I've been reading a bit lately about the argument that the sustainable food / organic movement is really only affordable by the middle and upper classes. Basically, those who can afford to shop at Whole Foods or the like. I tend to disagree wholeheartedly because there are many avenues to buying organic, sustainable or local foods without breaking the bank.
First off is where you are shopping. Sure, if you go to Whole Paycheck and buy their gourmet, packaged items you are going to ring up quite a tally. But, if you skip the morels, cave aged Gruyere and imported organic wines and stick to the in-season local fruits and vegetables and the bulk aisle, even Whole Foods can be somewhat affordable. Locally owned grocery stores more often will carry locally grown food over chain supermarkets. So you'll need to take into consideration whether locally grown fruits and vegetables that are sustainably grown but not certified organic or even use some non-organic practices are 'better' than Walmart organic produce grown half-way around the world.
Another alternative is shopping at your local food co-op if you have one. If you do, consider yourself extremely lucky because there you will find more food grown locally and at more reasonable prices. Hell, you might as well become a member of the co-op and reap the other benefits generally available to members.
Farmers markets are certainly on the rise. We have a ton in the Seattle area and, each year, more are opening up, which is so exciting even if I don't always get a chance to shop there. The best part of buying at the farmers markets is that you get to "meet the producer". In other words, you can ask all sorts of questions of the grower to get an idea of how that food was raised (organic, sustainable, with or without pesticides, etc.). But, the best part is also the fact that you are buying directly, so prices tend to be cheaper. Since you are also buying what's in season and fresh, the prices will be more inexpensive as well. If you are willing to eat seasonally, you can really reap the savings.
Finally, don't forget U-Pick, farm stands and on farm purchases. The U-Pick option tends to be extremely inexpensive mostly because you are doing the manual labor. Of course, you do have to take into consideration your own time with this one, but if you can spare the few moments to head out to your closest farm, then it's well worth the trip to stock up and do some preserving.
To stretch your food dollars even more, eating less meat is one huge way to go to reducing your costs. Sticking to grains, legumes and nuts can provide great sources of protein at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, cutting back on dairy can stretch out your food budget as well.
So, the question remains... is it possible to eat an organic or sustainably grown diet on a budget? A few years ago, there was the argument that those individuals who received food assistance from the government didn't receive enough money to be able to afford healthy food. Some took it further and argued that poor Americans really were excluded from being able to eat sustainably strictly because of the higher costs. There are a number of factors at play here, the majority of which have to do with food availability such as the fact that not many supermarkets remain in some inner city areas and it's difficult to travel out to the suburbs to shop at stores that sell the kinds of foods we are talking about here.
But, for the rest of us, can it be done? For those of us who live in areas where ample farmers markets, farms and grocery stores selling sustainably grown food exist, is it affordable?
I'd like to challenge us all to see if we can eat sustainably using the Food Stamp Allotment Program guidelines. It will take a lot of careful planning, but the end result is that we can save a lot of money on our food budget by trying to spend within this framework for a month.
So, here's the skinny. Based on the following allotment chart, you are to stick to the corresponding amount for food for the month of April. The challenge is that you must buy according to the following guidelines (from Locavores). Do not include non-food items or home grown items into your budget, but do include seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat. Make sure you include all the food costs from eating out, trips to coffee shops, etc.
These are fairly loose rules, but the goal is to buy sustainably grown food:
1. If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic.
2. If not ORGANIC, then Family farm.
3. If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business.
4. If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Terroir: purchase foods famous for the region they are grown in.
5. Hit the farmers market before the supermarket.
Household Maximum Monthly Allotment Chart:
1 person - $176
2 people - $323
3 people - $463
4 people - $588
5 people - $698
6 people - $838
7 people - $926
8 people - $1,058
Each additional person - $132
Sign Me Up!
To sign up for the challenge, add your name to the comments of this post. I'll be doing weekly check-ins to see how everyone is faring and for you to confess your non-sustainably grown food purchases.
This should be a difficult challenge for most of us since it's combining a tight budget with buying sustainably grown foods. For those of you already ahead of the curve, feel free to lower the budget amount and see if you can squeeze in even more savings.