Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Eating Well for $190/month

Our Profile:
We’re two adults, and I’m exclusively breastfeeding our 5.5 month old. We usually share meals with friends a few times a month. The $190 cost includes $50/month for our CSA, which is local, organic food.

$190/month is not a super low figure as compared to the U.S. average. We eat almost exclusively organic produce. We also eat [happy?] cage free org eggs and a mixture of organic and non-organic milk, and cheap but deeply unhappy animals/meat [once a week]. I bake our bread and make pizza dough from scratch. We eat mainly from scratch; our guilty, expensive food is ice-cream. We don’t have snacks like chips or candy in the house, because if we did I’d eat them in about 30 seconds.

Goals-- we’re not there yet.
Two goals I have for the next six months (before Noah’s first birthday) are: transitioning to organic local meat, staying under $210/month as we do that. I’d also like to drink only organic milk.

Even as I write about keeping costs down, I’m reminded that in the U.S. we spend a very small fraction of our income on food, as compared to other countries. We have tons of other lines in our budget that are taken at face value (gas!), but for some reason food costs are considered negotiable.

That’s a long way of saying I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty. I’m more interested in thinking through how eating local, organic, food can be affordable, and how we could get there. I’m all about slow change, because I think slow is sustainable.

So here’s the breakdown of where we are right now::
$400 for CSA for 8 months of the year. This includes fruits and vegetables, coming out to $50/month. The $400 is paid up front, leaving about $140/month for regular monthly spending. I can't say enough positive things about our experience in a CSA (Red Fire Farm)

$75/month trip to Market Basket. At Market Basket, I get eggs, milk, cheese, onions, frozen berries, and non-perishable staples (risotto, canned tomatoes, flour, sugar, beans, oil). Dairy is a major grocery expense in our household. We probably consume way to much of it. Going only once/month to the grocery minimizes our spending on snacks and saves a bit of gas (we drive about 25 minutes to the MB in Burlington).

$20/month Trader Joe’s. We get a couple of ready made meals a month, perhaps a dessert if we’re visiting friends, as well as their whole wheat pasta, ww cous cous, pesto and maybe some cheese.

$25/month McKinnons, Somerville. We buy a few chickens and usually one piece of red meat/month.

$20/month Target or 7/11 for milk/extras. Target sells Stonyfield Organic 2% milk for about 70c less than the other fat percentages (3.29/half gallon), 7/11 sells Garelick Farms 1% super cheaply- $2.69/gallon.

I always have this weird tension between trying to save (or break even) and eating well right now. It seems to make sense to try to do both, right? Somehow the obvious is hard.

Noah is also going to be starting to eat actual food in two weeks, which may not lead to a significant increase in our budget, but may...I'll give an update in six weeks on our progress towards organic meat and milk, and how much it’s cost.


Bridggymama said...

if you find a place to buy organic meat (besides whole foods, or if its whole foods I guess still tell me hee) let me know. I find that the local butchers don't necessarily carry organic or free range stuff. not that I have done tons of research.

Concrete Gardener said...

hehe. Yeah, Whole foods and I don't have a great relationship (as in, I can never actually bring myself to buy anything). My genius plan is to go to Harvest (Central Sq in Cambridge, also in JP) where RFF drops off the CSA share? My other genius plan was to just buy as much meat as the budget allows (which may be one chicken instead of four). Will let you know how that goes...

Unknown said...

Organic meat, delivered frozen, to, possibly, your area. It is delivered to mine and we love these guys:

Concrete Gardener said...

Thank you Kate! We have been looking for good recommendations of meat shares. I'll definitely let you know if we try out Houde Family Farm-- it looks really awesome.

Anonymous said...

We faced the same dilemma 30 years ago and decided on a similar formula with a couple of differences. You are right on with making as many things from scratch as possible. For good nutrition you should use unrefined, unprocessed ingredients. (Whole grains, natural sweeteners, Fresh vegetables.) Buy in bulk! When our four children were at home we bought ww flour,oats, etc. in 50# bags; 60# honey containers. I baked a lot of bread in those days! For better nutrition dump the meat eating and cut down on the dairy. It is not needed and expensive; plus it is bad for health which means you lose more days of work to illness etc. Luckily pretty good tofu and soymilk are available today at a reasonable price. In the old days we had to make them ourselves. We did! Grow as many things yourself as you can. Even if it is only herbs in containers. We reduced our food cost to around $2 per person per day in today dollars. We also had an unintended consequence of all that food making and growing. We managed to produce the Red Fire Farmer. Ryan booted me out of my garden when he was twelve and grew a dream of his own. I guess our method worked!! Keep on being as self sufficient as possible. Your kids will learn some real things by being a part of it.... Paul Voiland

Concrete Gardener said...

Paul, what a pleasure to hear from someone who has so much experience. Thank you. If you'd ever like to write something longer about cooking and providing for a family with four children, I love to publish it here.

Thank you for all the advice. It's very welcome. One thing I struggle with is how my sense of abundance (doing well, etc) is strongly linked to little pleasures-- and more often than not-- those little pleasures are chocolate, bacon, ice-cream. I'm working at seeing what foods can work just as well, or where small quantities will do the trick.

Two things I'll take immediately from your post are 1) bulk honey/maple syrup as a sweetener, and 2) flour in bulk-- i find it easier to find bread flour in bulk, but more difficult to find ww flour in bulk.

One last question: do you have a whole wheat bread recipe that you love? I'm still baking with bread flour because I'm just not that capable with ww flour [yet]

Paul Voiland said...

Any coop should be able to order ww bread flour for you. A good place to start with bread making is the Tassahara Bread Book. Use some white flour until you get the technique down. Once you learn the method you can make any bread by adding different ingredients. The sponge method was used commonly years ago and produces good bread with less work. Any old time cook book written before the 1940's will be full of good recipes for all sorts of things even canning methods. The old books were written before there was all of the ingredients like Jello and other ready made things that litter the lexicon of more modern "cookbooks". They had little choice but to use basic ingredients in those days.
It makes sense to learn the basic skills needed to take care of oneself and family. And there is no greater pleasure than to have everyone gather over a table that is filled with bean and vegetable soup made from local, simple roots and herbs. Fresh bread with olive oil. A simple green salad. A glass of fresh cool water and the kids spinning out stories of what they did in school and what they saw out in the garden. Later when the washed dishes are being set to dry and you look over at the baby nursing while an older brother is reading to all from his book that he just got from the library. What could anyone feel that more is needed?


Concrete Gardener said...

Thanks Paul. Indeed, what more is needed!

I've ordered the Tassahara Bread Book from the library and my first whole wheat/quinoa loaf is rising in our bedroom (our warmest room)today! I'll let you know how it goes.