Food Ethics: What We Eat and How Much It Costs

Hi there. Mr W kindly promised on our facebook page that I’d tell you all about how much it cost us to cook food for the month, so here it is:

(Values are approximate because to be honest I couldn’t be bothered working out what fraction of one cent a teaspoon of salt costs. Instead I added 2€ to the total cost of making each recipe. Highly unscientific I know but really, life is too short.)

If these prices sound ridiculous to you, you’re not alone. They sound ridiculous to me too, especially because our monthly food spending is huge in comparison. But what really hits our food spending isn’t these cheap freezable meals we make for lunch, but all the other things we buy for breakfasts and dinners, which I don’t have a breakdown of because, again, life’s too short.

The main point of cooking an entire month’s lunches in advance is to save time. Me and Mr W are at home for lunch every day and I wanted to avoid a daily “what’s for lunch?” dilemma. Everything is just there in the freezer and all I have to do is take something out each night to defrost overnight. It also means we eat more healthily since we don’t have to make the conscious decision at every meal – I make the decision once a month during meal planning, cook the healthy stuff and then we just automatically eat healthily since that’s what’s on offer.

I also made huge amounts of a couple of recipes (bolognese and lentil bolognese) to accommodate Mr W’s habit of spontaneously inviting lots of people over for dinner at very short notice (note Mr. W: don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds :)). It used to really annoy me because he underestimated the amount of work involved and I ended up doing most of it, but this way if he suddenly announces on Saturday night that he invited a family of five over for lunch the next day, I have it covered. It means I can stop stressing about him inviting people over and start enjoying it instead without being so exhausted by the time the guests actually arrive that all I want to do is crawl into bed.

I still need to work on reigning in dinner and weekend food spending but I’m hoping that cooking all our lunches in advance will at least contribute a bit to reducing our overall monthly food bill. Which brings me on to a bit of a rant…

In an ideal world, everything we eat would either come from our own garden or be grown with love by a local organic farmer who we know personally. We would go and get the food directly from the source, eliminating the need for transport and packaging. But that’s not how things are unfortunately. I find it really, really difficult to do things according to these values, however much I’d like to. For example, I decided to stop buying heavily packaged fruit and vegetables and only get things sold loose. So I ended up walking out of my usual supermarket with hardly anything. Then we went to the local farmer’s market at the weekend only to find that most of the produce there was shipped in from abroad and hugely expensive. So I ended up going to a more upmarket supermarket that my usual one where I could at least buy the imported veg loose and for less than the people at the market were asking. But I still ended up feeling really frustrated. I really, really want to eat regional, seasonal, organic, non-packaged food and I’m really, really trying but I feel like there are so many obstacles to something that should be so simple and obvious. Grrrrr!

Part of the problem is that my values are so far removed from normal, everyday reality and from how we’ve been doing things up to now. In my head I want to make some huge, radical changes and then I feel frustrated when it doesn’t work out like that. So I end up making compromises, being forced to sort my values into some kind of priority. Would I rather buy local apples sold loosely or organic ones wrapped in plastic and shipped in from Chile? Would I rather buy expensive imported loose vegetables or cheap imported packaged vegetables?

And the more I read up on a subject, the more it seems like everything is in some way unethical. Milk is bad, poor cows. So I started making my coffee using soy milk instead. But wait, soy is bad too. Synthetic fabrics are nasty. So I bought organic cotton instead. But wait, cotton is awful too. It seems like we can’t win. Or we can win, but before you can win you need to do a tonne of research until you find the perfect product that isn’t going to kill you or the environment and meets all your personal values and needs as well. It’s a little overwhelming. The only coping mechanism I’ve come up with is to start with little changes, read up on stuff as I go along and try to make each successive purchase fit in with my values just a little bit more. Otherwise I just wouldn’t buy anything ever again and my family would starve.

How about you? Which of your values are you willing to compromise on? Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information out there about why everything is bad? How do you deal with it?