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Year in Review

It’s almost 2015! Lately my mind has been on coming up with a great resolution for next year. BUT, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. We still have a day or two left of this year and as excited as I am about the possibilities for all the improvements that 2015 can bring, I think I need to pause for a moment and reflect on the accomplishments of 2014.

At the beginning of 2014, I set my resolution to remove all the GMOs from my house. The idea wasn’t to search and distroy within my pantry but rather do a slow replacement of offending items as they ran out. A nice, easy transition.

Things started to snowball around the middle of the year, though, and before I knew it I was learning not just about modified foods but about pesticides, chemical additives, industrialized food, etc. That transitioned into learning about grains and why they aren’t fulfilling my family’s nutritional needs. From there we did food allergy testing on our son to see if we could nail down some persistent digestive issues… and we discovered the need to keep out wheat as well as spelt, diary, eggs, and peanuts. And more research has led me to try to restrict certain other foods, like nightshades (potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes).

This year has been a big learning experience with food. And we’ve come a long way as a family with our diet. We started the year very grain- and dairy-heavy: lots of cereal, lots of cheese, lots of baggies of processed snacks and a whole pantry of dinner “helpers” in a box and processed convenience foods. Now we still have a couple snack foods that we buy but we’ve switched to buying brands with more quality ingredients. We read labels on everything now and we try to make foods rather than buy them.

Speaking of making foods, now we cook all our meals at home, three times a day (I work from home which helps with this tremendously). We went from going out to eat at least once or twice a week to family meals out maybe twice in the last few months (it’s easy to stop eating out when you’re avoiding just about everything on the menu!). This has been really great on our pocketbook and it’s really easy to avoid the “no” foods by just not being around them. But we’ve had to learn to cook everything!

I wasn’t too much of a cook before this year. I could make a mean boxed mac n’cheese. I could bake chicken and stuff too, but cooking a whole chicken or making a vegetable without a cheese topping really wasn’t my thing. This year I have learned so much about cooking and baking. I can make several meals without recipes now and I have lots of resources for finding things to eat when I get stuck. I meal plan every week – no more winging it like I used to! I know how to properly use and care for my cast iron pans (that I had but only used a handful of times before this year – now I use them at least once, sometimes two or three times a day!). I’ve totally changed how and where we shop for food so that we can buy from local farms and outside the industrialized food system.

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My latest meal planning tool – the list of foods we can eat!

 

I’ve learned that a lot of the food out there today is just plain not food. I’ve learned that I want to participate in a better food system, and if I really want to bring about change then I must be conscious of how each one of my food dollars is spent. We buy from local farms because organic is good for us, but we also buy that way because we’re supporting a way of growing food that is sustainable on every level: good to the Earth, good to the animals, good to the workers, good to the neighbors, good for the community, on and on and on. Yes it is more expensive but what is the true cost of the alternative? The cost of food is not just what I see on my receipt!! It’s in how the workers are paid so they can contribute to a healthy economy, it’s how the animals are treated so they are healthy and strong (cause if they’re not healthy my meat isn’t going to be too healthy eaither), it’s in the way we treat the Earth so we have fertile soil and clean air to keep growing healthy food, it’s in the LACK of government subsidies that decive customers with food prices that are unsustainably cheap. That cheap food is costing us much more than the tax dollars we spend on the subsidies. In my opinion, it is not sustainable or responsible to turn a blind eye to what we buy.

Out of everything, the biggest thing I learned and my family learned is just general awareness of food: what’s in it, where it comes from, who makes it, why it’s good for us or not, where we can buy it, etc. This year of discovery has completely changed everything about food for us and I’m so glad we opened this can of worms and started making these changes!

Bringing Home the Bacon

Ah, grocery shopping. Other than meal planning, is there anything more fun? Add in a toddler who MUST walk for herself through the entire store and you’ve got a load of entertainment, let me tell you!

We’ve been changing up our grocery shopping habits a lot in the last six months or so. Our baseline was your typical shopper, I think: we got most foods from a big grocery store like Safeway or Fred Meyer. We didn’t buy anything special, a fair mix of packaged foods and fresh produce. I didn’t care if things were organic or not, they just needed to look okay. We shopped a little at some smaller, locally owned grocery stores, too, but I hated going to more than one store for food.

Then when I found out about GMOs and started my New Years resolution to improve our diet, I started doing more shopping at Trader Joe’s and a couple really sweet local grocery stores. I tell you what, local grocery stores are where it’s at. If you’re lucky enough to have them close to you, check them out. Local grocery stores are where we’re getting the vast majority of our produce right now. It’s almost like a farmers market, because most of the foods are sourced locally, but they still have out-of-season foods like the grocery stores (like strawberries in January). It’s so much easier to find the organic produce at the smaller spots.

The farmers market, though… that’s where I’d love to get the bulk of our produce from. The local grocery stores just aren’t as “local” as the farmers market. The problem is I have to go by the market’s schedule. With the grocery store I can go whenever I want, but with the market I have to wait for the brief weekly window in which the farmers gather. I shouldn’t complain – here in my city there’s a farmers market five or six days of the week. But I still find it difficult to get there! And I have to plan meals more carefully and seasonally because the farmers markets don’t grow all our favorites year-round like the commercial growers. The third con on my list for farmers markers is the cost. Most of the time I don’t find them to be cheaper than the store (but Mr. Handsome is way more observant about prices than I am. I just look for what I need and buy it but he actually tries to stay within a budget. Imagine that!).

Speaking of seasonal produce, I’m in love with these seasonal charts. I want to print them out and hang them in my kitchen – both as art and as meal planning tools! Here’s the veggie chart.

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Moving on… so produce buying is sort of a balancing act between what is available and reasonably priced at the farmers market and all the choices but not quite as locally-sourced foods at the smaller grocery stores. There are some discount produce markets around here that are open all week and year-round – those are a good “in between” option. Another in-between’er is our food buying club.

We joined this club… it’s kind of a combination of group buying (where a bunch of people go in on a big buy of something like 50 pounds of honey or a whole cow), bulk buying like Azure, and farmer cooperative. We have been getting just about all of our meat through the co-op farmers and have had good luck with random boxes of veggies. I recently ordered 15 pounds of coconut oil that I plan to turn into more toothpaste (imagine that!), soap, hair products, and maybe even food. When we all had bad colds a few weeks ago we nursed them with a couple bottles of elderberry syrup that I got for a good price through the club. I’d love to start getting sundries from the club, too, but right now I still go to the big grocery store for toilet paper, dishwasher soap, vinegar, epsom salt, aluminum foil, and paper towels (we have used washable towels more lately, and I have some strategies to eliminate paper towels altogether, but I haven’t been able to implement them yet).

Now my shopping order goes something like this…

  1. Food buying club weekly for milk, eggs, cheese; monthly for meat, bulk staples, bulk produce like lemons, garlic, onion, potatoes.
  2. Farmers market weekly for seasonal veggies (if the price is right) and “craft” items like vegan chocolate.
  3. Discount produce market weekly for more seasonal veggies (that were too expensive at the farmers market).
  4. Local grocery stores weekly or every other week for produce we couldn’t find already.
  5. Trader Joe’s, if we have to, maybe once a month (we get plain Joe’s O’s for lazy breakfasts a couple times a month, beer/wine, flowers, and other random stuff at TJ’s like more chocolate).
  6. Big grocery stores for paper products, maybe once a month.

Yes, we go to more than one store to get our food now. But we don’t go to every place in one day and ask you can see we don’t even go to every place each week. I have been going to the club weekly but I’d love to cut down to every other week if it weren’t for the fresh milk that we need to get every week (Baby2 loves milk and Kiddo1 has even been on a bit of a milk kick lately). I went to Safeway last week for the first time in at least a month. I needed toilet paper. They laughed at my reusable bags. It’s a different world at those grocery stores for me anymore!