Monthly Archives: January 2008

The Politics of Food

Ever since I read Frances Moore Lappe’s book “Diet for a Small Planet” in the mid 1980’s I’ve been aware that my food choices have political ramifications. She points out that some foods, like beef, require a lot more resources than they provide in return, making it a luxury food. To make a pound of edible beef requires about 20 pounds of grain. She suggests bypassing the cow and eating the grain ourselves, which will feed a lot more people than a pound of beef. Especially when you consider that grain increased it’s weight and volume when cooked, while beef decreases in both. She recommends eating lower on the food chain. While she’s not against eating meat on a philosophical level, she has chosen not to eat it herself. She goes on to explain that poultry, chickens and even turkeys, require fewer resources to make a pound of edible meat than larger animals such as cows and pigs. Thus choosing poultry is better for the environment and frees up more food for the rest of the population. Choosing a vegetarian diet uses up even fewer resources but some folks aren’t willing or even interested in taking that step, so instead we choose what’s best for our comfort zone and what’s best for our family. Like so much in life, it’s all about choices.

Well, anyway, after reading Diet for a Small Planet I tried to make better choices, more humane, more responsible choices, especially at the supermarket. The only problem is that I’m a perfectionist and I quickly realized that choosing a “perfect” diet is just about impossible. There are too many variables. A “perfect” diet would have to take into consideration all of my family’s likes and dislikes. All of their health requirements. The suggestions given to us from health agencies such as the ADA, AMA, AHA, NHL&BI and the Pyramid. Plus I’d have to condense all of the recent nutritional advice regarding the Glycemic Index, low-carb, high-carb, good-carb, bad-carb stuff. Then I’d have to choose our sweetener, which is another can of worms. Regular sugar has all of these terrible things associated with it. Sucanat, which was supposed to be a great panacea, is now claimed to be processed using less than natural methods because different batches are combined to create a more uniform product. Rapadura is now the only granulated sweetener that meets ethical and moral standards.

In order to use any animal products I would have to personally tour the farms/facilities where the animals are raised and make sure they are meeting my personal standards of humane treatment. Since a perfect diet means everything’s fresh I’d have to eliminate all food preservation methods and only eat fresh food. What about spices and seasonings, they’re usually dried? What about pasta, it’s processed and then dried. What about bread? No frozen veggies. No frozen fruits. No canned goods. Good grief, there is no end to it all!

So, for me and my family, there is no such thing as a perfect diet. We aim for something I like to call Good Enough. Do I meet all of my family’s nutritional requirements at every meal? Nope, I don’t. If I’m worried about it then there are chewable children’s vitamins in the medicine cabinet and they are welcome to take one whenever they like.

Do I buy local most or all of the time? Nope, I surely don’t. Is that because I’m a bad person? Is it because I don’t care about my fellow man or because I want my local economy to fall apart? Nope that’s not the reason why. I don’t buy all of my food locally because it’s usually too expensive. If I did buy mostly or only local then I’d have to choose which meals we would omit from our weekly budget because I couldn’t buy enough food for the entire week. My kids are willing to eat low on the food chain, but I am not willing for them to go hungry 3 or 4 times a week.

The bottom line is that I am allowed to keep food and politics separate. Every choice I make at the market doesn’t have to be a political one. It’s not putting my head in the sand. It’s setting emotional and political boundaries that allow me to keep grocery shopping, budgeting and preparing 21 meals a week manageable. I don’t vote with my grocery budget. I vote with my ballot. Other people can afford to vote with their food dollars. I cannot and I won’t be pressured into believing that I must.

So in my own way I’ve tried to keep food buying as simple as I can. What can I afford? What are my family’s likes and dislikes? How can I use up leftovers and reduce wasted food? What are my family’s nutritional requirements and how can I meet them while maintaining my budget?

These questions are more easily answered than the larger political questions. You know how in airplanes the flight attendant explains that if the oxygen masks drop down that the mother should affix her own oxygen mask first, and then her child’s? I see grocery shopping like that. First I have to make sure my own family is nourished, then I can help others achieve the same goal. If my own family isn’t well nourished then I’m not in a solid position where I can assist others.

I understand hunger. I lived it. I struggled, counting how many meals I could get from what was left in the cupboard, worrying about how we’d make it through the week. I’ve prayed daily, sometimes hourly, that the Lord show me how to make the best I could of what He provided. For me, sharing this knowledge with others, teaching them how to eat well on an itty-bitty budget, contributes far more to reducing hunger than doubling my grocery budget (yeah right! as if that’s even an option) so that I am buying locally grown, fresh, organic, humanely raised, pesticide free, politically correct groceries.

Combining politics and food is an expensive luxury. Just like my family lives with out a lot of luxuries that other people seem to consider necessities, we can live without the luxury of combining food and politics. Price, not politics, determines my food choices and that is a perfectly legitimate position to take.

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USDA November Cost of Food

USDA Official Cost of Food for November 2007 

Or go straight to the PDF file here.

The official cost to feed a family of four on the Thrifty plan has risen from  $554.20 in October 2007  to 558.30 in November 2007, or about 1-extra dollar per week.

In November 2006 groceries cost $525.60 per month on the Thrifty plan. So in a year the price of groceries has risen $32.70 per month.

In November 2006 the weekly cost was $121.30.November 2007 the weekly cost was $128.80, or up $7.50 per week.

Charts and graphs are all well and good, but I think they don’t always represent the increases we see in the trenches of real life.

A previous commenter mentioned the rising cost of powdered milk. The cheapest place I can find it is at grocery store called Kroger’s. They’re store-brand tastes exceptionally good and costs $12.49 for a 20-quart/4-pound box. I can get a 22-quart box of Carnation brand at Sam’s for $13.23. Some stores are selling their 20-quart boxes for almost $15.00.

I don’t knwo how much fresh milk is because we so seldom buy it. I think I’ve seen it for over $4 a gallon, but I’m not sure how much more. One store is advertising that if you buy 6 gallons they’ll give you a seventh gallon free, but their milk is $5 a gallon, so it’s not much of a bargain, more of a trick to get more of one’s money.

Evaporated milk rose a full quarter per can last year. At my Dollar General it was 50-cents for several years and then went up to 75-cents a can. Small cans are 45-cents each, or equivalent to 90-cents for a big can. I almost never buy the small cans, too expensive.

How much are you paying for milk? Powdered or Fresh? And what other foods have risen dramatically in your neck of the woods? 

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Grocery Shopping

More Recession Articles, in case you’re interested.

Why Washington Can’t Stop Recession

Economist fears ‘nasty’ recession headed our way this year

DAVOS: RECESSION, ENERGY AND FOOD AT RISK IN COMING DECADE

Possible Recession Winner: The Dollar

Recession? We Could Be In One Right Now

Regular blog entry:

Well, eggs were up to $1.76 a dozen for the medium sized last night. I can’t imagine why they are costing so much more, maybe it’s the threat of bird flu, I don’t kow.

Kristina, Ouch! $5 a dozen. Does that mean you simply go without or ration them carefully? Here I’m complaining about $1.76, $5 is shocking! Do you use powdered eggs instead? Are they any cheaper?

Roxie, first off, it’s so nice to see you again. I enjoyed your comments on Velveeta. It’s definitely kid-friendly seeing as it’s so cheap and mild tasting. Next, I appreciate your insight to the economy. You have a special perspective, as you pointed out, as a mom and small-business owner. I can see a long series of “repairs” after this current administration too.

My Fred said he’d heard something that made a lot of sense to me. He said that Bush really wants to be the smartest person in the room and that in order to do that he has to keep hiring idiots who are even less intelligent than he is. That’s a difficult task because he sets the bar so low that to find “qualified” people, those who make him look smart, he has to to hire the most stupid people he can find. This may make him look good by comparison, however it does nothing but harm to our country. Now I’m not saying that this idea is true, but I will say it gave me food for thought. I can honestly say that I don’t think we’ve ever had a president who was less intelligent that Mr. Bush, and it’s a shame that he has made so many mistakes, the consequences of which, we the people will have to manage. I find that a bitter pill to swallow.

Anna, I would love to raise chickens. We have the land for it, but blasted zoning laws won’t allow it. I have considered getting some anyway, but Fred says I can’t make the family a target for the zoning comission. In this case, I’m bowing to his wisdom and authority, albeit with gritted teeth. 😉

Wendy Bluebird, I’ve been meaning to answer you, I totally agree with your stance on impulse buying and everything else you said in your comment. I have been shopping twice in the past week and each time I had to fight myself not to pick things up and drop them in the cart. At Dollar General I found empty notebook journals. The kind with pretty paper and fancy bright covers and a little elastic band to keep it closed when not in use. I lusted after those things for a full 10 minutes, looking at each one, imagining the way it would match my kitchen, all of the wonderful things I could write in one. It was obsessive to a minor degree. Finally I cam eback to my senses and pushed my cart away from teh siren song those notebooks were singing to me. I had to work really hard to resist. I have every justification for buying one that you can imagine–They only cost $2, that won’t break us. Think how orgainzed it will make me to have a notebook to write everything down in (I only have a dozen of partially used ones at home). A new one will inspire me to do better and achieve my goals. I’ll be a better mom and a better homemaker. I completely sold myself on that notebook and it’s only through the grace of God that I was able to walk away.

It’s not the the notebook itself was so expensive. It was more of an example of the kinds of small things that we’ve allowed to suck up our money over the years. The truth is I don’t need a new notebook. I need to clean out an old one and really use it instead of fantasizing about it while browsing the aisles at the Dollar store.

Other impusle buys I fought were a 5-pound block of cream cheese from Sam’s. It was cheaper per pound than the stuff I usually buy in 8-ounce packages, but I think there would have been more waste due to mold, and that would have cancelled out the savings, plus probably costing me more in the long run. I also spotted a Taste of Home baking cookbook that wanted to jump into my cart. It was a full 40% less than the publisher’s suggested price. But I don’t need another cookbook, especially about baking, and that $18 it would have cost me is better put into my saving account than propped on a book shelf to collect dust.

Thanks to everyone else for sharing the price of eggs. The USDA’s cost of food index has been slow to update. They’re still showing the October chart ($554.20 for a month) and I really want to see the November chart. I noticed prices rising before November, due to the gas hikes. During November, however,I noticed the biggest rises in food prices–Jumps actually. I don’t think prices are going to go back down either, I think these are the new prices that are here to stay. That spells inflation in my book and I’m not happy about it.

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U.S. Recession

Generally I avoid politics in my blog because I’m not especially political.  This blog though, will contain political views, which are solely my own. Not Fred’s, not my Mom’s not my children’s. These are my political views and it’s okay to disagree, that’s the beauty of America.

Articles:

Banking giant warns US economy in recession

Recession May Already Be Here

White House mulls economic measures as recession fears mount.

Recession Naysayers Hold Out

I am fascinated by recessions and depressions. I think they happen when countries get too big for their britches and it’s like a giant spanking behind the woodshed. America, as much as I love her, has gotten too big for her britches and it seems like she almost deserves a good spanking.

I think we’re in a recession and I think it will go down in history as officially beginning in January of  2008. I don’t think it started in January. I think it started in November, becasue that’s when the price of eggs skyrocketed, at least in my local markets. I seem to remember some stock market problems back in November too, which is probably a more official way to determine if we’re in a recession or not.

I was always stumped by the way economists decide to use the official Recession Label. I know unemployment has to rise, fewer jobs have to be created and lots of stock market investors have to worry enough to sell off their stock and then the market goes down, a lot. There are other factors too, like inflation, sales figures and other things I don’t understand. When it all comes together officials look at the numbers and say “Oops, Recession”.

Right now stock markets all over the world, from Beijing to Australia to Great Britian are falling because of speculation that America might be in a recession. The problems with irresponsible borrowing and outrageous mortgage payments adds fuel to the fire and the rising level of unemployment confirms it.

I believe we are in a recession and I think it’s going to get worse. A lot worse. Since so many of our jobs have gone overseas the job market in America stinks. Our foreign relations policies have fractured our military. We have troops stationed in way more countries than I can count, pretending that we, America, are the police to the world. The arrogance in that just burns my tushie. The number of young people over in Iraq getting killed every day, and then the outrageous practice of sending them back again for 2, 3 and 4 tours of duty! Good heavens! I’m angry that these boys and girls, men and women are dying and losing their limbs. I don’t want to have a permanent base in Iraq and I’m angry that the government is heading down that route.

The rising cost of oil, which is mixed up with the Iraqi war in a way that I don’t exactly understand, is causing increased inflation. I’ve heard suggestions of $5 a gallon for gas. I hope it doesn’t go that high, but I don’t think it would surprise me. All of this misbehavior on the part of our government is catching up with them. And it’s affecting my bottom line, all of America’s bottom line.

I see somthing stronger and longer than a recession looming on the horizon. My cash is worth about half what it was a decade ago. Prices on many grocery store items and regular household goods have doubled. I admit to having only a rudimentary understanding of world economics and politics. I know an awful lot about running a household though, and if I ran my household the way the Government is running it’s household, then we’d be bankrupt within the week. I think this recession is a way of kicking the Government in the pants and telling them to shape up, cause until they take control of this situation, economically and politically, it’s going to go from bad to worse.

It’s like the Government is living on credit cards, using one card to pay off another, trying to consolidate them on a low interest card, but just fooling themselves and putting off the inevitable crash until it gets so big that there’s no avoiding it.

When I think about how many families are affected by circumstances like this, ugh, it turns my stomach into knots.

Well I’m done now, I’ve ranted and raged and now I’m content to go back to my happy little world of sewing, cooking, cleaning and child-rearing . When I take too much time looking at the big world it clouds my little world. And for the most part my little world is a really nice place to be. A way better place to be.

BTW, how much do eggs cost, per dozen, in your neck of the woods. The best price I can get for them is $1.69 dozen. A full dollar more than I was paying last year. Grrr! Arrgh! That spells recession to me.

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2 Sick Kids

Well it was bound to happen. Both boys are sick and cranky and bored. Too sick to start back to school. Too bored and cranky to be left to their own devices. I’m escaping from them for the moment except for the occasional question about the difference between alternating current and direct current, which I’m not real up on, so inevitably they need the computer to find out.

I had my oldest (Tom) climb up on the counter and pull all the packages of snacks and bread from our corner cupboard. I wanted to start the new year with a clean kitchen, or at least close to it, so getting this cupboard cleaned out was a major step. I had several bags of bread with one or 2 slices in them that had molded into penicillin farms. It was nice to get them into the garbage. I offered them to Tom for medicinal purposes but he politely declined.

I salvaged what food I could. There was a half full bag of store-brand doritos that I had no idea was in there. They were frightfully stale so I put them in a baking pan and baked them at 300* for 15 to 20 minutes to crisp them up. A few of them are a little brown now, but quite edible and taste as good as fresh. I think if I had kept the temperature lower, say 250* they wouldn’t have browned at all.

I found a lot of bread heels that I had forgotten about, many of which had escaped mold, so I put them in the oven along with the Doritos, in a different pan of course, and let them dry out completely so I can turn them into bread crumbs. We only use whole wheat bread or homemade 50/50 bread, so I know all the bread crumbs are 100% whole grain, or half whole grain and extra wholesome.

For lunch we had tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I used a store brand Velveeta type cheese, which the guys love in grilled cheese sandwiches. Fred and I prefer real American Cheese, but we’re completely out of that, so we fall back on velveeta which keeps in the pantry for about a year when unopened.

Which got me to thinking about Processed Cheese, which is what Velveeta is. And then I pondered the rising cost of real cheese, and how cheap processed cheese is by comparison. I can get a 2-pound block of store-brand Velveeta for as low as $3.59, which makes it about $1.80 per pound. I am currently paying $3.25 per pound for shredded cheddar, shredded mozarella and shredded Mexican blend in 2-pound bags. American cheese is almost $15 for a 5-pound block, or a little under $3 per pound. At these prices, $1.80 per pound looks pretty good. Processed cheese has less fat and fewer calories per ounce than regular cheese and it melts better too. In soups, sauces and casseroles processed cheese performs better than natural cheddar.

The only problem is that I don’t especially like it. I’ve found it more palatable when I combine it half and half with shredded cheddar, which still reduces the cost, while improving the flavor. Sort of like combining fresh milk and reconstituted milk 50-50. You get the flavor of fresh and the savings from reconstituted.

I’m not saying everyone should run out and buy a block of velveeta. It is very much a processed food which is a big strike against it right there. Still as cheap as it is, especially when compred to natural cheese, it seemed like an idea worth sharing. 

Reminds me of the dreaded margarine vs. butter controversy which plagued me for nearly a decade. 😉 Y’all finally won me over by the sheer volume of letters I recieved on the subject. Sheesh! Y’all are a determined bunch. 🙂

Pray for the boys to heal quickly and for me to have strength and patience to care for them until they do.

Affectionaly, Maggie 🙂

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Reader’s Recipes–Soups & Stews

This month I am looking for recipes for Soups & Stews. They may include meat or not, as you like. Since I am avoiding meat right now I will be less likely to personally try recipes that include meat, but many readers use and enjoy meat and poultry and I’m sure they will enjoy recipes for these things too. Recipes should be tried and true and written in the comment section of this post. Thank you everyone for sharing. I look forward to seeing what cha’ got.

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New Year’s Resolutions

When I was growing up we gave more thought and attention to the new year than we did to most other holidays. I’ve heard my mom say many times that the new year is a chance for a fresh start–a chance to make good on a brand new set of goals. I’ve spent most new years following the family tradition, and this one is no exception.

This year Fred and I are hoping to find out just how little we can live on. We’ve had years when we were forced to live on very little and years that included a bit more feasting than famine. We’ve gotten out of the habit of doing the most we can with the least possible. Instead we’ve found a balanced middle ground of living within our means, but not significantly under our means. While this means wer’re not going into debt, which is good, we’re not savings as much as we should be either, which is bad.

For the month of January we are being as frugal as we can, even to the point of pushing our comfort zones. We aren’t doing drastic things like living only on beans and rice or selling one of our vehicles to see if we can live with only one. We’re doing small things and trying to really make money savings our priority for January.

We decided to only do it for 1-month because we may find it too harsh and have to go back to our comfort zone. But we may find it relatively painless. This is our hopeful prediction. If we make it through January in tact, then we’ll try again for February. One month at a time.

Fred and I tend to be especially frugal for a while and then lapse into a case of the spendies. And for us, the spendies are contagious. If I get them, then inevitably Fred will catch it. If Fred gets the spendies, then I follow suit. It’s a terrible state of affairs, and while it’s not out of control, we would rather it be much more under control.

Already we’ve decided not to go tot he movies because it costs $20 that we could save instead. We also decided to pay cash for as much as we can this month. If I only have so much cash, then I can’t overspend. There’s no getting around it.

I haven’t been to the supermarket in about 2 weeks and we’re running low on a few items. I thought about running down to the market to pick up a few things and then realized I could wait until Thursday evening and do my regular shopping while the boys are at Karate. I don’t know about you, but every time I go to the store I am tempted by unplanned purchases. Terribly tempted some weeks. I figure the fewer times I go to the store the less temptation I’ll have to face. I’m aiming for shopping twice a week. Once at the super Walmart on Tuesdays and once at the Dollar General on Thursdays. This week will be a little different, but the rest of the month should be easily scheduled. I’m hoping that by consciously planning these trips in more detail than I usually do, that I can do better at the checkout.

Since I mentioned Walmart above and I have fussed at many times for supporting Walmart, I feel I should explain that it has the lowest prices and like it or not, the bottom line is pretty significant in the Fred & Maggie household, especially with the boys getting closer to college age and the oldest due to get his learner’s permit for driving in the next few months. Ugh, the increased insurance is a scary thing to think about.

I’ll try to keep my blog updated with our challenges and victories this month, and if we’re able to keep it up, then for the whole year. If we’re not able to keep it up, I’ll share that too. Honesty is the best policy I always say.

As a side note, I wanted to say that I”m starting this year at the lowest weight I’ve been in 8 years.  200-1/2 pounds. That may seem like a lot to my skinny sisters, but my curvy sisters will understand that being so close to under 200 is an enormous achievement and a benchmark to be savored. This year I’ll include occasional updates on my continuing battle with weight loss. For now I’m eating whole grains, limiting sugar, have given up most meat (not fish) and am following the general principles of the Weigh Down Diet. The rules are easy enough. Eat when you’re hungry and Stop when you’re full and Pray and Pray and Pray. So far so good.

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