Dear Middle-Class America: Guess what? I make my own chicken stock.
I even blogged about it. I buy organic, free-range chicken carcasses to make it with, and that’s pretty well the extent of what I am able to afford from our organic/grass-fed/free-range/humane meat supplier as of late. Yup, we eat a LOT of soup, brown rice, and lentils.
You see, I am a stay-at-home mom. I’m due to give birth to our third beautiful babe any day now, actually. My husband is a new flight instructor and makes approximately minimum wage when his paid vs non-paid hours are all averaged out. We are also slowly paying off significant debt from his flight training costs which finished last summer.
The bottom line? We’re poor.
Honestly, I hate to use that word to describe our situation because it is often used glibly to detract from the harsh realities of third-world poverty, but please know that I mean it only speaking relative to my own culture, and not on a global scale. I am grateful that we are not dying from starvation or lack of shelter, but yes we do have trouble making ends meet every month.
We have been struggling financially ever since two and a half years ago when we quit our (ie. hubby’s) job and moved halfway across the country so that he could pursue his dream career of aviation. It’s been worth it, yes, and it’s been difficult. The last few months have been the roughest so far, and I’ve been desperately avoiding talking about it on my blog because to be perfectly honest – our family and closest friends read my blog, and I know that they will probably either freak out and admonish us for not asking for help, or else just pity us, and I don’t know which is worse. (For the record, living this way is hard, but we are so grateful that God has provided for us and blessed us in so many ways, and don’t regret our choices).
We’ve visited the local food bank twice in the last couple of years (Separate but related rant? The total and complete crap that is handed out at food banks). Once was less than a month ago. I have stood in my kitchen crying into my husband’s shoulder because my stomach was rumbling, grocery money was depleted until the next payday, and I was so damn tired of struggling to figure out something appetizing to make from the random things left in my pantry and fridge. I’ve scrimped and saved and watched sales and planned and packed food for our day trips to the city. I’ve tried dozens of new recipes for beans and lentils. I’ve felt guilty for the cheese I give my kids as an easy snack because $10 for a block of cheese is very expensive when it gets used up in a week. Same with nuts, fruit, and any other nutrient-dense or protein-rich unprocessed snack.
To be totally honest, I’m not completely perfect in my planning and spending habits (who is??), but you can be damned sure that I’m trying my very best to feed my family healthy and nutritious food with as little money as possible.
That is why when I read comments like these ones in response to the question “How do you respond to the idea that organic food is too expensive?”… I get just a *little* fired up. (For starters? For some people it’s not “an idea”, it’s a fact).
The vast majority of the comments left on that status are condescending, sanctimonious, ignorant, and presumptuous, and if I had any stronger words, I’d use them.
Here are some of the comments and my responses to them:
Many, many people snarkily noted that they’d respond by saying that “cancer costs more, duh”, or some variation thereof. Whether you’re talking about actual medical bills (which is not the same for me, living in Canada) or cost of losing your life – the point is the same.
I’d like to address this by saying: of course I know that cancer sucks. Do you think I want cancer? Or any other host of diet-related illnesses? Of course not. Even if I were American and had to pay for medical bills – I can’t very well go cash in on my doctor’s bills from 20 years in the future and use the money instead to buy all-organic food now. Even if I didn’t have medical bills in the future because I’m Canadian, that doesn’t help me afford to buy organic RIGHT NOW. Some people literally don’t have the luxury of choosing to pay more now in order to potentially save significantly in the far-off future. Also? Not all cancer is caused by an unhealthy diet. I believe it can definitely play a part, but to say that it’s a direct cause and effect thing is extremely ignorant and, I’m sure, offensive to those who try to eat as healthy as possible and still end up with cancer or other illness.
The trite bit about ‘cancer costs more’ aside – the presumptuousness of the other comments really made me angry. The general consensus was that those who claim that organic food is too expensive are:
- Uneducated and uninformed (I actually consider myself extremely informed when it comes to nutrition, which is why I feel such sorrow at not being able to provide my family with a nutritionally optimal diet that is low in empty carbohydrates and high in protein and healthy fats, all from grass-fed, organic, fresh ingredients. You could say it’s a sore spot… so assuming that I’m just uneducated is extremely insensitive).
- Making poor shopping choices (I agonize over each and every item that goes into my cart at the grocery store. I do the best I can with what I have, and have a very few things that I won’t compromise on, like always buying real butter over margarine, or eating eggs for breakfast instead of cheap cereal. I buy hardly anything processed at all except for some condiments – I make my own salad dressing and sauces - and occasionally some rice crackers for cheap snacks on the road to avoid eating out. I also buy almost nothing that is a convenience food – if I can do it myself, I do. I don’t buy pre-shredded lettuce or cheese, etc).
- Eating processed crap that costs more and doesn’t provide any nutrition (This is just a totally ignorant thing to assume. Just because I say that organic food is too expensive for us does not mean that I am buying all processed junk. The vast majority of our diet consists of homemade bone broth soups, legumes and rice, frozen veggies, local-bought farm eggs that are only slightly more expensive than the grocery store, and the occasional ground beef meal at supper time. We snack on fruit or cheese when we can afford it, boiled eggs, homemade yogurt, raw almonds, and fresh farmer’s market veggies which are a “sometimes” treat in the summer. I simply don’t buy things like kraft dinner and boxed cookies, so please stop assuming that I can just cut those out and buy organic apples instead).
- Choosing to spend money instead on “beer and smart phone bills, going to movies, having cable, concerts, expensive cars, regular starbucks trips, eating out weekly, fast food, bottled water, soda, and processed foods, going to the movies weekly, getting your nails done every month, fancy new clothes, fancy designer coffee and a jumbo bag of cheetos…” (Yes, those were all mentioned specifically. As it happens, not a single one of them applies to us. We have cut our budget down in every way we can think of – we recently sold hubby’s smartphone in order to save $40/monthly, we don’t have a TV, and we live in a cheap rental that is enough but nothing fancy. We drive a used mini-van, wear old clothes with holes in them and haven’t bought new shoes in about five years other than the ones we got at Christmas. My son needs new sneakers and doesn’t have any summer PJ’s that fit, and we’ve carefully saved up $100 for a trip to a local children’s second-hand store in order to get those things. We don’t drink anything but water and home-brewed kombucha at home, and our definition of a splurge is a $1.70 fancy tea when we’re in the city for my midwife appointment, and even then, we share!).
- Simply not planning well enough (If I planned any more carefully for the times we are out and in need of food, my head might just explode. We bring an entire bag of packed snacks/meals when we go to the city for the day, and sometimes it’s still not enough. Sometimes I haven’t had the time or energy to make granola bars from scratch, and the kids have eaten all we brought and are simply still hungry with a few hours to go before we head home. It’s not as simple as you might assume).
- Choosing to not make their health a priority (This one really irks me. I think my points above are all related to this one. Sometimes choice is a luxury that only the middle/upper class can enjoy).
- Not sacrificing enough (I think I’ve adequately covered this one. Let’s just say this is one of the most pompous and self-righteous things I’ve ever heard).
- Not already eating from scratch (As mentioned already – we do more than almost everyone we know in this department, and we’re still struggling).
- Not creative enough (How creative is a meal of brown rice and dried black beans, soaked and cooked with some dented cans of diced tomatoes from the food bank, some spices, cheese, and steamed carrots on the side with homemade honey-sweetened yogurt for dessert? What other creative brilliance am I missing? Please, enlighten me…)
- Unaware of how to cook legumes, rice, and healthy grains (sorry, not true in the slightest…)
- Unaware that the answer lies in simply growing your own food (I agree that gardening is a great idea and can potentially save some people a lot of money… but we’ve moved 3 times in the last two years in a poor-soil area with a cold climate and very short growing season. I’m also 40 weeks pregnant, and it’s June. Suddenly, gardening doesn’t appear to be our perfect solution…)
- Not already saving money in other household areas (Don’t bother with this one – we already make our own cleaners, buy very little cosmetic and body care items, use cloth diapers, don’t buy paper towels ever… I could go on…)
To quote several of the particularly condescending commenters: “it can be expensive if you are not willing to put time into cooking from scratch…but if you fail to plan you plan to fail!” … “it’s never too expensive if people care about their health” … “no valid excuse” … “you can’t say it’s too expensive, I really believe anyone can do it you just have to make it a priority.”
I want to acknowledge that these comments may indeed be applicable for some people. Some people do have messed up priorities (read: different than yours…), are uneducated about nutrition, and don’t know how or have time to make many things from scratch that would ease the costs… BUT…
Let’s not assume that all folks who say they cannot afford organic food are stupid, lazy, and making bad choices, lest you find yourself one day in the position of having to choose between eating Chef Boyardee and Oreos* from the food bank or going hungry…
Instead, when someone says that they cannot afford to eat organic, I would suggest a healthy dose of compassion and gentle offerings to help, getting to actually know the person and their situation, and perhaps even dropping off a bag of that farmer’s market organic produce that you find so easy to come by.
Dear Middle Class America: A little less condescension and little more understanding would probably do us all a world of good. Please don’t make me want to throw my homemade yogurt in your face because it’s my kids’ favourite snack and milk costs a lot of money.
Sincerely and with respect,
* We did in fact receive Chef Boyardee and Oreos in our pre-made boxes of stuff from the food bank (we had almost zero choice about what to take) but passed it on to some young students down the street that willingly took it. We kept things like canned tomatoes and tuna, and the $50 voucher for produce at the grocery store that got us through to the next pay day.