Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reducing Your Eco Footprint

Hanging out for an unexpected weekend in Vermont reignited my green streak. I went to college in a "crunchy" area. My husband used to be vegan. I used cloth diapers with baby number one and banned all sweets. By baby number three, we've greatly slipped off this lifestyle. A cloth diaper has ne'r touched her bum and the mere crinkle of a smartee wrapper in church on Sunday made the wee lass scramble for candy.

I've gone all over the grocery budget debate. This summer I started shopping at Aldis & Bottom Dollar. I loved practicing my Spanish while waiting in line at these stores, I loved the friendly sense of humble community. (So different from what are you doing squeezing three kids behind me in my aisle I feel at my closer Safeway store). Yet I hated the food. It was cheap, but it was tasteless. It was impossible to buy natural peanut butter there. The organic milk I bought for cheap turned sour in my fridge. Jon and I had this huge debate about the problems of Bottom Dollar & the poor. The poor are the most stressed people who need the best diet. Yet here we are filling their shopping carts with rotten oranges, over-processed meat and hunks of cheese devoid of real milk.

After months of food dieting, I've found there are no easy answers. I cook all three meals a day, seven days a week. There are no quick measures of cutting out fast food, brown-bagging lunches or skipping the shrimp for Sunday dinner. If we go with the "cheap" food, it's mostly pre-packaged corn-syrup junk. We can do that for a two week stint if the money is super duper tight. Everyone feels the pinch, however. Everyone is cranky, and gains weight from over-snacking on cheap junk treats.

What's a city girl to do?

Vermont gave me an unexpected answer. I'm encouraged to go organic. As a Catholic, I'm supposed to avoid sin. The sins of the current agriculture business is pretty huge, everything from pesticides, to collapsed honey bees, to underpaid migrant farm labor, to foam containers landing in a landfill. It's hard, so hard for me to plunk down $4.00 for a pound of beef stew when I know Safeway usually has a special where ground pork is $2.50 a pound. Yet I can do it if I know that the cow was healthy, treated humanely. I can do it if I know that the farmer wasn't ripped off or sold his soul to mistreat a Mexican farm worker. I can do it if I know that by eating meat only 3 nights a week instead of 6, is better for my children.

I don't know how this fits into the food budget exactly. Currently, we spend about $130 dollars in groceries to feed a family of 5 for a week. Shopping at Whole Foods isn't a fiscal option, right now. Yet I'm going to do a small part and trust the Lord to make up the rest.

The advantage of being a City Girl, is that while having a home vegetable garden isn't an option, low-cost home delivery of organic food is an option. I found a local dairy which can deliver milk and eggs at below grocery store cost for a weekly delivery charge of only $3.50. (Meat can also be added but it's more expensive that at the store).

I also found an organic produce farmer who can deliver produce to our door. It seems expensive at $45 dollars a week. I'm telling myself that right now I'm skipping all fruit except apples, bananas, carrots and brocolli because the produce seems like such a "bad value" in my tiny grocery budget. This move can't be good for our health.

My hope is that if I can get the whole organic bill under $80, and that covers all our milk, egg, meat, fruit and veggies-- that's most of our needs. I can always go to the store to buy some extra rice, twice a month. Less trips to the store, never going in with distracting young kids, that's got to be some sort of "savings" right? Even it it's just saving Mama's mind?

Here are the two links that I'm using this week.



Has anyone else found that "going green" actually helped save them money on the grocery bill.


  1. I am seriously considering joining a CSA, where you buy into part of a farm and get buckets and buckets of veggies that come out really cheap in the long run. Many of them also do meat, and though the meat isn't necessarily cheaper than grocery store meat, it's organic and the animals have been treated humanely. Also, eating locally reduces fuel needed to ship the stuff around. I wonder if there are any in your area? Here's a website with more about it.

    I'm really interested to hear more of your thoughts on this. Keep us posted!

  2. I'm not sure I see this issue primarily as a moral one. It is too complex.

    I grew up on a farm - raised hogs, steers, etc. We didn't produce "organic" meat, but our animals were treated humanely. "Regular" meat is a mixed bag - some is produced on smaller farms with humane treatment while some (granted, probably more) is produced on factory farms. Also, some factory farms are much worse than others. Coming from an area that had some larger farms, I saw some that were fairly good; some that were bad.

    As far as pesticides, some are good; some are not. Some are overused; some are not. There can be bad side effects and some life-saving. For example, DDT almost wiped out malaria, saving millions of lives, until western nations decided it was unsafe (based on almost no scientific evidence) and banned it worldwide. This didn't effect our own population. It just led to the deaths of millions of poor people in third world countries.

    Also, the use of new agriculture techniques have led to more affordable, more plentiful food for millions around the world.

    I don't disagree that factory farming, pesticides, growth hormones, etc. don't have numerous negative effects. Coming from an agricultural family, it is terribly sad to see the disappearance of the family farm and its culture. However, I haven't come to the point where I would say it was sinful to buy non-organic chicken, eggs, milk, and produce. Maybe less perfect, but not sinful.

    BTW, I started delivery from South Mountain Creamery, too. I love the glass bottles!