It is not easy to live on one income these days, particularly with a large family. I am continually aware of the cost of gas, of sources for inexpensive clothing (the thrift store and hand-me-downs are my best friends!), of ways to save on electricity and the necessities of life. When searching for money-saving tips, I often come across articles on cutting the grocery budget. Sometimes, these articles are fabulous, offering great tips on eating real food and preparing it from scratch. However, I do come across lots of them that just don’t sit really well with me. Sometimes, I find the authors seem almost hooked on the idea of getting the cheapest ‘food’ (and I use that term loosely) no matter what.
In our family, I try to cook as economically as possible, but the bottom line is not how cheaply we can eat. It is how healthy we can eat. It is about the nutritive value of what we put into our mouths, not the price tag. There are lots of foods with high nutritive value and a low price tag. Dried beans are a good example. There are also lots of foods with a high price tag and low nutritive value. A good portion of what you find in the average grocery store is a good example of that.
I took out a cookbook from the library a couple of days ago, called Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook by Jamie Oliver. I had heard he was a kindred spirit in terms of his love for real food and I was not disappointed. As I browsed through the chapters, I was struck by some of his comments on meat, which I would like to share with you. I think these apply to all food, but for some reason, especially so to meat.
Jamie shares that it is amazing how people are so aware of quality and value in the products they purchase. They know which brands are important to them and will often pay a hefty price for just the right one. He asks the reader to imagine he has just gone to the pub and asked for a particular brand of beer. If the pub doesn’t have it, he will ask for a second favourite. If they don’t have that, he will probably never return. He will certainly not say, ‘What is the absolute cheapest beer you have?’ Jamie adds, “When kids go to buy running shoes, they don’t say to Mom, ‘Any pair will do, the cheaper the better,’ they are totally specific: Adidas, Nike – the ones with the blue stripes, the tag on the back, whatever.”
The story is completely different when it comes to meat (and most other food, too.) Most people don’t care where it “comes from, how it’s been fed, looked after, slaughtered or butchered.” Isn’t that the truth? I would say that in our culture, people care almost exclusively about cost. I think most people believe that the nutrients and quality of the food they eat will remain the same no matter how cheap it gets. Sadly, that is far from the truth. In order to lower the price, corners must be cut. In the case of meat, this happens when animals are fed as cheaply as possible and housed as cheaply as possible. The result of an animal eating improperly is that the resulting meat will suffer in terms of quality and nutritive value. Remember, “You are what you eat?” There is an excellent article on one of the nutritive differences, specifically omega 3/6 ratio, between grass-fed animals and standard grocery store fare on Dr. Mercola’s site. I really encourage you to have a look at it. (It is not at all difficult to understand, in case you are concerned about that!)
I remember last year at Christmas time, a local department store proudly displayed on the sign outside their store, “Shrimp Rings: 2/$3”. Ugh.