Friday, February 27, 2015

Thinking about skyrocketing food costs

Friday's are my Priest Saturday.  It's my big day off.  Since my husband works a normal week, it means I get to be a bum and sleep in and lie around like a slug for a few hours.  And then I get up and get down to buisness. On Fridays, I usually tidy and clean and cook.  Since today is the last Friday of the month, it also means I balance the bank account and start planning next month's budget and think about food stuff.  

Today I'm also going to make a nice meal for dinner.  You know, with candles and stuff.  And I'm pretty sure I'll make something amazing out of what we have in the house.  Yesterday, as we were walking home from a movie (I had gotten free tickets so we decided to make a date night of it), we were remarking on the insane costs of eating out and then M wanted to stop by the grocery store to buy food.  I managed to argue him down by reciting all the food we currently had in our house, and by correctly deducing that he was just hungry and his brain wanted gummy frogs for a snack.  I got him home before he starved to death on the sidewalk and he made a late night nosh.  Whew.  Dodged that bullet.  

I will say that ever since he started this vegan challenge, he really is being more creative with food.  He likes the Thug Kitchen cookbook a lot- perhaps because of all the swear words and the fact that it's written by men and not by a sweet vegan chick who likes flowers and stuff? (I'm all over the flowers and sunshine, but that's me.) For him, changing his thinking around easy food will be his big struggle.  He tends to forget all the food we have in the fridge and pantry and go out and buy new food.  

When we were both in grad school, we used to play a game called "eat down the pantry". Near the end of the month when money was tight, we tried to see who could make more complete meals out of pantry food.  Since I tend to stock it with staples like canned tomatoes and beans, I usually won.  Nothing left but noodles, tomatoes, beans, flour, and spice? (And odds and ends of random fridge veggies like kale and carrots?) That's either pasta with rolls, stir fry, or tacos.  M would probably make soup. That dude could live on soup.  

But lately I've been thinking more about food. We are blessed that we have never really faced a significant food crisis.  Even though I feel very financially anxious often, I know that I have never had to choose between paying a bill or buying food.  If I'm honest, at the end of the month, I always have cash left over for kale.  

But I have noticed, strikingly, over the last decade, how sharply food costs have risen.  As a vegetarian living alone, in Arlington, 10 years ago, (city girl with a propensity for places like My Organic Market and no farmer's market available), I could do my weekly groceries and wine for the week for about $60, maybe $80 if I got some fish for a treat.  This included chocolate goodies.  Almost everything was organic.

When we were first married, in Fredericksburg, $25 could buy us three huge bags of veggies and eggs at the farmer's market nearby, $20 more took care of everything else, and for $40 we could go out to a date night every week.  

These days, we are lucky if $80 buys us the basics.  It's not bad planning.  It's that the costs of food has gone up so dramatically. In the recent past, it was cheaper to be a vegetarian and to cook.  Now, it seems as if being vegetarian and whole foods cooking is the most expensive way to live.  

Sometimes I wonder what effect global warming has on the food supply.  (Probably a big chunk.) sometimes I wonder what effect our loss of seasonal eating has on our food supply. (Probably related to global warming.  If we insist on eating tomatoes in February, we aren't choosing the most ecological options. Says the girl who has a pack of grape tomatoes in my kitchen right now.) but I also suspect that it has something to do with the fact that is is cheaper to buy processed prepared food than to make your own.  Taco shells, I'm looking at you, and that one is not on me.  

We never use coupons because they don't seem to make coupons for the stuff we buy.  Raw almonds, kale, tofu... Dry beans.  Canned tomatoes.  Plain flour. None of this stuff has coupons, and it costs more now than it did a few years ago.  Meanwhile, it seems meat prices stay stagnant, and prepared food, the worst stuff to be eating, is rock-bottom.  Coupons abound for taco shells and cookies and  premade kiddie type snacks.  Now I also buy premade snacks to keep meal bars in my purse to stave off the starvings... But it scares me that it is cheaper and more subsidized (read: more encouraged) to buy "food" premade by a handful of companies, than it is to buy plain vegetables.  

I also know that we have had to adjust our food choices due to my lactose intolerance.  We buy raw almonds to make almond milk.  I was told it's cheaper to buy almond milk... But store bought almond milk has so many strange ingredients.... I want to know what I'm eating.  We buy sheep or goat yogurt so I can try to build my tolerance.  That's more than 3 times as costly as cow yogurt.  We can't go out to just any restaurant because of the dairy thing and I find I usually can't get the cheapest thing on the menu.  Burgers, for example, are usually the cheapest thing, but most veggie burgers have whey protein and many burger buns have butter or milk.  That means I'm spending more to eat. It's frustrating! 

Well... I'll continue to buy my plain veggies.  Maybe we will try a community garden again this summer.  Perhaps I can find a CSA in DC.  I am glad that we live where we can get to Eastern Market for the farmers market. I feel like we have to dig in our heels a bit and buy those plain veggies... Even though they cost more.  I have no illusions that one person can turn the tide of junk food that currently rules our grocery stores. But I hope I can help keep life in the farmers markets. In ten years, I want to feel like I can still make ethical choices in my eating.

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