Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cheap food

There are many reasons why I seek the old paths. For one, the old ways are generally the good ways. (Notice I didn't say the easiest ways.) They are tried, true, and tested. I'm usually wary of new ways, whether it's the new how-to parenting book or the newish Hepatitis B vaccine. I say no to both.

I suppose I seek the old ways, the ancient ways, because the old ways generally tend to be closely related to Biblical ways. (I said generally.) If I want wisdom on how to discipline my child, or whether to give them the Hepatitis B vaccine, I think I can find most answers there.

So when I read in Proverbs 31, the part where it says:

She's like a trading ship that sails to faraway places and brings back exotic surprises.
She's up before dawn, preparing breakfast for her family, and organizing her day.

I take it seriously. Maybe I am like a trading ship when I search around for the best milk for my family. (Even though they may think me crazy.) Or finding that perfect place to get local or organic food. Often I am not up before dawn preparing breakfast, but I am up late at night, washing up after a meal, writing out meal plans, thinking about where I will get my bring back those "exotic surprises" from the Farmer's Market.

It seems that a lot of people are waking up to the fact that shopping for food, cooking the food, and eating the food, should take more time than it has done the past 30 or more years. I'm in that boat.

Did you know that Americans spend on average 9.9 percent of their disposable income on food? (So says this article). It also says this:

"Better equipment, mechanization, use of hybrid seeds, fertilizer, and crop protectant chemicals have all contributed to increased production in the U.S., which has lowered the cost of food to the public," says Brent Searle, ODA analyst and special assistant to the director.

That has allowed 90 percent of the American consumer's disposable income to be spent on things other than food, such as housing, automobiles, leisure, and recreation."

I know in some ways, that's a good thing, but is it a beneficial thing overall?

"Twenty years ago, American consumers spent 11.7 percent of their disposable income on food. Thirty years ago, that figure was 15.1 percent. Going back in history, Americans spent about 20 percent of their income on food about the time today's baby boomers were born. In 1933, the figure was more than 25 percent."(same article)

It's astounding to me that now Americans spend only 9.9 percent of their disposable income on food, while in 1933, the figure was more than 25 percent.

Michael Pollan says this in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma:

It's true that cheap industrial food is heavily subsized in many ways such that its price in the supermarket does not reflect its real cost. But until the rules that govern our food system change, organic or sustainable food is going to cost more at the register, more than some people can afford. Yet for the great majority of us the story is not quite so simple. As a society we Americans spend only a fraction of our disposable income feeding ourselves--about a tenth, down from a fifth in the 1950s. Americans today spend less on food, as a percentage of disposable income, than any other industrialized nation, and probably less than any people in the history of the world. This suggests that there are many of us who could afford to spend more on food if we chose to. After all, it isn't only the elite who in recent years have found an extra fifty or one hundred dollars each month to spend on cell phones (now owned by more than half the U.S. population, children included) or television, which close to 90 percent of all U.S. housholds now pay for. Another formerly free good than more than half of us pay for today is water. So is the willingness to pay more for food really a matter of affordability or priority?"

Now, I realize there's a balance, and for goodness sake, I am not a purist. That in itself keeps me from being too obsessed. :)

But don't you think it's time we accepted that good food takes time, effort, and money? (Am I preaching to the choir?) I'm not talking gourmet, just healthy food. Is cheap food really good food? Are we really doing ourselves a favor by buying cheap the long run? In this case, aren't the old ways....better ways?

In other times, women had in their lives more forces which centered them whether or not they realized it; sources which nourished them whether or not they conciously went to those springs....
......nothing feeds the center so much as creative work, even humble kinds like cooking and sewing. Baking bread, weaving cloth, putting up preserves, teaching and singing to children, must have been far more nourishing than being the family chauffeur or shopping at supermarkets, or doing housework with mechanical aids. The art and craft of housework has diminished; much of the time-consuming drudgery--despite modern advertising to the contrary--remains. In housework, as in the rest of life, the curtain of mechanization has come down between the mind and the hand."

~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Stay tuned to some posts by Lindsey on how to eat healthy foods frugally. She should know: she's the Frugal Queen!


Laura said...

At my wedding, my best friend made a toast and said something along the lines of all my husband needed to know about me was "carbs, carbs, carbs." I was the Doritos-for-dinner girl. Then, a few months ago, my daughter's diet had to be drastically altered and I had no choice but to learn this new language of healthy eating and how to live without certain foods and how to cook with new ones. The health food stores became my most frequented places. It all definitely costs more, but now when I'm shopping for dinners, I spend most of my time in the produce section and I'm really enjoying the time in the kitchen and the great meals we're eating - we're all better for it!

Courtney said...

Amen, sister. Preach the glory of real food!

Stacy said...

I am SO with you on this.

Joni said...

Great, thought-provoking quotes, Andrea. I'm working hard toward making little changes in our lives. And I'm enjoying Lindsay's posts as well!

tonia.sparrow said...

The choir here in Oregon is humming and swaying to your music. :)

I have GOT to read that book.

Keep singing, Andrea, I love it!

L.L. Barkat said...

I was thinking about the subsidy aspect over on Seedlings this week. We surely need changes in our Farm Bill policies. But we also need women like you... the marvelous ships navigating cool waters... to find the gentle, fertile shores and golden harvests.

Thanks for the great post. (And yes, I guess I'm in the choir!)

Beck said...

Fantastic stuff.
My dad is a beef farmer, and my mom comes from a LONG line of dairy farmers so I know first hand the effect that the cheap movement has on the food producers - it makes their lives next to impossible. And are people better nourished in North America? No, I do not believe that they are.

Joel and Jaime said...

There is something satisfying about fixing a healthy meal and then serving it to your family, isn't there?

Elise said...

That's funny that Tonia said that about the choir! I was gonna say, "Preach it, sista!" :)

This is a fabulous post - you are such a great writer, and I love how clearly and concisely you express your opinions and desires. This info is so helpful to so many, and falls in line with the rest of us!

I'm off to start another batch of refried beans! Love em!

Lindsey @ Enjoythejourney said...

:) Thanks for the link love! I am enjoying doing the food series and I love how you connected it all to following the "old paths...."

Christine said...

When Jason had a stomach problem last year we decided it was much more important to eat healthily, not cheaply. Since then our food budget has gone up but we are eating better. No hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup in our home! More organic and natural ingredients. I feel better about what I'm feeding our family.

Beverly said...

Andrea, this post hit home with me. I can't say that I am there yet (or even halfway!), but lately I have been really working to find good foods for my little family. Last week, I discovered a sweet little farmer's market near my home, and I was so excited to prepare dinner that night. I found that even though i spent a little more on certain items at the market, my total weekly bill was less. Why? Because I spent more time preparing, baking, thinking! Thank you for helping moms like me who are new to this!

Jana said...

I LOVED this post. I recently joined an organic co-op, and even though I know it's better for us, and we CAN afford it, the amount of money gave me the SLIGHTEST doubt every now and then. This post reassured me that I AM doing the right thing, and also reminded me of some more reasons why I LOVE looking for more and more things to do "the old way." I've always been a bit "old-fashioned" compared to my friends and family, but in this case, I'd rather stay that way.

Oh. And thanks for all the book recommendations lately. I have a huge list reserved through interlibrary loan!

Katherine@Raising Five said...

Okay, you're hitting me hard here in the summer when we are at our worst for eating fast, cheap and easy. I need to get serious about this...again!