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Dirt made my lunch

Maybe, just maybe, there will be a few of you out there who get the referenced song in the title. As for the rest of you, perhaps you didn’t go to Public School in a resort town that taught recycling and forest conservation as a core class in elementary school like mine did. Regardless, I find many years later and we are still a far cry away from any kind of local bioregionalism in the way we eat here on this concrete island where we live. It’s hard to unplug from being consumed by personal technologies, what’s close, fast and efficient rather that what the seasonal harvest is, how local soil health is affecting availability, or even how exactly our eating circulates our dollars within the local and broader economy. Granted, there is a lot to sort through if we start examining exactly what ‘local’ ‘organic’ ‘affordable’ and ‘culturally available’ really mean then there are far too many variables to which I offer few answers.

We make choices based on these variables. Choices that arise from external pressures, like where to shop, what to get, how much to pay, to which we assign value as we assess them in light of our beliefs, so our options are significantly altered through this lens. If it were up to me, with barriers of external and financial strain lifted, I would buy only geographically local, organic food from our neighborhood Bioregions. And it’s value would be well worth the additional monetary price tag. However, in the past years, I have seen our ability and decisions on how we consume food be whittled down and drastically change. In this, I have keenly come to understand the notion of Privilege versus Survival. I also still feel very strongly about the quality of the foods we put in our bodies, where they come from and what they stand for. But in the light of crisis, compromises are made. So maybe now we just can’t eat all local, organic (or at least non-conventional) on our shoestrings budget. Or if we tried (and we’ve tried) we’d be running all over town to so many different stores to try to get the best deal, it makes it impossible to keep up on. So recently, starting this month, we are testing out a new strategy for consuming food. It’s called Divide and Conquer. 

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So here we are at Week 1. The notion is to break up what we buy into categories, which each are assigned a different store and each store has the best prices for the quality you get. We hope this will systematize when and where we shop by reducing redundancy and inefficiency. In our categories, we have Bulk/Pantry (where we’ll shop at our local organic Co-op for bulk items and dry/canned goods), Produce (where we hit up a close by fruit & veggie stand that has the lowest prices on fresh produce), Meats (where Matt will buy a bulk freezer pack of local, natural meats from Pike’s Place Market once a month), and Breads (where we go to Franz Bakery outlet down the street). The above picture is what I bought today at the Discount Produce stand- This is $20 of produce: 6lbs potatoes, 7 apricots, 5 white peaches, 1 bunch green onions, 4 cucumbers, 3 giant heirloom tomatoes, 2 onions, 5 nectarines, 2 red bell peppers, 7 bananas, 1- 5lb bag of apples, 1 bunch cilantro, 2 packages of blueberries, 2 packages of strawberries, and 1- 12lb watermelon. This method doesn’t take into account any prepared foods, as we really never do anything that’s not from scratch. We buy flour in 50lb bags. Actually we don’t even own a Microwave. Maybe we’re a bit different, who knows. The bulk of our eating is built around good, fresh veggies and fruit. I have to confess my kids are forced to eat the main part of their dinner before being allowed to have salad, otherwise they’d eat nothing but greens.

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Additionally, we plan to offset a lot of what we buy at the store with what comes out of our garden. It’s way cheaper to purchase seeds or plant starts than produce. $20 got us all of what is in our backyard. If I could, I would start some serious urban agriculture in our backyard. The wheels are turning for next year, as we were too late to do much of what I would like to do. This season there will be no corn, blueberries, raspberries, artichokes, asparagus, garlic, the list goes on. Of what we do have, it’s been providing us about a Salad a night. Soon to come are several varieties of beans, tons of tomatoes, carrots, onions, strawberries and chard. For the Fall we have tons of squash, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, eggplant and peppers. However, I already see the quantities we planted aren’t sustainable. With exception of the lettuces and tomatoes, we will get maybe one meal out of each of the other varieties from each item we planted. For the future, even this season, I would love to increase the bulk we produce ourselves.

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One of the best parts about how we eat is getting the kids involved. It’s obviously a ‘Toddler Garden’, as I had many little hands helping me plant, so nothing is in neat straight rows. But it’s pretty amazing to see the girl’s excitement as each day we go see what is new and what is bigger and they lend a helping hand. Even in the grocery store, Araiya is asking me, actually double-checking me, to make sure I have all the stuff she likes on the list- like leeks, strawberries, carrots. But their faces, when we actually pick something, it’s just great. We picked a huge radish a few nights ago, and they each wanted to pose for pictures with it, showing the camera the one end where we all got to take little tastes of this spicy root.

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Granted, this works for us in how we eat and how we cook. We aren’t the type of family who, as mentioned before, eats out of a box. Even our syrup is home-made. I wonder, even though it may seem that it takes more time, now that I have become accustomed to it if I would ever be lured back to putting Eggo’s in my toaster again? At this point in time, I can’t conceive spending the money on something that is so easily gone. I find the same thing with boxed cereal (we make our own granola, from this recipe). When we struggled to budget for this year, we looked back to the haphazard way we spent money on food the previous year. The amount fluctuated, as at some low points the only thing liquid in our spending was grocery money. One month we somehow (as a family of 5) only spent $180. This year we had planned for the average amount we spent, even upped it, though due to the economy, minimized income and food subsidy programs, it’s pretty shoestrings. That doesn’t mean we have to be eating Top Raman, it means we need to get all the more creative in how we cut out excess without cutting out quality and nutrition.

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So just in case there is interest, here’s listed our resources of where the majority of our food comes from.

Stores:

Bunk/Pantry- Madison Market Natural Foods Co-op (this is where we get all of our organic bulk grains, like rice, lentils, beans, flour, oats as well as goat cheese) & Trader Joe’s for nuts, goat cheese, snacks, Rice Milk & Almond Milk.

Produce- MacPhearson’s Veggie Stand & Neighborhood Farmer’s Markets

Meat- Don & Joe’s Meats (inside Pike’s Place Market, all local natural & fresh meats)

Breads- Franz Bakery Outlet (they have more than just bread, like tortilla chips, tortillas, potato chips, and they bake stuff for places like Seattle Sourdough, often you can get 3 rounds for $0.99. I never spend more than $6 and come home with 2-3 grocery bags full)

We occasionally go to Safeway or QFC for a few items like Formula and Adam’s Peanut Butter where you just can’t beat the price.

Recipes/Resources:

Cooking Light (magazine) saved and sorted via My Recipies (website)

Hogwash (blog)

Roots & Grubs (blog) & Hungry Monkey (book)

Springpad (to organize, meal plan and create grocery lists)

This is an ever-evolving strategy and task, sure to change seasonally and as the kids grow. The process is one that ever presents itself as a challenge, regardless of I think it would be easier if we didn’t have to worry about money or food allergies or whatever. The choices of how to ensure we are raising healthy girls who are healthy and adventurous eaters are of high importance, so I guess I can just expect to continue to juggle and refine how we approach this task. It helps to be gleaning wisdom from others, discovering new resources and ensuring that we are stewarding our important allocation of money within our monthly budget well.

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