farmer's market shopping -- how hippie urban can you get!
But as I said before, I usually overspend on food when I fail to plan meals for the week. Perhaps if I get better at that, going organic won't really cost me as much as I think it might.
Dining Out Organic: Am I Making The Switch?
Is this new-found food religion going for what I buy out too? Yes, eventually. Will I continue to eat fast food? I shouldn't be eating it anyway, but I can, for now, the occassional meal sneaking in. Am I going to ask for grass-fed beef when I go to Appleby's with my family on trips home? I don't plan to be that obnoxious. Am I willing to go to fancy pants restaurants that only serve organic local ingredients and pay the premium for those meals? Yes... at some point, but it will only drive home the point that I need to add more recipes to my repertoire and I need to hone my culinary skills because I will need to eat at home more often if not ALL the time if I really plan to make this transition to organic, sustainable foods.
We'll see how this goes. Admittedly, I can do this because I make decent money (a helluva a lot more than most families in America), I don't have any children, I don't have a mortgage or any other responsibilities that may make this tough for other people. I can afford to be noble about my food decisions.
But I hope, that my little bitty decision will add to a bigger movement that will, eventually, lead to sustainability as the norm so that families who don't have the cash to allow them to make these decisions won't have to make the decision at all. It'll just be how we all eat. It'll just be how all our food is cultivated, handled and delivered.
Grandiose? Yes, probably. But totally sincere.