Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sustainable Food Challenge report #1

Sustainable Food Budget Challenge - April 2009This here challenge is turning out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be in some regards, but already we are hitting the skids on the budget part of things.

So, for the first week of this challenge, I spent $104.95 on food groceries (starting the Saturday before the first of the month) with only buying a few non-organic/sustainable or non-local items mostly because I just wasn't thinking straight when I went shopping. I am such in the shopping mode for buying with cost in mind that I wasn't thinking about the sustainable part. It wasn't until I got home that I realized I could have easily just purchased the same items (they were all produce) in the organic section. Duh.

Yesterday I spent $106.30 on food for the upcoming week+ and bought all local and/or organic foods. I really had to wrap my brain around going to the right sections for food, since I tend to shop a bit on autopilot. But, I'm really happy that I bought everything that fit within the guidelines and it didn't cost much more.

Now for the overall budget thing. Going over the budget has little to do with actual food shopping, but more to do with the fact that we bought Indian food the other night. It was enough for two nights worth of dinners, but it still ended up being an additional $50 (does anyone know a decent Indian restaurant in North Seattle that doesn't totally suck and isn't outrageously overpriced?).

We also went out a few times to coffee shops. Since the kids were on spring break last week we were more apt to eat out since our schedules were a bit off. And, normally, we never eat out anymore. But, I suppose this is more realistic in terms of the challenge - under normal circumstances we occasionally eat out. I can't say the Indian food was at all local or organic in origin, but the restaurant is a local one, so at least we are supporting the local small businesses.

According to the allotment chart, we've got $588 to spend this month for four people for food. So far we are up to $275 and we are only five days in. But, to be fair, I'm calculating based off of the month starting the Saturday beforehand, so this total is really for two weeks (not counting any coffee, etc. that may be consumed this week).

One last thing I wanted to mention is that food prices in metropolitan areas are going to be higher, so on one hand it will be harder to stay within the allotment, but on the other hand you'll most likely have more access to sustainably grown foods since you'll probably have more shopping choices.

How is the challenge going for you so far? I know it's only a few days in but, have you hit any snags yet?


Chili said...

Not an easy challenge. It may even out at the end of the month, but the initial food bill was pretty high for the "staples" - $75.00 for one person -- but in the $75 is "total" costs for a big bag of something or other that will probably last more than a month (10 lb of potatoes? 5 lb flour?). The other challenge is keeping it honest. Hubby isn't doing the challenge, so "his" food isn't local or organic and sometimes our meals co-mingle - so if I eat "his" food, I figure "my" costs on that food item. But what if he eats "my" food and depletes my stock? Food wars. Difficult task when a couple isn't doing the challenge together. I feel like I'm spending MORE money buying "my" food separately from his. But I realize the point being made, so I wanted to at least try this. Its also a challenge writing it all down and running the calculations. Time to do this at the same time as spring gardening? ARGH!

Lily said...

My farmer's market & pick your own farms aren't open yet. Nor have I started the garden for this year. That all starts next month when crops start coming in to season. So, I'm failing on the budget. Going to try again with the grocery shop adventure this week.

knittinandnoodlin said...

I spent $97.36...I think coming in under my budget of $463 will be a snap since I tend to go grocery shopping only two or three times a month. I pretty much stick to the organic/sustainability guidelines normally, but there are a few things I can foresee tripping me up this week.

I would like to make cupcake pops for I'm going to put some effort into finding organic candy for the decoration. I wouldn't have put any effort into that at all if not for this challenge, and I probably wouldn't have counted it in my food budget (if I'm playing with my food, it's crafting!).

Farmer's Daughter said...

I just posted an update on this last night.

I'm not going to make the budget and I already know it. I wonder how people in CT that get food stamps do it?

Anonymous said...

Crunchy, I write with some trepidation, but I think (hope) you might be interested in hearing this. I am not doing this challenge, but I am following it avidly--and trying really hard not to feel discouraged. Your first post about this challenge amazed and disheartened me. After the bills are paid and gas accounted for, I run a family of 6 on $600 a month -- food, household, field trips and kids stuff, you name it. I try to set some $ aside for our big purchases of pick your own strawberries, apples, and blueberries. I am trying to save enough for a share from a local CSA, as well as taekwondo tournament for the boys this summer. All told, I have about $300-400 to feed my family for a month. According to the chart you posted, I should have a little over $800 just for food!

For the past year, I have been telling myself that slowly, somehow, I'd be able to make our family eat all organic. This challenge is making me think otherwise! If the dollar amount you posted in a minimum, I find myself wondering if I could possibly do enough to make any kind of difference?

For what it is worth, here is what we do eat organic or locally: bananas and peanut butter are organic. I just bought a 20lb bag of organic soybeans to grind in my grinder. This morning we opened our second to last bag of frozen strawberries that we picked last summer. We finished up our homemade applesauce last month. We tried organic, local milk, but it cut into the budget too much, so now I settle for Costco milk that is hormone free. I buy my eggs from a friend who is raising chickens. Last year we bought the overripe tomotoes from an organic farmer and canned/froze them. We are trying a garden for the third year--again, we have to go slowly because we can only throw so much money on improving our clay soil.I buy in bulk and most of our food is homemade. Oh, and after reading Omnivore's Delimma we will never be able to eat regular meat. We buy only local, 'happy' meat from the farmers market, and an occasional costco chicken on the side. Again, this is a BIG price difference so we have essentially become vegetarians--beans, costco cheese, tuna, peanut butter, and eggs making up most of our proteins.

But, my children can go through a 5 lb bag of apples in a week, easy. Reg apples cost .99 and organic cost 2.99. That is not a difference I can swallow easily.

I applaud the reasons behind your challenge. I think it's a great idea. But am I the only person out there trying to live sustainably on a shoestring?

CoCargoRider said...

I think we are also at the 5-600 dollar level. So far this month we sent 56 dollars on dairy from our local dairy and another 60 on other local foods. We did also spend 100 dollars on 25 lbs of flour and 25 lbs of dry pinto beans and 2 cases of canned beans so that hurt the budget a bit, but it will last awhile.

Elizabeth said...

I also am not doing this challenge bc, like Rachel, $588 for a family of 4 is way more than our food budget. Our food budget for a family of 4, eating predominantly organic is $400/ month MAXIMUM. When my dh was unemployed we were able to drop our food bill to $300 but some organics were dropped and others were purchased at Costco.

PS- When we used to go out to eat, Crunchy, we liked an Indian restaurant near Northgate.

Chile said...

I didn't officially sign up, but the month started out pretty good for me except for one unplanned dinner out. (It was one of those kind of days.)

Otherwise, I spent $14.75 at Trader Joe's, part of which is for my mother-in-law's soy creamer and ingredients for her birthday cake this month. My sweetie did buy an overpriced soda at the zoo yesterday, and then only got to drink half of it before a bird pooped in it. At least we biked to the zoo (and got in free because of it.)

Anticipated expenses for the next two weeks are low because I'm trying to clean out the fridge and freezer. Higher at the end of the month when we're traveling and have to buy our fresh produce instead of getting our CSA share.

Anonymous said...

I've given up on "officially" doing challenges - I've found that once I'm online, too many things come up and I spend too much time documenting things, when I have way too much stuff to do already... It's not that I'm not trying the challenges, just not posting much about them.

I've been seriously considering every food purchase, attempting to choose the local/sustainable/organic choice. However, like Rachel and her family, we have a very tight budget. Once the bills are paid, we have between $100 and $400 left for food, unexpected expenses, non-monthly expenses (I just got my vehicle insurance bill for nearly $400, and my husbands will be due 30 days later), and that black-hole-miscellaneous fund. Some of the choices I've made help us stretch our money (making laundry soap, drying clothes on a clothes rack/line, doing all my baking on one day, keeping the house at 60 instead of 68 or 70, growing as many vegetables as we are able to, buying in bulk, not using the vehicles as much, doing most of our non-food shopping at thrift shops and the like, etc. We also look for bargains by comparing prices among the stores we shop at - sometimes the co-op has the best price, sometimes we can find what we want at the grocery outlet, and sometimes it's Costco (organic peanut butter!) or Fred Meyer. This week, only my husband has purchased food, 2 organic jalapenos and 2 organic carrots, everything else has come from our pantry or the greenhouse (green onions and a few herbs so far). That's without counting eating out, which we do about once a week, and $20 is usually enough for dinner, tip, and change.

So, Rachel, you're not the only one trying to live sustainably on a shoestring. Best of luck!

Fleecenik Farm said...

We live in a fairly rural area. so in some respects food may not be as expensive as urban. However, we are still eating a fair amount of food that we put up last summer. We also have food storage for may dry goods. But here goes...

When I spent money on groceries last week I bought mostly organic 61.00 dollars. This included organic milk for the kids and conventional milk from a local large dairy, some fresh fruit, broccoli and spinach, some whole wheat spaghetti and a couple jars of sauce that we used for spaghetti and meat balls and pizza.

The key for us was menu planning. I plan 6 full meals that we can eat for lunch the following day with 1 day for leftovers. We also make our own bread and I make yogurt from milk I get from a local farmer. This saves some money as organic yogurt is 3.50 a quart. I make 2 quarts for 2.50 plus cultures. I usually make yogurt cheese from one quart and we eat the other.

However, I am able to do all this because I stay at home and we homestead. I am not sure that If we were to be solely dependent on getting our food from stores that we would be able to manage it. And this was actually a large sum of money for us to spend at the grocery store. Also, when my husband does the shopping he will not buy organic unless he instructed to do so. This was also not a large amount of food.

There was a time when I was a single mom of one boy. I was living on very slim margins because of a chronic illness that limited how much I could work at the time. I would spend 60.00 once a month at the grocery store and then add fresh fruits veggies milk, eggs and cheese once a week for 15.00 a week. But this was about ten years ago and I doubt whether I could do it now.

Anonymous said...

This challenge is harder than I thought. I found little or no selection for sustainable alternatives at a couple of grocery store chains in my area. So I did most of my shopping a grocery store that offers more sustainable choices but their prices tend to be a bit higher. Some of the prices I couldn't stomach like over $4 for juice concentrate. We don't drink a lot of juice (maybe 2 small pitchers a week) but I just couldn't pay that much.
I'm trying to not rely on my freezer so much which is stocked with meat, poultry and other items in an effort to "keep it real."
We've cut out dining out for this month to help save money and eat better at home.
I spent $98.24 for the first week (report posted) and did a stock-up trip at the end of last week that I still need to tally up. And my husband just proposed a shopping trip this afternoon for this week's groceries where we all go to the store. A family trip to the store usually results in many $$.
I'm also wondering about planning an Easter meal....hmmm....

Sam said...

I canceled my CSA subscription. They give me too many greens and neither me nor my husband are crazy about them. Calorie content wise, they don't count for much and with all the calories I've been burning, I need more than some leaves.

Yesterday I went to Albertson's to purchase a toilet brush, but wound up buying King Arthur's All purpose flour and a block of tofu (from someplace in California). Later on last night I spent several hours last night looking for local sources of flour that is grown sustainably and organically and was unable to find any (that I could afford). So I bought 25 lbs of all purpose flour from King Arthur for $19.95 (excluding shipping)

Today at the Farmer's market I picked up a ton of strawberries, a large stick of sugarcane to beat my husband if he's bad, about half a dozen limes, about 5 onions and a bunch of cilantro all for $20.

This month will be a bit of a cheat as I loaded up on beans and legumes and rice when I stopped by an Indian grocery store last month. The cost was low, and I'm now researching sources of beans/rice local to me.

stella said...

I think if we only ate sustainably, we'd be fine. But, I do like to have a capaccino a few times a week, and we like going out for beer and nachos on Saturday afternoons. I also like expensive chocolate :(

Basically, one day into this week, and we've already spent $60 out of our $80 budget--with $36 on farmers market meals for the week, $20 on beer and nachos, and $5 on pre-farmers market coffee and croissants. This has really brought awareness to our habits. I don't think we will get down to $80, but we're trying to go down a little every week.

Parma Powerdown said...

I too am watching but not formally participating. We do have organic and local produce is showcased in the megachain in the summer BUT I am not finding organic to be anywhere near cost competitive.

We do buy organic milk (every drop accounted for since it is soooo expensive) and yogurt for the baby. I buy organic produce when I can (bananas, onions, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, pear sauce puree).

I literally cannot afford organic canned beans. Conventional beans are 0.85 to 0.95 a can and organic are close to $3 which is insane. The same dichotomy exists with other canned veggies.

I could drive 15 miles to Whole Paycheck which I think probably has better prices on some of it, but it's a hike with a toddler and I'm commuting to shop.

Although considering the chicken from the chainstore has been atrocious lately, I've been thinking it might be worth the drive to get some high quality 'happy' meat.


Stephanie said...

I updated yesterday. So far so good. We did have a bit of an oops as I didn't plan a meal for the night the challenge started. I had to run to the store for dinner, but at least it was (frozen) organic. lol It's been better since then.

I really am thinking differently about our purchases. I'm definitely being more conscious of the source and how far the product would have traveled, if we truly need it if it isn't local, etc. Obviously we can't buy everything local since we're in the midwest (no orange or banana trees!) but we're trying to do as much as we can.

Adrienne said...

After about three days of this challenge, I've realized that in order to do it I'll have to really lower my standards for variety of fruits & vegetables, and/or cut down on dairy products (mostly yogurt, & some cheese). So, I'm struggling to keep a balance between eating the variety that I'm accustomed to and think is healthier for me, and not blowing the budget entirely.

I was also spending *way* too much time trying to keep track of everything the first couple of days. After this week's shopping I just stuck the receipt in a drawer and will tally everything up at some point. I think I'm slightly over budget, maybe $5 or $10 for the week.

Farmer's market starts next week so we'll see how that fits into the picture.

The Internetter said...

I've spent $43.48 so far (for just one person). The majority of it was at the local co-op, where I got all organic and (I think) mostly local food. The other sources were a couple farmer's markets and a--gasp--Gelsons. All I bought at Gelsons was a bottle of milk--a GLASS! bottle--from the only dairy in SoCal that still uses glass bottles. More good news on this awesome dairy (Broguieres, for fellow SoCal-ers): you can actually RETURN their glass bottles so they can REUSE them, instead of just dumping them in recycling! Isn't that awesome! It's only what people did for like a hundred years.... Also, while they don't have their own cows, they get their milk from a nearby farm. ALSO, I've heard their egg nog is amazing, so I'm looking forward to getting that in glass. ;-)

I'm cheating a BIT because I spent the weekend at my mom's house, where I mooched off the food in their fridge, but this is still going to be a major challenge considering my last month's food expenditures: $225. Actually, that's not bad compared to the over $300 I used to do because I ate out so much (laziness, rrr). Now I no longer eat out on my own, but the $225 was majorly augmented by "power lunches". IMHO, those shouldn't even count as "food" expenses, but rather as "career" expenses. ;-)

Robj98168 said...

Okay so far- my budget is $283 after figuring out that I am 1.5 people. So far, we have lived out of the freezer, I am guessing about $10

sheyda said...

well, we are doing the challenge but we're also "cheating" by eating through our pantry. i figured that was the best way to ease into this...
i tried to itemize all the pantry goods (rice, dry beans, and baking stuff, also, praise the heavens, 8 sticks of butter from a party i threw earlier this month!!!) but it got to be a little too time-consuming.

having said that, we've eaten better than i expected and been able to stick local and/or organic. the two of us have almost completely stopped going out (twice in the past two weeks--we started the challenge early--as opposed to four or five times, which would have been our custom). We've also seen how expensive artisan bread is from our local bakery and started making our own instead. I've made baguettes both weeks though i've been popping for the king arthur flour, which is pricey (alas, while not local, it is my only brand...i'm a transplanted new englander and i'll always be faithful to those vermont millers!). we've also seen started thinking about making our own paneer and yogurt. that's on top for next week.

this has really been eye-opening for us...we've both done better than expected (we do miss beer, though!) but we're also both feeling anxious about our diminishing pantry stores! more after we hit the bottom of the grain shelf!

Green Fundraising Ideas said...

You know, I often think about how much I spend on food, but then I always decide I'd rather be blissfully unaware! I'm a junkie for this and that at the farmer's market, so I would be depressed to know that put me way over budget! Great idea - I'll be following others results, and remain blissfully unaware of my own!

Anonymous said...

for two weeks so far: $180.00 (for 2 people)
Not good.
But all organic and a lot local...
But both my daughter and husband are home full time right now and you can tell they've been snacking all day...

Spot-On said...

Not taking part persay due to DH working insane hours, our garden produce, and mostly because I've already began this change in Jan 2009. I started tracking our grocery expenses, saving money on a few things, cooking from scratch, and using the saved money to buy organic instead. I now buy 50% of our food organic.
I think it's the pantry staples that are the toughest to find, like flour etc. I'm still searching for an organic brand near us.
Slowly switching to organic/local for the few produce items I do buy (banana's for my breakfast muesli, apples etc I grow my own oranges), and hopefully soon local eggs.

Small steps I think are a better option than changing everything overnight.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a post on my blog about my first week with the challenge. We spent roughly $89 at the store, and then we ended up with another $11 on misc. things (a trip to Einstein's and I ran to Whole Foods for pizza dough and a bottle of Naked Juice on Friday, since the day got away from me and I didn't make my dough ahead of time). So for week one, we spent about $100. That means we're on track right now for spending... but it was more than I wanted to shell out anyway.
I am finding the hardest part of the challenge is the sustainability part... I thought I had that down, but when I look at some of the things that ended up in my cart, I was surprised. Next week will be better!

Anonymous said...

Not easy... I live in Switzerland. Buying local right now means no oranges, no bananas etc. I try to buy organic/local/in a glass jar or bottle rather than plastic but this is tricky. Canned peas or tomatoes in a jar come from the Netherlands or Italy. Raw organic local milk in a dark glass bottle is available but expensive. Raw organic butter also. Most yoghurts come in plastic tubs. Local produce right now is mainly potatoes, beet roots, cabbage, carrots, apples, several types of salad/lettuce. Organic porridge oats in a paper bag are from Hungary, Organic porridge oats in a plastic bag are from Germany. Beeswax candles are from the Netherlands. I take ages these days shopping, reading labels, looking for the local, non-plastic, organic version of everything. Shopping bags get heavy with all those glass bottles... But I bring my own cloth bags, doing my shopping on the way home from the office, via public transport.
Happy meat is available but mostly vacuumized in fat plastic. Now I am looking for pasture-fed everything, for eggs of free-ranging chickens that are not/minimally grain-fed. Organic pulses and beans are not local. This is turning into a full time job. Things can be found and with plenty of money it is no problem. I cook everything from scratch anyway and no longer drink juice, only tea or tap water, but dairy products and happy meat are definitely over this budget. So, I don't see how families with children do manage.

Chili said...

Folks -- please keep commenting. I'm finding it interesting how most feel the same way about the challenge -- a little hard to stay in the budget and a little hard to find local foods right now in many areas. But please don't give up -- its truly a learning process as you're all finding out.

Stacey said...

I wrote about my first week with the experiment here:

I only spent $65.09 for our family of three, but it did require some careful menu planning and introduce us to our first foray into preparing vegan "cheez" and lunch "meat" because I will not be able to keep within our food budget (preferably $80/week) if we are buying a lot of local/organic dairy and meat.

I placed a call today to identify local/organic and raw milk and I'm hoping it will be even cheaper than what I am paying at our whole foods shop.

Ellen said...

Hi Crunchy. I'm not in officially but am watching and doing what I can too.We primarily eat from the pantry, cellar and freezer (CSA share and bulk buys). I purchase fruits and GF flours about once a week, always coming in under $50. We put out $3000 a year ago for a 3 year share in our CSA and it has been a wonderful way to reign in groceries plus be sustainable. It does require a lot of either meal planning or making it up (I do the latter mostly!) and I prepare almost everything from scratch. It's good to take a hard look at my chai habit though, as well as the weekly donut adventures and those types of extraneous costs. Thanks for another great challenge!