Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On Progress

I’m nearly finished with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I’d suggest it to anybody. It’s a fantastic book, full of humor, wisdom, gorgeous prose, and excellent recipes. (Seriously, try the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp.) Still, I can’t help but feel a little guilty reading the thing.

The author is an ardent gardener and regular buyer of all foods organic, local, and humanely raised. She argues that it costs more up front, but the prices – to the environment, to her family’s health, to the local economy – even out in the long run. She is undoubtedly right on, and I agree completely.

But I also write a blog about inexpensive, nutritious cooking. And sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile ethical choices with workable choices.

Is a cheap banana better for us when it exploits workers in a different hemisphere? If we didn’t buy that banana, would they have jobs at all? Can you realistically expect someone to buy a $17 chicken twenty miles away, when a $3 one exists right around the corner?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I do know I would like that $17 chicken someday. Personally speaking, eating cheaply isn’t my ultimate goal. Eating smart, ethically, healthy, and heartily is my ultimate goal. Eating cheaply is a means of getting there. It's saving us money and instilling respect for what we consume.

As for progress, in the last few years, my household (apartmenthold?) has:
  • Cut our meat consumption by about 60%
  • Increased our vegetable and grain consumption drastically
  • Started eating seasonal produce
  • Started using canvas bags instead of plastic shopping bags
  • Made a conscious attempt to buy foods with less packaging
  • Started washing Ziploc bags
  • Started buying Certified Humanely Raised eggs (instead of those mass-produced thingies)
  • Started buying greenmarket meat when we can (which, I wish was more often)
  • Become hardcore menu planners and list makers
It’s been reflected at Cheap Healthy Good, too. When the site began, it was largely meant for budget dieters. The recipes included only calorie, fat, and price calculations. The articles centered more on the ties between financial solvency and weight. As many blogs tend to be, it was a reflection of where I was at the time: a burgeoning cook, newly fascinated with personal finance, attempting to maintain a recent drop in poundage.

Since then, the focus has changed somewhat. Fiber and protein are included in our recipe numbers now. “Dieting” turned more towards “healthy living.” The spending discussions have begun to include mentions of ethical eating, and maybe coughing up a little bit more cash for quality ingredients.

Are we ethically bulletproof? Nope. It’s a work in progress, and we get occasional flack for using cheap chickens. I am okay with this, though. Because ideally, I like to think our mission statement has evolved.

These days, we’re about more than inexpensive, nutritious cooking; we’re about saving a buck now so we can afford something better later. It's kind of like Dave Ramsey's motto: “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else.”

And ultimately, the most you can ask of anyone is to do the best he can with what he has, and realize the value in aspiration.

So, what about you, sweet readers? Do you sometimes feel a disconnect between what you're eating, and what you'd like to be eating? What kind of changes have y’all made to your eating habits? What are you just starting? What will you do in the future? I’d love to hear how you’re progressing, as well.

P.S. Read the Kingsolver book. I’m serious.


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