WFP: The real cost of food, and my birthday surprise…

I’ve been making our own ice cream for a while now. We have an ice cream maker, and we just suck the cream off of the top of our raw milk and run it through. Recently, though, we tasted someone else’s raw milk ice cream, and it was AMAZING. The creamiest, richest, healthiest ice cream you could ever imagine. Oh man. So Jeff and I looked at each other and simultaneously asked our friends how they achieved this masterpiece. They said that they buy straight cream. Ah ha! Our ice cream was good, but still had a higher water content than theirs did, explaining the unbelievable creaminess of theirs. The farmers just do a way better job of getting just cream. So we went to order a quart, and realized it was about 14 dollars. Yes. For cream. It seemed crazy at first, but here’s what I’m thinking…

We can’t think about our food in terms of how much it costs, rather we should be thinking about it in terms of quality. Now, I know, we have to consider our finances, but I feel like I have a little bit of insight into this area because Jeff and I are fairly low income. Like, we receive food benefits from the state, so at least they feel like we need a little help in that area. That’s all I’ll really say about our finances- we’re not hurting, but it’s not like we’re rolling in the dough here. Anyway, I am always hearing about how people can’t buy this or that kind of food because it’s just too expensive. Well, I can understand that. But how is it that we’ve been able to do just that on such a limited budget? Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • We make real food the only option. Now, I’m not saying that we don’t ever go out to eat or don’t ever make concessions here. We’ve had our fair share of Chinese take-out or whatever. But in general, what we bring into our house is of very high quality. Almost exclusively organic, usually local, and generally whole and unprocessed. When I first started this journey towards real food, I said the same thing- "I can’t afford it". But in doing this for the past several years, I’m finding that there was a lot that I spent my money on that wasn’t really food the way I see it now. Once I cut all the junk out, I wasn’t wasting my money on something that was cheap, but wasn’t doing anything for me. Shopping at places like the farmers market or the local co-op really opened my eyes. Once I started only exposing myself to real food, I only ever bought and ate real food. It was as simple as that. I used to shop at big grocery stores regularly, and now I only go if I have to (usually for something not even food related, like birthday candles or something). Now I know that not everyone can limit their exposure to those places- I’m blessed with lots of options in that area- but you can start thinking about the food you buy in those terms- learning to discern between the food that will nourish you and the food that won’t. My general rule is this- if there is an ingredient list on a box that has more than a couple of ingredients, don’t get it. If I don’t recognize the names of those ingredients as food items, don’t get it. If it tastes good, but makes you feel sluggish, or you feel hungry again soon after you ate it, it’s probably not a good regular food item for you. Anyway, I found that once I started to think about it in those terms, the options were just narrowed, and I just bought what I could. It just so happens to be enough, even on a small income. There’s even free stuff that we are able to get that I won’t settle for. We routinely buy good quality bulk peanut butter over the little tubs of Jif that we could get with one of our cards- it’s loaded with sugar and yucky oils, and we just won’t consider it as a good substitute, even if it is free to us. Also, and this may be a touchy subject for some, but we don’t let our kid dictate what we eat. As much as Vera would like to eat boxed macaroni and cheese every day for lunch, she gets leftover curry or whatever I’m having instead. It’s just the way we eat around here. She’s learned that some things are treats, and she’s always got options here. She chooses to eat, or not, and when she wants a snack I fix her something I’m happy with (usually yogurt). I don’t buy food that is specifically kid friendly, almost ever (if I do it’s a big treat), because it’s generally overpriced and spoils their appetites for good food (if I let her, she’d probably live off of animal crackers, so I just don’t buy them). This, I think, has saved us loads of money and headaches. 
  • We make cooking a priority. Now I know that not everyone has a lot of time to cook big meals all the time. My hands are full a lot, and I’m home with the kids! So, this is where I’ll just say that practice really makes a difference here. We’ve just learned how to whip something together quickly, or to make a big batch of something to feed us on other days when we have less time. There’s loads of prep that we can do to make our lives easier (eg. soaking oats overnight so they’ll cook quickly in the morning, making big batches of soup, sticking a batch of dry beans in the crock pot to cook overnight to use throughout the week, etc.). It takes practice, definitely, but there are a lot of quick things that can be done. Even as simply as just eating a spoonful of peanut butter and a hunk of cheese on your way out the door… 
  • We make our food budget bigger by trimming our excess in other areas. We have a pretty set budget for most everything, but food is the one thing that we allow to be sort of open ended. Now I don’t want to preach about lifestyle and what everyone should spend their money on, but I will say that when eating well became a priority, we did "trim the fat" so to speak. That’s all I’ll say on the subject, but if eating well is something that someone really wants to do, there’s usually something that can get paired down to help them get there. Jeff read somewhere that in the 1950s the average household spent a third of their income on food (and that was generally single-income households). That’s a huge chunk! But, when you think about it, they tended to have one car, no big cable bills or cell phones, no expensive childcare, and they weren’t being held hostage under mountains of credit card debt. Anyway, just food for thought. 
  • We are creative in using cheaper ingredients with more expensive ones. I’ve talked a little about this before, but I try to make our meals stretch and waste as little as possible. So, we often will take our pricier items (meat, dairy, etc.), and strategically place them with other, less expensive, ingredients. We do this by buying more things in bulk- dry beans instead of canned, bulk grains rather than packaged food, etc. We also try to eat more veggies, especially ones that are in season and cheaper. This ends up being pretty fun- we don’t have a "spaghetti night" around here. Meals morph and change with the seasons, with the availability of our meat, with our budget, etc. 
  • We use nutrient dense ingredients, and are better nourished overall. To me, this means that we are less likely to over eat or have cravings because our body has what it needs. So, while perhaps initially spending more money, I figure we’re using it to it’s fullest potential- investing it in our bodies. Examples of nutrient dense foods are: dark leafy greens, pastured meats (and the stocks made from them), coconut oil and milk, eggs, whole raw milk and cheeses, good butter, nuts and legumes, etc.
  • We grow our own food when we can, and support local farmers when we can’t. I know people have limited space and time to do this part, but everyone can grow something. Whether it’s just a little basil plant in your kitchen window, or potted tomato plant on your back porch, this is an easy way to eat something great for almost no money at all. Also, it really pays to seek out local growers. In my experience these people sell really good food, at its actual price- that is to say, I don’t think they’re trying to get away with anything here. If we can find it for cheaper at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or whatever, then I generally think the costs were exported in unethical ways, and you’re not really seeing the true cost of that food. I don’t know, the more I learn about it, the more I think "small price to pay for knowing it was brought to me in an honest and ethical way." You can also save money by buying seasonal food and storing what you can.

And so, my $14 quart of real, beautiful, raw cream is going to make some awesome ice cream- and if you are lucky enough to get a scoop of it, you’ll know that I really love you.



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As for my birthday surprise, check this out! Those of you who think that a kitchen appliance makes for a crappy present- well, think again! Behold…

This is the real deal, folks. I’ve wanted one of these for a long time, and yet I never thought I’d get one. They are a tad on the pricey side. But my lovely and resourceful partner decided to pool together the funds with his side of the family and they got it for me. I opened it up on Sunday at our little family dinner, and barely knew what to say… This is all very exciting. I decided to give you an action shot- here is my shnazzy new KitchenAid kneading bread dough for me… MAGIC! Oh the things I will do. I’ve got to get some of the attachments- namely the sausage stufffer, grain mill, and food grinder. This is one of those things that we actually are okay with buying new. It was made here in Michigan (although I’m not fooling myself into thinking it was made sustainably or anything, just glad it stimulated our economy), and it will last me a long, long time. Jeff initially asked his mom if she would hand hers down to me, to which he received a stern "No way!"- apparently the thing has last her decades and will continue to last, even if she doesn’t use it often anymore. It’s just a really good piece of equipment. So. I’m excited about that. 

As for what this handy thing is mixing? Sourdough. I’m trying to get back in the swing of things. I’m not thrilled with the fact that every loaf I bake is a sour brick, but I’m not giving up. I saw this site and realized that my starter never builds volume like that, it only ever looks slightly bubbly and gets the liquid on the top. So, I’m trying to feed the culture a little more and get it super active, then I’ll try again. With the dough that is just NOT going to rise sitting on my counter? Tonight we’re making savory Asian dumplings with it, with sautéed greens on the side. Oh yeah, and for dessert, a fabulous scoop of homemade ice cream on top of warm peaches. 

Eat well!

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