Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ethical Eating.....on my dime.

I am very aware of some ethical aspects of my food choices. Every week I'm the one who goes hunting and gathering the things that my family needs to keep on keepin' on.

I don't eat meat and haven't for years. It's a new thing for some UUs and very old hat for others, but that's really not the only ethical issue.

How things are grown, how the farmers are paid, how the people who harvest are treated and paid; all very important things. I care. I really do. I want people to be paid fairly for the work that they do. I want things to be grown sustainably. I want the earth to be safe and healthy.

But I also need to be able to buy enough food to feed three teenagers and one wildly hungry husband.

It gets harder and harder every week. For a few years I've even shopped at one of those warehouse places. You can still buy organic there, just like when we had the old food buying club back in Minnesota; "Holistic Heroes". But it's not really the same kind of organic. It's not careful and mindful organic. It's not local, it's probably not sustainable.

And now I can't really even buy there. For a few years my budget was at $1,300 a month. That's a hell of a lot of money. And it was what we spent for big box scratch food. I cooked, we brought our lunches, we made rice and pasta and a little meat. It was not extravagant. It was not even convenient.

And now we're cutting coupons, and buying store brand flour to make homemade biscuits. And the carnivores are splitting what I think will last for one meal of boneless ribs into two meals.

There are a lot of potatoes. And a lot of ramen. And food from the grocery store that carries the "nearly" expired chips and the off brand cheese.

We have jobs. OK, I work for a non-profit and my husband works for an airline who is almost out of business, but still, these are real jobs.

How do regular families with jobs as teachers and firefighters and good jobs do it? And just what do we mean as UUs when we promise to study Eithical Eating as a Study Action Issue? Ethical means not letting your kids go hungry? What?

Let's be real here. Let's talk about how we feed our families. How you can possibly eat for real on a regular income. How you pay the mortgage and the electric bill and also fill the fridge.

Me? I'm cutting big huge corners. So much so it's almost a circle.


Anna Banana said...

No easy answers. Growing some food is good in the growing season, which is not all year in most parts of the country. It seems like a luxury to talk about ethical eating in these difficult financial times. In CA we're voting on a measure that would prohibit cruelty to farm animals. It's not much, but it's something.

Kari said...

Guess this is part of the ethics. Good food grown responsibly shouldn't break the bank.

I just turned my garden for the winter, all I have now are a few chives, some oregano, parsley and one scrawny bit of sage. I was thinking about "Food not Lawns" as I worked. I wonder what my suburban neighbors would do, and wouldn't it be fun to see?

ms. kitty said...

Families with hungry kids are having the hardest time, all right. And it's hard to choose between non-hunger and sustainability. I say feed your kids first, no matter how you have to do it, and do the best you can with sustainability.

And you're totally right---good food grown responsibly shouldn't break the bank. I think about the class issues around food too---how many on food stamps or welfare can afford to shop at farmers' markets or Whole Foods? I want to support local farmers, here on the island, but their food is far more expensive than Freddie's.

Kristina said...

A good portion of my waking hours is taken up with this problem, as well. We're on a tighter than usual budget these days, and my awareness of food ethics is higher than ever before. These two values, frugality and food ethics (sustainable, farmer-friendly, earth friendly foods that are delicious and nutritious) conflict all the time, and I have begun dreading my grocery trips because each trip to the store is made up of a thousand small choices and compromises.

As for "food not lawns," I planted my garden in the front yard because that's where the sun is most constant. The main feedback from my neighbors has been complimentary, but West Seattle is pretty eclectic and mostly "whatever" is okay. I say you go for it!

I just got back from PCC, and I turned down the yummy organic bars that Tessa likes because they have too much packaging and they're expensive. I skipped the delicious (imported though organic) mango in favor of less expensive local apples. I bought from the bulk bins, and decide I couldn't afford organic almonds at $15/pound when the non-organic ones were less than $8/pound. I bought proscuitto for the chard and polenta dish I plan to cook, and though it says "no antibiotics" I am concerned that isn't enough. And since bananas are so cheap (even organic) and my family loves them, I bought a big bunch even though I'd prefer local food. Compromise, compromise.

All of these choices. We're working on it, though, and we have made progress. It will catch on, I think. It must!

All that to say - keep thinking, keep blogging. I enjoy being a part of the conversation; thank you.

ogre said...

Family of four omnivores here, two of them teen boys.

I'll let you know the answer--from debtor's prison.

We grow some fruit--and one of the boys loathes fruit other than apples, bananas and watermelon (sigh). He is, however, a big fan of bean and cheese burritos. And some tomatoes, peppers and the like.

We've also kept our own chickens (fewer now; we were called on the code violation, although no one had complained about that, and there weren't any health or noise issues, just a violation of the permitted number) for organic, free range eggs.

As a society, we've gotten used to the idea that food doesn't cost that much, and shouldn't. That it's not a major part of the budget (that's ahistoric, and it's not the world norm today either). We've faced up to the fact that it's going to cost more--and should. But not break the bank...

We've decided that eat local is our (barely) first concern--as much as possible. So organic/humanely raised food a very, very close second. We've started buying meat in bulk direct from the rancher (in-state) and know it's grass-fed (asserted, and you can taste the difference). Which means we keep a freezer--and we have solar panels so that our electric bills are quite modest.

Ethical eating is a challenge because it's not one thing. It's not eat organic. It's not eat fair traded. It's not eat local. It's not eat humane. It's not eat union labor/fair wage grown. It's not eat what's sustainable. It's not any of those--it's all of those and more. Which means that there's a constant, subtle balancing of ethical goods against what each of us can do.

It's part of why this is such an awe-inspiring undertaking. It's big--and it's also utterly personal and individual. It's not easy, it's not a matter of writing a letter, putting on a bumper sticker, attending a rally and nagging a politician--or even donating. It's constant, on-going, daily work.

It is, I would say, the most distinctly daily life spiritual undertaking that UUs have taken up. It will change us--and in changing, we'll change others and the world.