By Barbara H. Peterson
Recently, someone wrote to me at Farm Wars and asked the following question: “How do you go organic on a shoestring budget when you both work?”
This is a very good question, and one that needs to be addressed. Is there some way for we the people who live on a fixed income that is well below the national poverty line to eat healthy, or is eating healthy only for the rich?
Just curious on what your thoughts are on products such as MSG and BHT/BHA. I suffer from IBS. As long as I Identify the triggers, life is good. Found years ago that MSG was one, and in the last 2 years that BHT was another. I try my best to avoid these, and read the labels of everything I buy. What gets me is the use of BHT in cereals, and mostly kids cereals, to prolong the shelf life, or as the companies like to say, to help protect the flavor and prevent rancidity. The same thing can be done with a vitamin E derivative, but guess that’s not cost effective. Its maddening the amount of chemical additives that are put in our foods to save costs / expand profits. Fast food is another industry I avoid, and its harder to find the ingredients of those items, as its not on the wrapper, you have to really go out if your way and really don’t know if that independent location doesn’t make tweaks. Another curious thing for me is milk. I cant drink it for whatever reason. One of the first triggers I identified. I have no problem with dairy products, just milk, so its not a lactose issue. I have tried organic milk and the effects were diminished initially, but slowly grew. Not sure whats in there, but definitely not something good.
I have 2 children under two, and try my best to avoid non natural ingredients. I don’t want my children to ever eat fast food, to avoid hot dogs and other items that they load with preservatives, fillers, flavor enhancers, shelf life extenders or whatever. But in this economy, its very difficult to go strictly organic. So we try to go as healthy as we can afford both financially and time-wise. At the very least, we only give them organic milk, and don’t use processed cheeses.
How do you go organic on a shoestring budget when you both work? (baldguy)
First, let’s determine just what “organic” means. Does the USDA Certified Organic program with high priced products have the inside scoop on this?
I grow organic veggies. How do I know they are organic? I use horse manure from my own horses, and those horses are wormed with diatomaceous earth, not chemical poisons. I use untreated well water, and don’t use chemical pesticides. I also do not vaccinate, as I have determined that my animals are healthier without them. My eggs are from chickens that I let free range, and none of my livestock gets GMO feed.
With all of these precautions, I can be relatively certain that my food is as organic as possible. I care. A larger “organic” company that follows the letter of the law for organic certification by the USDA and does not really care about organics, but has simply value-added the line for the sake of profit, might not be so picky.
“Honest organic farmers experience a profound disillusionment when they realize that absolutely nothing distinguishes their truly organic crops from bargain-priced “organic” crops which comply only with the letter of the law on paper. Many are dropping their certifications, leaving the growing organic market to be filled by good paper pushers.
Testing organic crops would be the first step to bringing the good farmers back into the fold by curtailing the useless bureaucracy that exists between them and consumers.” (Fresh Plaza)
USDA Certified Organic products are “process based.” This means that there is no end-product testing. Testing for GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or other contaminants is only done if there is a ‘reason to believe’ that contamination has occurred.
Certifying agents do not have to conduct residue tests if they do not have reason to believe that there is a need for testing. Certifying agents must ensure, however, that certified organic operations are operating in accordance with the Act and the regulations set forth in this part.
If we cannot trust the government to protect our organic food supply through the USDA Certified Organic program, who can we trust?
The answer to that is…… it is better to trust the neighbor that you know rather than the stranger that you don’t know with your food.
Local food producers are normally very forthcoming with their activities. Find someone who is growing his/her own food and selling that food to the public. Tour the facility. Find out what he/she uses for pest control. The food may not be “USDA Certified Organic,” but if true organic standards are used, then most likely, the food is better than anything produced as “organic” by the larger, compromised operations that are being run by money mongers whose only ideal is the bottom line. And guess what? Local food is normally less expensive than “organic” food sold by mega-corporations brandishing the “USDA Certified Organic” seal. Especially if you buy in bulk.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not bashing organics. I am calling for a clearer understanding of what it means to be truly organic. And guess what? It’s not supposed to be a shell game of “hide the pollutants,” in which the only rule is “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Organic on a Shoestring Budget
So, back to the original question of how to go organic on a shoestring budget. Shoestring budgets are my specialty. The key to my success? Buy local, buy bulk, and prepare it yourself. It takes more time to process your own food, but if you take a few hours each week to prepare, then it is possible to eat healthy and not break the bank.
Two of us lived on around $100 per month for food for 2 years. I learned to make almost everything from scratch with ingredients that I researched because it is less expensive and much healthier to buy ingredients and make processed food without additives yourself than it is to buy supposed “organic” processed food off the shelf.
Rice and beans are a complete protein, and can be seasoned with homegrown peppers, tomatoes, onions, and salt. Make a large batch of beans and freeze the extra. Now you have several week’s supply of processed chili that would cost much, much more if purchased in cans in the store. I bought a large freezer at the Salvation Army for $80, and store my garden veggies and processed foods there. My next investment will be a large pressure canner for long term, non-refrigerated storage.
I also bake my own bread with whole wheat flour, peanut or grapeseed oil, eggs, yeast, salt, and sugar (raw cane seems best so far). I do this with a bread machine, or by hand if I want a treat. It takes less than 5 minutes to put the ingredients in the bread machine, then the machine does the rest. We go through a loaf a day. At $4 per loaf at the grocery store, that adds up to $120 per month. Just the bread alone would have broken my budget, and store-bought bread almost always contains enzymes and GM soy. Even “organic” store-bought bread can contain GM soy lecithin if no organic lecithin is available. Soy lecithin is used for improved texture and preservation. My bread is just fine without it. If I want to preserve bread, I’ll bake extra and store it in the freezer.
If I want milk, I get fresh goat’s milk from the neighbor, and make my own cheese. I am currently negotiating for a good milking goat. Goat’s milk is soooo much better nutritionally than cow’s milk, but needs to be done right, or it can taste nasty.
Mayonnaise is another thing that can be made at home to avoid pollutants such as pesticides and GMOs. Here is my basic recipe:
Barb’s Homemade Mayo
Tools: Measuring spoons, cups, and Food Processor
Ingredients: Oil (Grapeseed or Peanut), Apple Cider Vinegar, Salt, Brown Mustard, Eggs.
Instructions: Place 2 eggs, 2 TBS Mustard, 1 rounded TBS salt, 2-3 TBS vinegar, and 2 TBS oil in processor bowl and process for 30 seconds. Place the tube feeder into the feeder compartment and pour the rest of the oil (2 ½ cups minus the 2 TBS) in while the processor is running. This will allow the oil to slowly feed into the bowl through the small hole in the bottom of the feeder. Process until all the oil in the feeder tube is gone, and the mayo is thick.
You can play around with this recipe, adding things such as fresh herbs or other spices for different flavors.
Tips and Tricks
I realize that eating healthy and organic is difficult if both parents work full time, and you are on a limited budget. Don’t despair, it can be done. My suggestion is to find a local source of good, clean food, whether or not it is certified “organic” by the USDA. In California, we could go to the fruit and veggie farms and pick boxes of produce ourselves. This was much less expensive than store-bought produce. Buy bulk and can or freeze the excess. Try this link to see if a farmer in your area has signed up for fresh, local delivery: http://www.farmigo.com/. If a local producer in your area is not on the list, when you find one, let him/her know about this online service for distributing fresh food.
Another budgeting tactic is to find the nearest food service outlet. There is a Cash and Carry near where I live, and I buy bulk there. I choose brands that are more likely than not to provide good, clean food. Do the research and know the companies. This means sifting through the many brands, doing the Internet research, and calling the companies to find out their stance on GMOs and pesticides. I buy Bob’s Red Mill wheat flour in 50 lb bags at Cash and Carry. I also buy beans and rice in 50 lb bags there.
Meat is another issue entirely. Meat is expensive, but it does supply protein. Rice and beans on the other hand, can be flavored just about any way you want, and when eaten together, are a good alternative protein source. I don’t eat much meat because I do not have the heart to look a beautiful creature in the eyes and kill it for food. And if I cannot do that, then I should not eat meat just because I am able to distance myself from the slaughter by going to the market and buying a lump of meat-like substance chock full of hormones, antibiotics and GM feed all done up in a pretty plastic-wrapped package.
Here is a sample menu, sans the meat:
Breakfast: Milk Thistle tea from plants grown in the back yard, eggs from our hens on top of a baked potato smothered in homemade mayo.
Lunch: Fresh spinach salad with radishes, beets, carrots, and onions, all from the garden, with an apple cider vinegar and oil dressing and maybe a little goat cheese sprinkled on top.
Dinner: A nice, big bowl of homemade chili with a slice of homemade wheat bread.
Desert and snacks: Homemade cookies and a big glass of goat’s milk.
I don’t like eating anything that contains an ingredient with a list of side effects the length of my arm. That is not food! That is an artificially preserved food-like substance that mimics real food, yet has no significant nutritional value.
I have eaten a menu such as the one in the example above for years, and am the healthiest I have ever been. This just goes to prove that it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money to be healthy, just a lot of hard work and determination, and a willingness to question everyone and everything pertaining to the food that you put in your mouth.
So the answer to the million dollar question is: No, you do not have to be rich to eat organic and be healthy. You just have to be determined and not look back. Once you start realizing what is in our processed food supply, the next step is doing something about it, one person at a time. We have gotten so far removed from our pioneer roots of self-sufficiency that it is difficult to imagine going back, but that we must do. For our health, for life. Do it now. One step at a time. When I first started the garden, I didn’t have a clue. It is our fourth year now, and we have managed to grow, gather and process enough food to last for a year. And it is all good, clean, if not “USDA Certified Organic” food. If we can do this, anyone can. Get mad, then get determined. Eating healthy is not only for the rich!
© 2011 Barbara H. Peterson