In Defense of My Food Budget

Reading In Defense of Food gave me a new perspective on the food portion of my budget. Well it gave me a new perspective on a lot of things, the politics behind the food we eat, the real cost of cheap food, eating healthy. In general I battle with the grocery portion of our budget on a regular basis. I am always trying to achieve a new low. But this made me second guess that approach and realize it was all wrong.

“Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is a literal shame, but most of us can: Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food, less than the citizens of any other nation.”
— Michael Pollan (Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual)

Perhaps my focus shouldn’t be 100% towards the money aspect; I need to have an eye on the quality oif what I am buying. I needed to find the balance. A few years ago we signed up for a vegetable CSA. I had been giving it some thought, and chatting with a few lovely ladies at Derby Lite I learned about a CSA that was starting to take applications. Turned out the farmer was someone I had gone to grade school with. Him and his wife were running a farm a few hours away in WI and delivering the produce one a week. Figured it was meant to be so I signed us up. A year ago we added on a meat CSA at the recommendation of the vegetable CSA.

When I first signed up for the meat CSA I felt like it was a splurge. I justified by the fact we do not eat a lot of meat, so we may as well eat really good meat even if it costs a bit more. Oh and is the meat ever good. Anyway, it got me thinking though, how do our CSA costs actually breakdown? Something else in the book stuck with me, there is more to finding the blance then just dollar and cents.

“You’re going to have to spend either more time or more money, and perhaps a little bit of both,” Pollan says. “And I think that’s just the reality. It’s really a question of priorities, and we have, in effect, devalued food. And what I’m arguing is to move it a little closer to the center of our lives, and that we are going to have to put more into it, but that it will be very rewarding if we do.”
— Michael Pollan

Admittedly, I do spend more time with the vegetables. They require sorting, cleaning, and storing properly. In some cases it often takes some research of finding recipes, meal planning around what is in the bag for the week, learning about new vegetables I have not prepared before, and some weeks preparing for freezing to use at a later date. I have gotten myself into a good schedule and it is taking less time.

Here are the details. We get the vegetable CSA from about May – October, eggs are extra they are in the delivery every other week. Delivers are weekly and we split a full share with another family. The meat is delivered once per month, eggs are included.

At the most we spend about $40 week, not too bad in the context of our current grocery budget. While I do have to supplement the vegetables and meat with food from the grocery store (and my garden in the summer), I buy far less. In the summer I don’t even go to the store every week.

The vegetables are Certified Naturally Grown , the meat is raised without the need for drugs or antibiotics to promote growth or maintain health, chickens are Pasture Raised, and Eggs Free Range. If we were to buy comparable food we would likely have to go to Whole Foods, where $40 would get us close to nothing.

I am really happy with the CSAs we have chosen, in addition to being great quality food they have had a positive affect on not only our diet but our grocery budget. Could we do better on the sustainable front, sure. Though while it may not be realistic for us to eat 100% local sustainable organic food, I do think all the little changes we are making add up to improved eating. Do what you can, within the boundaries of your own situation. I think these days there is a CSA out there to meet everyone’s balance. Check out this CSA guide for the Chicago area, there is one for everyone!

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