I haven’t always eaten a healthy, organic, fanatically local diet. In fact, I don’t now. I do what I can, when I can; and I try not to feel guilty about the rest. But the one obstacle I hear regularly when I counsel someone to make dietary changes is that they cannot afford it. I empathize; really I do. But I disagree.
Last week I reviewed the movie Food, Inc. It was a great movie and I believe everyone should watch it. However, I have issue with the portrayal of the family that does not have time to cook because they leave their house at 6 a.m. and do not return until 9-10 p.m. They also said that they could not afford fresh vegetables, so opt for drive-through dollar menu food at Burger King. Sure, on the surface, junk food looks cheap. But they also shared their struggle with diabetes (a disease directly related to diet) and having to afford medications to treat it. This is what I would advise them to do.
Change Your Lifestyle
Why are you gone from home for 14 hours a day? That is not healthy. Families need rest and play time together. Please don’t tell me you’re running your kids to sports, drama, debate, etc. Please don’t tell me you work 14 hours a day and still cannot afford to eat properly. Something has to give, and at this point, it is your health.
Eating healthy is a lifestyle choice. To make whole wheat bread from freshly ground flour, one must be home to grind the wheat and make the bread. Healthy food requires preparation time. If eating healthy and changing your diet is important to you, you will change your habits to include the time.
Change Your Vision
The mistake a lot of folks make is to compare the price of “bad” manufactured foods with that of organic manufactured foods. You need to get past that. Become a shopper of ingredients and learn to cook. Purchasing raw ingredients (like grains, salt, sugar, and oil) in bulk and making your food from scratch is much cheaper than buying manufactured food. Give up the factory foods—even the organic ones.
Change Your Choices
Can you not afford locally grown produce because you spend $10 a week on Mountain Dew? Do you stop on your way to the office every day for a $3 cup of coffee, or join the guys for unhealthy $10 lunches several days a week? Perhaps your 120-pound Rottweiler eats $50 worth of dog food a month? These are all things you are free to do; but are these choices helping you in your goal to change your diet?
Grow Your Food
I realize that everyone doesn’t have a couple of acres to work with. But many, many people have urban homesteads. Gardens can be grown in back yards and even on patios. Do what you can; rather than complaining and doing nothing.
Check with your city. Many municipalities now allow a couple backyard chickens. Some even allow goats. Subscribe to a helpful magazine like Urban Farm to learn all you can. Read All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew for more helpful advice.
However, if you do live in a rural area, what are you waiting for? Find a farmer friend and learn all you can about gardening and keeping animals for eggs, milk, and meat. Do what you can.
If you cannot produce enough for your family, or if you are physically unable to garden, visit your local farmers’ market. Purchase what you can from local organic farms. If you still cannot afford it, barter something. Many Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms accept work hours in exchange for food.
Start Slow and Small
Whatever you do, do it slowly. For one thing, this transition takes time. For another, you will need to adjust your budget to allow for monthly shopping of bulk products. I started 25 years ago with baking my own bread. It was several years later before I was introduced to a produce co-op that provided all the produce my family needed. Rather than cutting out boxed foods entirely, start reading labels. First, quit buying anything with MSG and replace them with what you make from scratch. Second, eliminate high fructose corn syrup. Third, axe the artificial coloring. By this time I’m betting there’s nothing in a box left that you can purchase.
One step at a time, and over 25 years, we’ve gone from eating manufactured food for every meal to eating it only on occasion. And I still spend less than $400 a month to feed a family of six. If I can do it, you can too.
Photo by Downing Street