We Can Do Something

Thanks to many of you who sent in ideas in response to my blog post last week about what we can do, both individually, and as a society, to make a difference in what we are eating.

Following are but a few of the contributions you* kindly shared:

  • Yes, eating real, fresh food is, in fact, more expensive than eating at fast food joints, but eating at home every day, saves money, even if what you’re cooking is expensive.  Plus, in the long run, not buying chips, ketchup, mayo, bread, etc, and making them yourself using real food ingredients saves even more on food bills.  My food bills are lower now since I went paleo than ever before in my life.  People balk at going paleo because at first glance of prices they think it’s more expensive without ever giving it a try.  This year I started logging all my food costs.  I write one column of grocery bills, and one column of eating out on cheat meals.  For the $20 bucks I spend on one meal in a restaurant, I can get food for four or five meals at home by buying groceries instead.  I’m going to write a huge blog about it at the end of the year when I have my totals.  I’m going to bust this myth once and for all and take this “paleo is too expensive” excuse out of the argument!
  • Focus on what’s possible now. While the grocery bagger might not be able to afford to shop at Whole Foods, I’d bet that the grocery store where she does shop has a produce section and a meat market. Sure, while they probably aren’t organic and the meat isn’t grass fed, it is still possible to make healthier buying decisions. Even Super Wal-Marts and Super Targets have organic sections now. Anyway, some of the cheapest cuts of meat are the tastiest. $7-10 will buy a pound of flank steak at most grocery stores. Add a couple of sweet potatoes, some carrots, maybe a bell pepper and some onion, and for the price of 4 “value meals” at a fast food restaurant your grocery clerk can prepare a nice family meal. Substitute chuck for the flank steak and it makes a great stew. Both not only are inexpensive, but also relatively quick and easy. It reminds me a bit of Jamie Oliver’s specials on school lunches. Eating healthier doesn’t need to be more expensive.
  • In my local area, Washington state, we have a program for home gardeners where you grow an extra row (or few) to be donated to the food banks.  I hear that in Oregon at least, those on food stamps can purchase food bearing plants with their food stamps. I loved this when I heard about it. My cousin called me so excited one day to tell me the news, she has a tremendous green thumb and loved the frugality of it as well. Buy a tomato, or buy a tomato plant and harvest fresh tomatoes all season. I should point out, this was not my cousin reading an article, this was her finding out something new about the food stamps she uses. I believe part of the answer to healthy eating on a budget is bringing back the home garden. I won’t lie, the first season or two, if growing things doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s going to feel like an uphill trudge. Half your plants may not put on fruit, you may discover that your local insect / animal population likes your greens as much as you, or let’s be honest you may forget to water for a few days and find everything keeled over one morning. All I can say is don’t get discouraged, it gets easier. You start learning what you can successfully grow and keep to that list, slowly adding one or two new things each season. I say this as a recovering brown thumb. The first year all that took was a zuchinni and tomato plant. Four years, and a few hair pulling moments later… I’ll be growing enough vegetables to feed myself this year, and possibly try out that grow an extra row program, as well as trying out fruit growing beyond strawberries. And this isn’t beyond the scope of apartment dwellers either. There’s a wide variety of vegetables and fruit that can be grown in containers. Thank heavens, as most of my growing area is a brick patio. All this takes to be successful is some research into what can grow in your area, free thanks to the internet. And no moaning from the cheap seats, I had no internet connection when I started so I used the one at work. But the library is just begging you to visit. All those free books about gardening and usually an internet connection too, why haven’t you gone yet? For those grumbling about no transportation, take the bus, I did. Almost any town with a bus system will make sure there is a line to the local library. So maybe research isn’t all, maybe some tenacity and follow through too. But is that so bad to nurture while your watering the plants?
  • As my friend says, “the rich get local and organic, the poor get diabetes.” One of these days, I’m going to suck it up and do a “food stamp challenge,” to see just how well I can align my food choices with my values when I’m operating under such severe budgetary constraints.  There are the big fixes, of course – an end to corn, soy, and dairy subsidies for one, a return to more sustainable agricultural practices for another, and end to the myth that a “low fat diet” is anything but deleterious, and so on. But those are changes that will be a long time in coming (even though we’re making inroads here and there), and even those of us who are intensely aware of the issues, who go out of our way to eat healthy, and to support sustainable food production, etc. can’t really do much to effect large scale change in the short term. Your question’s about what we can do now – I’m actuality thinking that this is an arena in which education and awareness matters more than budget.  In other words, one can spend an awful lot of money on artisinal breads and cheeses and wreak havoc on one’s body, whereas, armed with a bit of knowledge, one can make some healthy changes.The single biggest changes I suggest to save money (and to undercut risk of contamination) are:
  •  2. STOP BUYING PREPARED FOOD. These two shifts are going to free up a surprising amount of money. Fast food is cheap and in poor neighborhoods, more available than fresh, but it’s not cheaper.
  • 3. Emphasize green leafy vegetables (which tend to be reasonably priced) over fruits (which can be pricey). With fruit, stick to what’s on sale. 
  • 4. While I’m in a financial position to support organic agriculture, this is not something everyone can do, so know the dirty dozen, add carrots to it, and go ahead and buy the rest conventional. 
  • 5. Look for urban fruit and vegetable markets (not farmer’s markets, though I LOVE farmer’s markets) … At Haymarket in Boston, one can save upwards of 70% on produce (and I think they sell fish there as well). 
  • 6. You don’t need ribeye. I’m often buying the grass fed “stew meat,” which is delicious over a big green salad. So, buy quality, yes, but focus on cheaper cuts. And also, do the math. I picked up, unthinkingly, a box of 4 1/3 lb grass fed lamb burgers for $7.99. Pricey? Maybe … could you get a 1/3 lb burger of that quality out, anywhere? Don’t think so … (We’re of two minds, it seems, when we’re in the grocery store we have one set of criteria as to what’s expensive, eating out, another, and that’s gotta change (which is why I make “stop eating out” priority one if you’re trying to eat healthy on a budget). 
  • 7. Nell, you won’t agree with me on this one, but I think there comes a point when we have to look at greater and lesser evils, and I’m not so opposed to legumes in the diet if they are properly prepared to deal with anti nutrients. So, lentils, peas, garbanzos, bought in bulk, soaked, cooked at home, are a source of calories and can “stretch” a meal of meat and greens quite far. I do still eat hummus from time to time, so many ways to prepare it, so many raw veggies to add to it … 
  • 8. Yams, rutabagas, turnips not too expensive and they go a long way (I’m not lo-carber, I’m lean and active and coming to paleo from a raw vegan background so I’m still about eating 80% raw and what I play with is the 20%, I feel better with meat fish and eggs and some high fat dairy in the mix, but I’m never under 100 g of carbs a day). 
  • 10. Even the best, highest quality eggs, are less then 0.50 a piece. Buy eggs from pastured chicks and put the “egg factories” out of business!
  • 11. Don’t throw money away on things like bottled water! Or Starbucks coffee. (Or don’t get me started … diet drinks.) Those purchases can add up to $60 a month (often more) and that’s, what, 10 lbs of grass fed something or other. (Do love my French pressed dark roast, but I brew it home.)
  • 12. Get to know your food a bit. I think once people have a bit of awareness, they’re more in a position to resist the corporate takeover of their bodies. I’m pretty convinced even if I had to live on $300 a month, I could do it semi-paleo, zero processed food … one day I’ll put my theory to the test. 🙂
  •  I think less emphasis should be put on the grass fed meat, free range chicken and eggs, organically grown produce, and the like. While I agree these are the best, they are also the most expensive way to go primal. With grass fed beef at $17.00 a pound (the cheapest I could find in south Louisiana) it is out of the budget range  of most people. Like I said, I have been primal for almost two years, and with the exception of what I hunt and fish, the rest of my diet is bought from a regular grocery store shelf. And when it comes to produce, yes I prefer the raw fresh local farm grown stuff, but a bag of frozen broccoli florets steamed does just as well. A much less alternative to the fresh raw bunches. The thing is, I think more emphasis needs to be on: NO GRAINS, MORE MEAT, FISH, POULTRY AND MORE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. NOT necessarily just the super expensive grass fed, wild caught, organically grown varieties. 
  • I always look for coupons and manager specials on meats. When I see a manager special for $1 to $3 off of meats (got organic chicken for .92 a package past weekend), I buy all of what they have and then freeze them. Also, I don’t have much time to search for coupons but Target has coupons online that you can sort by areas and I believe other coupon sites do the same. I select for produce, meats, and frozen foods for veggies and fruits. Also, with Target, if you get a Red debit card (which comes directly out of your bank account), you save 5% every shopping trip and this combines with coupons.  Also, I actually have an autoimmune disease and I have had time where I was in and out of the hospitals which when I went gluten free two years ago it helps so much lessen the trips to the ER. So, now that I have been paleo for two months, I just think the money I use on my grocery bills is good money that I don’t have to spend on medical bills.
  •  My boyfriend and I are on a very limited budget. He is a full-time student, so the two of us live off my modest salary. I get pretty frustrated because eating Paleo is a huge priority for us, but we have to cut corners, however, there are a few things we’ve found can really help us. Some of these involved an up-front investment like a slow-cooker, so we can get the cheaper cuts of meats, and find ways to make them delicious. The slow-cooker and all the great paleo slow cooker recipes out there have been a huge money-saver for us.  We also found a small 5.1 cubic feet deep freezer for 200$ on sale  that we put in the corner of our little apartment  which helps us buy in bulk, and freeze as much as possible. I think the most important thing we do is cut ourselves some slack. We can’t always buy organic fruits and veggies (sometimes we even buy frozen), and we don’t always get the best grass-fed free-range meat. But we are strict about no gluten, no starches, no refined sugar, and eating as much protein and fruits/veggies as possible. So we are working towards “Perfect Paleo” in our own budget. I’d advise others to do what they can, within their constraints, and know that the health benefits will come when you follow the pillars of the diet.

Keep your ideas flowing and share with friends, family, neighbors and your community.  Lead by example and keep doing your part to benefit the greater good of society, my fellow Paleo Peeps! 

*As these comments are straight from my readers, some of whom may or  not be Paleo, I’ve left the posts unedited in terms of content.  Regardless of whether someone is Paleo or not, we need to work together to get everyone trending toward healthier eating.  For example, one reader refers to eating legumes.  No, legumes are not Paleo, however, if a family on a very tight budget were to switch from having to go to a fast food joint to being able to grow their own beans, I’d still say it’s a better alternative.

Let’s work together!