Recently I’ve found myself contemplating a lot of our food choices. I’ve been thinking about consumption habits, health, cost, and social responsibility. I’ve been working more whole foods into our diet over the past year, been doing more cooking from scratch, working on getting more fruits and vegetables in our bellies, and I may be on the brink of limiting my husband’s potato chip intake- an exciting breakthrough that he’s considering all by himself! Even with all of these changes and choices, I always return to the overall picture of trying to reduce our weekly grocery bill while remaining healthy. Over the past few months, I have noticed our grocery bill dropping and would love to see it to continue on this downward pattern just a little bit more. The problem is that I have hit a wall, a wall that has me weighing the price of food vs. socially responsible purchases. It seems we live in a world where, when it comes to socially and environmentally responsible food, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Or so, that’s what it seems.
As it is, there are some items in our fridge that I spend a little extra on already because I feel it’s important. The eggs are local (don’t you love the green one?), cheese, butter, and coffee produced in the state, yogurt and coffee are organic, coffee is fair trade and supports a cause, and the cheese company is working to pay local milk producers fair wages. So everything in this picture is bought because it makes me feel good about what I’m buying, and to be honest, all taste a heck of a lot better than their cheaper, generic brand “competition”. But of course, everything is also a lot more expensive than their generic counterparts. However, these items have become such a staple in our diet, I can’t imagine taking a step in the wrong direction and eliminate them, even though it would save us more.
The one food item that has really got me thinking lately is milk. Nationwide and locally, dairy farmers are being hit hard as they are getting paid less for their milk than it costs to produce it. Although some of the bigger farms are tolerating better in this market, small, local farmers are being put our of business and losing their livelihood. I feel terrible hearing about their losses and would love to help, but in order to do that, I need to cough up a few extra bucks and go out of my way to find a buy completely local milk that would be paying the farmers fairly. I was shocked when I realized that there are no local brands of milk for sale at the supermarket we shop at. NONE. Of course the generic brand says they use local milk, but at the price they sell it for, you know the farmers selling it to them are in the red. And this is where I hit the wall. How can I continue to purchase cheap goods when I am aware of other more responsible brands (at a higher, fair cost) and feel okay about what I’m doing?
I want to continue to cut my grocery bill. I’m finding ways of doing this by buying in bulk, trying to eat more “meatless” or reduced meat meals, and eating more whole foods. But when does cutting costs at the expense of others go too far? Where is the cut off point? Which items are more important than others? I know I cannot afford to buy all organic, all fair trade, all local, and all socially/environmentally responsible foods or I would be up to my eyeballs in debt. But where should my dollars go first? It’s a dilemma I need to consider personally but also one I would like to reasearch and hear more from others on.