Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Organics Mindfully *Thud*

Help, I've fallen off the organic wagon!

I started "eating healthy" when I was a wee tot. Mostly per force as my mother (a public health nurse) followed all the latest health information. So we ate low-salt, low-fat and beans before it was a blip on most people's radar (unless you were a hippie vegetarian, and I did baby sit for one of our neighbors in that category). My mother didn't go whole hog and make us eat vegetarian, but we did drink reconstituted dry low-fat milk. Come to think of it, that was probably an economic decision. How fitting, because that plays into my trajectory as well.

So in college, I was eating cafeteria food, and that wasn't bad. But I've never been an enthusiastic meat eater, and when I started cooking on my own, I started preparing meat dishes less and less often. Partly because it was such a pain to trim and cut, and partly because, well, it was expensive. Oh, I know how to make a mean middle eastern stew, but I have almost always lived with/been involved with friends/men who enjoyed eating veggies and things like lentils.
Lentils for Lunch
I've even been known to convert a few people, myself. Witness my well-developed collection of different lentil recipes from over the years, some acquired, many invented.

One current version includes portobello mushrooms, green curry paste, and a bit of salad on the side. Cheese optional.

(Side story: Many years ago, one friend was doing well following the Weight Watchers program. They challenged her just before Thanksgiving, "what is your plan for eating healthily during the holiday?" She proudly replied that she was going to visit her friend (me) and that I'd feed her *lentils*!! haha!)

So about 10 years ago, I started becoming more aware of environmental issues and shopping at my local food co-op. I reused bags, bought staples in bulk, and learned about avoiding pesticides and shopping locally. I also met my husband-to-be, an ethical vegetarian. From the first, Mr Sweetie has been firm but never dogmatic about his food ideals. I hate being told what to do, so this suited me. Being given both a model and a method, I started becoming not only more of a vegetarian but an organic enthusiast. Organic rice, organic beans, organic fruits and veggies, organic cleaners and plastic bags for Pete's sake, even though I was already edging towards my love for canvas bags.

Grocery Basket

(Another side story: One of the first presents Mr Sweetie ever gave me was a set of canvas grocery bags from his food co-op, bags that I had been coveting for some time. Typically, he set it up so that he didn't give them to me directly, but dropped me less and less subtle hints that he always kept *his* co-op bags in his *car*, until I finally figured out the new bags sitting on the table were for me. This prepped me for a lifetime of getting his subtle and enduring his not-so-subtle jokes, but that's another story altogether!)

In the intervening years, we have been blessed to be surrounded not only by a whole range of good-food models (everything from organic farmers to people who ate only local produce, to people who raised organic chickens, or who were also concerned about avoiding over-packaging, unhealthy additives, et al), but a good range of organic and local food opportunities.

Delightfully fresh produce from one local CSA.
Singing of Salsa

In my area alone, there are (or were) at least two food co-ops, at least 1-2 chains featuring organic produce and products, local producers of everything from natural soaps to beekeepers to grain-fed beef, too many CSAs to count (small-farms with opportunities for Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions), a farmers market in every community in the region, and acquaintances who raise their own chickens and cows. Even a number of restaurants that feature local and/or organic ingredients. You can eat only local greens growing within the surrounding counties or go for the shipped-at-high-cost salad greens from across the continent/hemisphere at all months of the year, or grow your own.
Braising Ingredients
Mixed greens for braising, some turnip greens, carrots, green onion, sweet red bell pepper, and basil.

Baby Beet Greens Kohlrabi Saute
I've learned to appreciate things like beet greens and kohlrabi and *drool* green garlic.
Green Garlic

So there is huge support for eating well at whatever level you desire.

Turnip Soup for Simmer
Turnip soup including both roots and greens

Recently, though, I've been backing off from the height of organic eating. It's the produce deliveries that we can't eat fast enough. It's the growing acknowledgment that the one co-op is considerably more expensive for most items, and the other co-op that is (was) being mis-managed. Even the big commercial natural foods store is pretty darn pricey, OMG. And our food budget has been way out of control. Since Summer, I've gradually started to cut back. I've had to cut back. I've had to shop both quality and volume to keep this baby fed.

First it was the organic yogurt that averages 10 cents per cup more than at the conventional store. Then it was the orange juice that runs 50 cents more for the same product (and that's for conventional oj). Then it was the broccoli at $4 a head! Ack! I think it was the *gulp* $8 bag of organic grapes that tipped me over the edge. I had to make better choices about which food was worth buying at organic prices, and which I should go for quality that I could actually afford.

So now, I don't automatically buy organic. I blame it on the economy and the fact that we have been ignoring our food budget for far too long. No more just piling on the produce with no worries about the total. I don't want to give them up entirely, but we've been forced to make more conscious choices, and isn't that ironic? It may not be healthy to the nth degree, but organics are sadly not necessesarily the healthiest for our budget.

And where will I go from here? I'm starting to edge more towards local food rather than strictly organic, food with low-mileage and low-processing credentials. Not that I will give up my imported chocolate (pu-lease!), but I am more motivated to shop our farmer's market on a regular basis. I'm currently psyched about growing winter greens and making my own mozzarella cheese from scratch with locally raised milk. Ha! Guess which book I have been reading recently! And of course, I'm still eating rice and lentils. I won't give up my locally-made goat cheese nom nom!
Yummy Local Goat Cheese
I won't go "back to the land," but I will be going back to basics and reevaluating my food priorities. It seems to be one of the few good things about this economy.

Good eating and shopping choices to you. Here's to mindful choices, whatever they be.

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