The birth of our baby boy a year and a half ago brought new joys and dreams, but also new worries. We have always eaten healthy food, mostly organic, and much of it homegrown, but suddenly it seemed like not enough. Foods that I didn't mind eating before now seemed wrought with chemicals and impurities when I set them before my baby.
But where to start? Trying to switch to completely organic foods seemed overwhelming and expensive. Of course, there is always something else that can be found organically, for a price. To simply substitute what we were eating with an organic version could easily have doubled our grocery bill. So, then, how can a frugal family find a way to eat food that is both healthy AND affordable? We wanted this to work not only for us, but also for others interested in doing the same.
I truly believe that if there is only one aspect of your lifestyle that you can put extra effort and extra expense into, it should be your diet. Food is so very important to our health. And our agricultural and livestock systems here in the US are becoming unhealthier by the day. Food that was once nourishing and tasty is now shipped halfway around the world, pumped full of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, or other chemicals, genetically modified, and damaging to our health. Eating organically grown food has never been more important.
So then back to the question: how do we cost-effectively make our diet healthier? We have spent the last year taking a close look at our purchases, our eating habits, cooking methods, and sources of food, to come up with a realistic plan. Over the next month or so, I plan to write about how we are "organicizing" our life. I had originally planned this as just a post or two, but quickly realized that there is so much to write about. So instead, I've made it a theme. Here's a quick roadmap of where this will all go:
If you are going to be rehabbing your diet, it is important to know why you are doing it. The stronger your reasons, the more likely you are to stick to the plan. For us, it was easy: babies and young children are much more susceptible to the dangers of pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics and growth hormones in meat and dairy. My husband and I both agreed that we wanted our son to start life with a clean slate, free of all those nasty chemicals for as long as possible. In addition to that, we wholeheartedly believe in farming practices that nurture this beautiful world of ours and keep its inhabitants safe and healthy.
Plan a Garden
Hands down, the cheapest way to get organic food into your tummy is to grow it yourself. And trust me, you do not have to be a master gardener to do this. When my husband and I moved from the city to the country, neither one of us had ever had a garden before. And in that in that first summer, we grew enough not only to eat all summer and can for winter, but also to give away wheel barrels full of veggies to our neighbors.
You can start small, with just a few key veggies that your family enjoys, or if you are brave and have the room, try to grow a large enough variety to meet much of your family's needs. And with a baby in the family, a garden provides a very affordable way to make delicious, healthy baby food with minimal effort (pick, wash, puree, freeze).
Join a Health Food Store Co-op
We aren't able to find much organic food around here, out in the rural countryside. It took some time, but we finally figured out how to source the organic items we cannot grow ourselves. My husband works in Kalamazoo, and so we became members at a health food store co-op there, Natural Health Center, since he is able to stop in on his way home from work (saves me the cost of gas of an extra trip). As members, we receive a 20% discount, which brings the prices down quite close to non-organic items at a regular grocery store. In addition, they offer bulk items that are very affordable.
Even if it's not organic, buying local produce is a healthy choice for both you and the environment. When food does not have to be shipped across the country, it can be picked at the peak of freshness, rather than in a totally unripe state. Farmer's Markets offer competitive prices, delicious produce, and the chance to buy large quantities when a fruit or veggie is in season and then can or freeze what you don't immediately need for later use. I had never realized that asparagus is sweet and juicy until we moved out to the country and bought asparagus that was picked that day. What a difference from the asparagus we had been used to in our Chicago grocery store!
Raise Your Own Chickens
Even if you live in an urban area, you might still be able to raise your own hens, as long as you have a yard area where you can build a small coop. Many urban centers now allow residents to keep a limited number of hens (usually no roosters, though, for obvious reasons). There is absolutely nothing better than the flaming orange yolks of healthy, homegrown chicken eggs.
Join a CSA
This is an especially good option for those who don't have either the space or the time to grow their own vegetables. A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership entitles you to a box of fresh-picked veggies every week or two all summer long. You generally receive whatever is in season. This is a great way to support small, local farmers and to build a connection with your food. Many CSAs offer farm visits, volunteering opportunities, and some of the freshest, tastiest food around. Local Harvest is a great website for finding a CSA, organic farm, farmer's market, or other sources of organically-grown food.
We'll be taking a look at these ideas, as well as a few more, over the next month to see how they can help a family eat more healthy, local, and organic food without breaking the bank. We'll have resources, tips, stories, recipes, and hopefully lots of sharing from others who are living organically and loving it. Stay tuned!