About Food

It’s Kitchen Tip Tuesday over here– a place to link your tips for the kitchen.  My tip is about square biscuits (and here’s my favorite biscuit recipe). Even quicker than drop biscuits- make your biscuits , roll them out, and then use a pizza cutter or pastry cutter to cut them out in a grid.  Since I first figured this tip out some 15 years ago, I don’t think we’ve had round biscuits again.  Thanks to my friend Connie at Smockity Frocks for the reminder.  Go give her a read, too. Her husband was recently laid off and he has some great tips on supporting your husband in such circumstances (none of which are ‘go get a job’).

There’s a story about factory farmed tilapia- fed largely pellets made of soy and corn, and lacking most of the omega 3 oils that fish ought to have, it’s the newest in factory farming- and there’s a reason it’s so cheap at the grocery store.

Anne-Marie sent me the following links- Eric Schlosser of Food, Inc and Fast Food Nation has an article on why being a Foodie isn’t elitist here.
Then he had a live chat here.  It’s finished now, but you can still read the questions and answers.

I have very mixed feelings about Schlosser’s work, claims, and the elitism of so called ‘foodies.’  In general, I agree with him- organic food is healthier, and I wish I could afford to never, ever eat any kind of beef but grass fed beef again.  But over and over Schlosser and others like him make such dismissive, out of touch with the real world comments about how affordable it really is to eat his way, if consumers were just smarter (he tactfully talks about educating themselves) that of course, they are seen as elitist because they are remarks made in total ignorance of what the hoi polloi actually face in real world economics on a daily basis .  I’ll give examples of what I mean in a minute.

My other beef (haha) is his dependency on government to fix the problem.  It’s the CPSIA thing all over again. Yes, it is a serious problem that we subsidize the corn industry, the likes of Monsanto, and use corn for ethanol instead of for food. Factory farms are successfully lobbying for the government to make it illegal to take pictures of their operations, even from the public road!  We should definitely stop all that.  But he doesn’t just want to stop subsidizing the big factory farms and monoculture, he wants to have more government subsidies and regulation in other areas. Government regulations and involvement in areas it has no business created crony capitalism in the first place. Without the government, crony capitalism would wither on the vine in very short order.  The government just should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the world of business.  The Free Market hasn’t failed us, it hasn’t been done in over a hundred years.  We need less subsidies and regulations, not more.  It’s very interesting to me that in explaining how cities like New York could feed more people using sustainable agricultural methods, he actually refers back to how things were done in Brooklyn a hundred years ago.

Here are some of the comments Schlosser makes that are just really off-putting if your food dollars are already stretched:

1) Educate yourself about your food, where it comes from, and and the implications of eating it, not just for yourself and your family, but for everyone else.
2) Try to use your food purchases as votes for companies, farmers, and producers who are  doing things the right way.

Believe it or not, a number of families actually need to use their food purchases to feed their families rather than as a proxy vote. They do not have the luxury of spending extra to ‘vote,’ and their immediate needs are, in fact, so immediate that they can’t think about whether it would be good for everybody else if they bought 12 dollars a pound grass fed beef instead of 2 dollars a pound ground beef, conventionally grown.  Choosing to pay six times more for hamburger meat is not a choice that they have the luxury of making.  If your budget for the week is 25.00, you can’t spend half of it on a single pound of ground beef.

You know, a lot of that fast food taste good, and it’s often cheaper when you buy it.  But if you factor in the cost of the diabetes, heart disease, or obesity that may come later, as a result, that food costs a hell of a lot.  Studies have found that preparing you own food is usually healthier and less expensive than buying fast food.  But most people just don’t have the time.

If your food budget is 25 dollars a week for a family of two-four (and I know two families for whom this is the case) it’s really unrealistic to tell people it only seems cheaper to buy cheap food because they are not thinking about the health costs that may come later, or that they are not factoring in everything you know about the societal costs.  There are societal costs to spending money you don’t have to buy organic, too.  There are societal costs to raising children who were born to be omnivores on a vegetarian diet without the proper fats to nourish their growing brains, too (and it doesn’t really matter if your vegetarian kid is smart- the plural of anecdote is not data, and there is more to nourished brains than I.Q. points).

I can buy a chicken pot pie at the cheap grocery store for 50 cents.  I can buy an organic chicken pot pie from my co-op for 6 dollars.  As a point of fact, I never buy the latter- I just had to look up the price to find out what it was, but I do buy the former a couple of times a year as we like them for a convenience food on busy days.  Are they healthy?  Not much.  Is eating those pot pies two or three times a year going to give us cancer and diabetes thirty years from now?  I don’t know, but I do know that I’d die of a heart attack if I had to pay six bucks for a chicken pot pie right now.

You can make *exactly* the same meals from this chicken whether it’s organic or conventional. Except you won’t be able to afford any of the other ingredients if it’s a free-range,organic chicken.

I’ve blogged about this before- the organic, grass fed, free range advocates who insist that a free range, organic chicken is not really more expensive than a conventional, factory farmed version because you can buy a whole chicken and get three or four meals from it actually do their cause no good.  For one thing, of course, you can do exactly the same thing with a whole chicken that costs .79 a pound as you can with a whole chicken that costs anywhere from 5.00 to 12.00 a pound, except you can’t buy any organic carrots, onions, and whole pepper to season the more expensive chicken because you just blew your food budget for two weeks on a single chicken that will feed you three meals.

It isn’t a helpful or realistic approach to talk about how this really costs so much more if you just factor in the possibility that thirty years  down the road you *might* get sick when you are talking to somebody who right now, today, is choosing between eating something and eating nothing, or eating organic or paying the utility bill.  It is also not useful to give truly thoughtless advice and brightly tell a savvy budget shopper “Oh, no, it’s less expensive to spend six times more for a whole organic chicken because you can get three meals out of it.”  The savvy budget shopper already knows how to get five meals from a whole conventional chicken at 1/5 of the price, so you really only look foolish when you give that advice (which Schlosser didn’t, but it is a ‘tip’ I have seen repeated from Sally Fallon and other real food proponents).  My guess is that this type of advice comes from real food advocates who never cooked much from scratch before their food conversion and so don’t realize how thrifty others already are.  I know you’ve seen it too- the newly frugal and totally healthy eater who chirps brightly about how much food she saved when she started eating healthier choices because now she cooks everything from scratch, no more eating out, and no more freezer meals.

Well, some of us have been cooking from scratch since we started preparing meals for our families and have never made eating out a regular part of our lives, so this little ‘tip’ isn’t really very helpful.  I know that sounds snarky, I don’t mean for it to be obnoxious, it’s just, well, a little eyebrow raising to hear this advice from people have never cooked conventional food from scratch before telling me how it’s not really that much more expensive to cook organic, whole foods.  Yes, it is.  If you can’t acknowledge that, then you don’t really understand how we live well enough to presume to advise me on it.

If you don’t want to seem elitist, don’t assume that people making different food choices from you are uneducated, and don’t presume to tell them how cheap it is, really, if you just factor in all these esoteric ‘costs’ that actually have nothing to do with their immediate needs and income.

Here’s what I suggest Schlosser et all (and I dont’ mean to pick on him, he’s not really the worst) should try.  Search out some families whose food budgets are small, really small, who already do not eat out and who already cook from scratch, who already follow all your frugal tips, only they do it with conventionally grown foods because they have to.  They do exist, I promise. Visit them, visit the grocery stores that are available to them and see what reality looks like from their perspective.  Learn from them how they cook and what foods they buy before you presume to be in a position to tell them how to save money.

Then pick one or two of the most important changes that they could make- more on that in another post.=)
Then stress the things that they might try to change the bigger picture- write, email, and phone their representatives demanding that subsidies for farm products need to stop.  Work locally to make it legal once again to buy raw milk, to sell bread and other goods prepared in home kitchens, to grow vegetables in the front lawn.

He also talks a lot about not demonizing others, not labeling people and yet  he pretty much dismisses everybody with concerns about illegal immigration by labeling them as racists, and he also says it’s racism that makes people talk more the farmer than the migrant farm worker:

The simple answer is: racism.  Almost all of the farmworkers in the United States are Latino.  Most can’t speak English.  And their abuse is too often hidden from view.  We need to recognize that a healthy diet depends on the back-breaking labor of  immigrants in our midst.  They deserve to be well-compensated–not demonized.  It would cost the typical American family of four about $50 extra a year to eliminate all the poverty among our 2 million farm workers.  It’s about time we did that.

Racism?  Really?  I agree that this is the simple answer, but not in the way he meant it. It’s a simple answer because it’s sloganistic, thoughtless, accusatory, and hackneyed.  It’s simple in the way that it’s simpler to just write down 2 as the answer to all the questions on your math test.  Quick, easy, simple, requires no effort or work on your part, and yet, wrong.

Okay, soap box over, on to more food related stuff:

Oooh, do it yourself chicken tractor for only 20 dollars.  Hmmmm.

This final paragraph may or may not end up being food related- but if I were going to publish a small free e-book, what topic would most interest you? A coloring book of wild flowers? A cookbook? A collection of recipes for large families, or for freezer meals, or my 20 favorite frugal tips for the kitchen? Travel games for kids? A collection of the Rule of Benedict Posts? Something else altogether different? Tell me…

Oh, over on Facebook it’s been suggested that tips on hospitality would be a good one.  Still, I’m open to suggestions and requests, and…. you can also pass on tips on free e-books if you have them.  Offers of help (free) or a partnership gladly accepted. considered;-D

This entry was posted in food, frugalities, health. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

13 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted May 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Can I vote for the Rule of Benedict for families ebook? I've greatly enjoyed your re-casting of the Rule that you've posted. As a matter of fact, I've subscribed to the daily Rule readings too.

    Ginger

  2. Anonymous
    Posted May 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Oh my! My step grandmother used to make square pan biscuits that were so yummy we'd eat a whole pan in no time at all. I've never been able to duplicate the recipe. I'll have to give yours a try.

  3. Kara @ Manning the Homefront
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    I think that a collection of your rules of Benedict post would be nice. I also like the frugal kitchen tips idea. Or, you could take us on a tour of the pack rattery, and document some of the treasures you have pulled out of there. Sort of a before/after DIY thing.

    I also volunteer for help. I could use the experience, I warn you, though, I have almost none. E-mail me if you are interested.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    I would like to cast my vote for a cookbook! I have a 6 year old, 3 year old, and 7 month old twins (all boys), and I love recipes, especially ones that help me cook for a larger family, because soon all my boys are going to be eating me out of house and home, and I know that we are going to need to know how to stretch the food budget, which you seem to do effortlessly!

  5. Sally Thomas
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    How about a cookbook with inset boxes with your Rule of St. Benedict for Families? Cook, Pray, Live — with Benedict and the Common Room!

    And yes, everything you say about the foodie thing is stuff I think all the time. Yes, yes, yes, I'd love to support, completely, the young couple who sell the pork at my farmer's market and never, ever, ever buy grocery-store meat again, but get real. People at my house like to eat meat more than once every six weeks. I realize that there are moral implications to the things we buy, but if we're so paralyzed by guilt about buying anything, then the fact that we're not honoring our God-given vocation to care for our families by feeding them has its moral ramifications, too.

  6. Church Mouse
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I vote for St. Benedict. It's unique, or at least I haven't seen anything like it, and I have found it very, very valuable to me personally. I think the idea of a cookbook/St. Benedict combo is also a good one. I'd buy it! 🙂

    Excellent thoughts on the food. I have had some of them myself, particularly after reading a blog about how you can make it all come out even if you reduce how much meat you eat. Weeeeeell, that may work for some, but what about those who have already drastically reduced their meat consumption? What about those who NEED the protein and energy from meat? Preacher Man finally commanded me to buy more meat for myself as I get badly anemic if I don't eat meat every day. I can actually feel it if I go a day with no meat, and a mama needs fuel to keep the little world that is our home turning happily. Spending $6 a pound on our meat is just not realistic in the place where we are in life. I, too, would like to see some of these folks who talk so big live with a REAL family like you or us and share in our daily bread and live our real struggles. We're hospitable – I would welcome it!! 🙂

    Buying higher quality food is the first on my list of wants after we finish paying our debts. Realistically, it will still have to be tempered by the fact that we will have a lot of hungry mouths to feed.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Exactly! Enjoyed this post tremendously. You have such a talent for writing out my opinions in a kind, well thought out way. I believe I will start printing your blog posts and handing them out to people when they ask why I do what I do. Would you like a commission?? 🙂
    Elizabeth

  8. Anonymous
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I'd love to see a book with suggestions for large family lunches. Breakfast and dinner are not a problem for me but lunches are something I often struggle with.

  9. Sally Thomas
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Or St. Benedict with inset recipes. Either way, do both. What I love about this blog is that it's all-encompassing and interested in everything, and any book you did as a "spin-off" could very well capture that spirit, while filling something of a niche. My husband teaches at a Benedictine college, and we have copies of the Rule of St. Benedict piled up everywhere in various formats — but none with recipes.

    The summing-up thought I had, meanwhile, on the topic of foodie-ism, is that this is a working example of the perfect as enemy of the good.

  10. Stephanie in AR
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    May I mark "all the above"? Frugal tips with your story along with your writings on how poverty is defined by gov v real life and the failure of government help. Or a collection of how we homeschool/use AO.

  11. Maggie
    Posted July 30, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    For the same type of food, say apples or chicken, organic IS usually more expensive than conventionally grown. But for people whose food budget is a little bigger, vast improvements could often be made simply by replacing processed or refined convenience foods with basic whole- food “ingredients.” I have friends who claim that fresh fruit (not even organic) is “too expensive” to buy for their children, but they buy potato chips, snack crackers, packaged cookies and other sweets. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a frozen pot pie once in a while- we ate frozen pizza last night- but I think it’s healthier for our bodies AND our pocketbooks if processed convenience foods are not the bulk of our diets.

  12. Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    I just bought a cookbook on “clean” eating and can’t believe all the special ingredients I would have to buy to make the recipes (sucanat, almond milk, etc.) I prefer real food to processed foods, but I also live in the real world (and in Latin America to boot) and I just can’t get all the stuff the clean food pundits tell me I need. Thanks for your great post on this subejct.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted July 31, 2013 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

      That’s ironic, because I don’t even consider sucanat a ‘whole’ food. It’s very processed, only a little less so than white sugar, and it’s a specific *brand*, not a specific natural food you can find out in the wild. Honey is a whole food. Molasses is still processed, but less so than others. I also think almond milk is great if you have a dairy allergy, but I think raw milk is a superior food.

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