The beginning of the year is usually a time of reflection for me. There is something magical about the sun staying out slightly longer, the temperatures being a little bit warmer, and the promise of new life that puts me a spirit of curiosity and wonder. What could I do to make our life easier, simpler, or better aligned with our values? This post is about aligning our food budget and food choices with our values.
Before I go much further, I must acknowledge my incredible privilege where I have the ability to make choices about food without being required to think about where my next meal is coming from or about how I’m going to get food since we have a car and live near multiple grocery stores. There are lots of people who do need to think about these things and I don’t want to diminish their struggles.
Our food values have evolved quite a bit over time. When we were graduate students living on our paltry stipends with a grocery budget of $40 per week, things were a lot different for us. We ate a lot of boxed and canned food and did everything in our power to stretch our budget. Back then, we had the mentality of quick and cheap food. We ate lots of ramen, canned tuna, and rice-a-roni. A six-pack of beer was a treat to be cherished and we never ate out. For me, a lot of this mirrored how I was taught to cook. My mom always made sure that we had food on our plates and in our pantry. (Although I don’t know how she always did it since there were four kids in her house and we ate everything that wasn’t bolted down.)
After completing our studies — well, Justin completed his and I went to a different school — we experienced quite a bit of lifestyle creep. Justin had gotten a job. It paid more than any job he or I had ever had and came with benefits like health insurance and a 401k. It was a major step in the right direction for us in all sorts of ways. But, like a lot of people, we didn’t really know how to handle this sudden influx of cash. It was like getting a student loan disbursement every two weeks that we didn’t have to pay back. Of course, we paid our bills, saved in his retirement account, and worked on paying back his student loans, but we weren’t
interested in concerned with saving any extra money at this point. I don’t have the numbers, but I know that our eating out and drinking budgets went from zero to much higher than that.
Fast forward five years or so and our values have shifted quite a bit. In terms of our lifestyle, we focus on intentional living. We have always tended towards minimalism in our home, but with my work focused on the harms of capitalism and us finding the financial independence movement, we have begun reconsidering our purchasing practices.
When is comes to our food purchases, we focus on the following three areas:
- No plastic,
- Local when possible, and
- Humanely raised.
We try to buy items without plastic as much as possible, but we’re certainly not perfect. Overall, plastic is terrible for the environment. It uses a finite resource in its production and takes forever to biodegrade. In order to avoid plastic, we use reusable grocery bags, shop with our jars for bulk goods, and keep our produce loose. If we need to get something in a box, we make sure that the box is recyclable or compostable. The part where I get tripped up is are the bread and tortilla bags. I assuage my guilt by repurposing those as dog poop bags. I also have a hard time with meat as it usually involves some sort of plastic. We try to eat vegan at least twice a week and buy only the meat we need.
Whenever possible, we try to buy our groceries from local sources. It can be a challenge though since we don’t always know where the bulk goods are coming from at the store and fruits and veggies often come from elsewhere during the winter months. We’re most successful at this during the summer when we can go to the farmers’ market each week. It’s the middle of January and I’m already dreaming of this summer’s local produce.
Finally, we want the meat and eggs that we consume to be humanely raised. Yes, we know that going completely vegan would be best, but neither of us is quite there yet. As I mentioned, we do at least two vegan meals per week and could increase that in the future. Until then, we make sure that the eggs we buy are cage-free and that our meat had a good life before it came to us.
It gets complicated when I want to buy something that might only fit with one or two of our values. For example, we have the majority of our meat delivered once per month. With the exception of salmon that comes directly from Alaska, all of the meats are locally and humanely raised in Colorado. But here’s the rub, all of the mean comes sealed in freezer-safe plastic. It seems a small trade-off for the exceptional quality of product that we’re getting and that we get to support local farmers. At the end of the day, it’s about being mindful and making choices you can live with.
This year, I’m continuing my focus on our food budget. This means I need to work on ways to keep with our values AND spend less. For us, this will probably mean less eating out and increasing the frequency of non-meat meals (where the bulk of our budget seems to come from).
How do you make sure that your shopping (in all its forms) stays consistent with your values and goals?