Tuesday, February 2, 2010

An Affair With Real Food

After a night of sleeping on it (okay, right off the bat I’m lying to you: the dog was ill and vocal and nobody was sleeping; he’s fine now, and sleeping, while I’m here trying to force my eyes to stop crossing), it occurred to me that I should give you a better idea what you’ve signed up for.

I am shooting for nothing less that a total overhaul of my family’s eating habits from processed-foods-dependent to processed-foods-free. And I need to do it on a seriously limited budget. That’s a pretty big challenge. But wait, there’s more! I also need to learn to cook. Don’t misunderstand… I’ve been feeding myself and my family for years. I have pots and pans and various utensils and the mess in my kitchen as proof that I actually use them. The problem is that I never learned to cook from scratch. Plus, I grew up in an era of handy-dandy kitchen shortcut products, almost none of which, it turns out, are good for us. I suspect I have a lot of company, judging by my voyeuristic forays at the grocery store.

The magnitude of the change I needed to make started to gel in my mind while reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Clarity showered me from above as I made my way through Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. And the film Food Inc. firmed my resolve. But unlike Kingsolver, I don’t have 40 acres, a spouse, and a best-selling author’s income to support my efforts. And unlike Pollan, I don’t live in the Berkeley/Bay Area “land of food opportunity”.

In addition to money, my plan faces other limitations. My local grocery stores have decent, but limited selections of affordable fresh produce. Much of it comes from far, far away and lacks sufficient taste to warrant buying and eating it. The organic sections are of good quality though uniformly meager. In season, locally grown fresh produce is available, but is of surprisingly slim variety. We do have year-round availability of local, somewhat pricy, grass raised beef, pork, and lamb. Recently, I’ve seen whole local chicken as well- but at twenty four bucks a bird it is well outside my budget. And we have access to expensive but really exceptionally yummy dairy products and eggs.

Since buying my own home, I have been vegetable gardening in season. But I have yet to produce enough produce to have some put by for the off seasons. We’ll work on increasing yields and learning to preserve our harvest this year. But at this point I can’t count on growing all our own produce, or even most of it.

And then there’s time… It’s a really nice thing to be able to open the freezer and pull out individual chicken tenderloins all ready to throw in a stir-fry. But guilt and disgust over the production of that chicken is pushing those convenient tenderloins off my plate. So far, I’ve found no local, ethically raised alternative. As I examine what and how we’ve been eating, I find numerous similar examples of quick and easy ingredients that ultimately are far more costly than I realized, either ethically, health-wise, or both.

Oh, and one last thing… I hope to do all this well enough that my family won’t miss the processed stuff. I want us to enjoy real food so much that we don’t want to go back to our tawdry past. I want to be able to say “Remember when I made that great stew?” and hear back only the groans of delighted remembrance.

Is that asking too much? I don’t think so.


  1. Just take baby steps and you will do just fine. Don't try to change everything overnight. It is overwhelming at times and I am also trying to change to real foods on a limited budget, but I think it can be done and done well. I will continue to follow your progress as you post. Good Luck.

  2. Thanks Terri! That was exactly what I needed to hear. (My cabinets aren't as beautiful as yours after the clean-out, but it's a start!)

  3. Hi! Thanks for commenting on my blog...glad I found yours, and I'll follow along here too, since I'm right there with you on the limited budget---I have been unemployed for over a year now! So I sooooo understand the lack of funds! But the more I learn to cook from scratch, the more I realize how much I save, and you know what? It's so dang GOOD that I feel sorry for the people still eating processed crap! LOL! I recently taught myself to make refried beans...soaked the beans overnight, cooked 'em, then mashed, cooked in saved bacon grease, added some spices, and holy moly, that's good stuff (and cheap)! Good alone or in other things. Once you get going on this, I don't think your family will have any problem with it! :)

  4. Sara, Thanks for stopping by my blog. I am still working my way through yours (and am totally amazed by how much you read! You go girl!). I have been pleasantly surprised so far with how little resistance I have received from my kids to this new way of eating. Certain things are still a struggle, but I figure we'll do better in the long term if we don't try to quit cold turkey on everything. So a few old favorites, slowly becoming less frequent treats, will linger for a while. But, I think the kids are realizing that real foods FILL THEM UP- something we have really struggled with in the past. It used to seem like we ate all the time but were never full. Actually, it didn't just seem like that, it WAS like that. Lots of calories, but little nutrition. I am so glad to be on a new and better path.

  5. Thanks for the kind words! I suppose one thing I'm grateful for is having more time to read, lol! :)