Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Things My Mama Taught Me

One of the most valuable lessons I received early on in my life is restraint when it comes to conflict.  With a quick temper and a sharp tongue like mine, it pays to take time before responding to something that bothers me.  Such is the case with a blog entry I posted yesterday and have since decided to remove.  I have never done that before (I have written posts but never posted them), but I felt in this case that although I still agree with everything I wrote, I missed making/focusing on the point I really wanted to make.  For you avid blog watchers, you have the inside scoop on my rant, but this is the one I really want read. 

SO, one of the headlines in yesterday's noon time newscast referenced a study done in Nova Scotia regarding the high cost of food for low income families.  In particular the headline, and the study, looked at the cost of NUTRITOUS food, stating that  low income families canNOT afford nutritious food. This sent me into a bit of a rage and I found myself spouting off all varieties of wisdom and critism regarding cell phones and satellite TV, etc.  I was struggling with the priorities of many people claiming to have financial problems.  However, after a night's sleep and more consideration, I realized that what was really bothering me was the fact that NUTRITIOUS food has been targeted as the problem.  And while I know that our food system has been designed, in the last few decades, to make bad food cheaper, it simply is NOT true that nutritious food is more expensive.  It is true that people have less time (or at least percieve that they have less time) and that people have lost the desire or ability to cook 'from scratch' and people don't grow gardens like they used to, but that has nothing to do with nutritious food being 'more expensive'. 
A couple years ago I used to go grocery shopping on a regular basis with a good friend who did not hold organic food in the same high esteem that I do. She worked full time and preferred the ease of pre-prepared food to the effort of spending time cooking meals from scratch.  When we went to the grocery store we would always compare our carts and see who had the lower bill at the end.  Her cart was always fuller and almost always cheaper. BUT, my bag of potatoes went a LOT further than her bag of french fries.  And my flour, yeast and salt went a lot further than her frozen pizza.  I paid more off the top, but she would be back for another full cart of groceries before I was even half through mine.  That didn't bother either one of us, since a)she enjoyed the convenience and b)she wasn't claiming that one way was better/cheaper than the other. 

Just a couple examples from this week's flyers (summerside sobey's and superstore):
1) supper
$1.29 for 1 Michilina's frozen entrees (ie. tiny boxes of microwavable food-like substances for one person for one meal)
$1.29  for pound of dried pasta
$.99 for can of tomatoes (add a pinch of spices/herbs and it's at least 4x the meal the microwave can make)

2)packed lunch
$4.99 deli meat pack
$.88 can tuna
$2.49lb pork shoulder blade roast

I could spend all day flipping through flyers, but I'm probably going to discover that processed, unhealthy foods are advertised and on sale far more frequently than healthy, natural foods, so it would only help to serve that perception of nutrition being expensive.  I'm currently reading Michael Pollan's book "In Defense of Food" and if you haven't read it, I HIGHLY recommend it. Three simple rules:  Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.  And by eat food, he means real food, not something that resembles food or smells like food. Real food that you can recognize and more importantly that your great grandmother could recognize if she were here.  Buying bulk means having the freezer or cupboard space, but if we're really talking about saving money, that is probably the easiest way to do so.  Cooking is the next best way.  Of course we'd all like to veg out in front of the TV for the night, but if our bills are so tight that we can't afford the next grocery bill, maybe missing an episode of Survivor to make chili for tomorrow's lunch isn't such a crazy idea after all.  So ya can't afford meat?  Then don't.  There are so many healthy meat alternatives now that are often much cheaper than meat.  Or buy a cheap cut and make it last.  It only takes a tiny bit of innovation and creativity to make it work.

I just feel like somebody is taking the easy way out when it comes to this study regarding the price of nutritional food.  What it doesn't take into consideration are the added costs that bad food adds to our lives.  The environmental degradation and necessary clean up that comes with monocropping and heavy input crops like corn that make up a HUGE chunk of processed foods isn't in that price tag.  Health problems, like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, that lead to missed work and stress and a shorter life expectancy aren't in that price tag either.  So let's all go on, complaining about the price of food and making excuses to put garbage in our bodies and see where we are a few years down the road.  How cheap will the 'nutritious food' look then?

Anyway, that's my re-worked rant.  Too bad real life isn't like a blog where I can just erase the more volatile rants and re-write 'em.  That would probably go a long way in my future political career.  hehe.



  1. I know where you are coming from, Sally; now how to get it to the right audience?

  2. Okay I read both posts
    Some thoughts for you

    The study used the National Nutritious Food Basket for their food.

    The 2008 National Nutritious Food Basket consists of the following foods (listed in alphabetical order): apple juice; apples; bananas; baked beans (canned); beef (ground, inside round and steak); bread (white, whole wheat, and buns); broccoli (fresh); cabbage; canola oil; cantaloupe; carrots (fresh); celery; cereals; cheddar cheese; cheese slices; chicken legs; corn (canned); crackers; cucumber; eggs; fish (frozen); grapes; green pepper; ham; iceberg lettuce; lentils (dry); margarine; mayonnaise; milk; mixed vegetables (frozen); mozzarella cheese; mushrooms; oatmeal; onions; orange juice; oranges; pasta; peaches (canned); peanuts; peanut butter; pears (fresh); peas (frozen); pita bread; plain cookies and crackers; pork chops; potatoes; raisins; rice; romaine lettuce; rutabaga/turnip; salad dressing; salmon (canned); strawberries (frozen); string beans (frozen); sweet potatoes; tomatoes (canned and fresh); tuna (canned); vegetable juice; and yogurt.

    I'm not seeing much processed food in there.

    Next they took different family types at different income levels to determine if they could afford to buy that food after basic shelter was taken care of.

    The answer was not at the low income level.

    They are not attacking NUTRITIOUS food.

    I do agree with you to some extent about prepared food. I'm lucky right now that I'm only working part time but when I was working full time I was gone from 6:45 am till 6:15 pm 5 days a week. Tell me where there was time to cook there, I wasn't vegging in front of the TV. Weekends were spent with the kids doing their activities and I tried to cook what I could but a person has only so much energy.

    You have a farm and can plant a garden. I live on .08 of an acre and although I do plant lettuce, tomatoes, celery and other things I can't grow enough to make any kind of dent in my food budget. I go to farmers markets ect ect ect.

    Food prices have gone up up up and income levels have not gone up as dramatically.

    Having been at the low income level in the past and now being moderately middle income I really don't know how low income people are managing to feed,cloth and keep shelter over their heads. My heart goes out to them.

  3. Yes Johanna, all those things may be true. If we want to get into the details of the study however, I would suggest that some of the numbers are perhaps a bit skewed. They have dedicated $155 per month or $1866/ yr for clothing and footwear. I'm not sure what this is based on, but I feel strongly that if I had to choose between footwear and food, I know where my money would go. Granted, growing kids need shoes and in the month of September that budget may be a bit low, but surely that is exorbitant for most of the rest of the year? Also the cost of transportation ($384/mo), clothing and personal care products are listed as being the same for the median NS family as the low income family on assistance. Does a family on assistance really maintain the same travel expenses as the median NS family?
    I am not doubting that there are families who are genuinely having a hard time paying for their food. I just question the fact that we are even having a discussion about AFFORDING food. We have become so disconnected from it that is has become simply another bothersome expense and as a farmer that is a heartbreaking reality that I am not happy with.

  4. I'm not sure I understand. Food is not a bothersome expense it ranks up there with shelter.

    Yes we are disconnected from the process of growing, harvesting and making our own food, I agree there but in no way do I ever take farmers for granted.

    I don't think the numbers are skewed, if anything they are on the conservative side. If you are managing to cloth your kids cheaper than that kudos to you for doing it. My kids are 16, 13 and 10 and it's not cheap anymore even though we shop at thrift stores. You can't tell me you would send your kids out without footwear in winter so they can have a meal. Sometimes you have to make the choice between footwear and food and footwear wins. (been there done that myself).

    "Also the cost of transportation ($384/mo), clothing and personal care products are listed as being the same for the median NS family as the low income family on assistance. Does a family on assistance really maintain the same travel expenses as the median NS family? "
    if they travel the same distances yes. Have you seen the price of gas? My household travel is much more than that and we only travel for work.

    I think the discussion needs to be opened because the plain fact is that society can't keep running in this consumeristic circle forever. Prices go up so people need higher wages to afford to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. Wages go up so corporations have more expenses and need to raise the price of their products (and food is a product) and we go around the circle again. I wonder how long we can keep this going? When will we hit the wall?