Monday, November 30, 2009

Where We Are, Where We're Going (A Confession and a Promise)

It's a well-known fact (and running joke) in my family that I don't cook. It's not that I don't like to cook, I simply DO NOT cook. You may think I'm exaggerating here, but I can honestly tell you that I can count the number of times I cook in one year on my hands (maybe just one hand).

Let me illustrate (keep in mind that while I keep great records, they are not meant to be audited, so there is a little bit of guesstimation in these numbers). This should be fun. In 2007, my family spent roughly $16,845 on food. In 2008, we upped the ante to $18,284. And, so far, in 2009 we have spent $16,310 (Jan - Oct). When I average those dollars per month, we are spending a house payment (about $1630/mo.) on food*! Since, according to the USDA, the average family of four spends between $737 and $916 per month, I can safely say we have a long way to go to even be an average American family.

There's more, and it's worse. Again, this is not scientifically accurate, but it's a good estimation. When I added up the number of times we ate out over the past four years, I found that my family had eaten something** at a restaurant 2,405 times (there are only 1,461 days in four years)! Averaged out that's 802 times per year, 62 times per month, and 16 times per week that we eat out. Do you know what that means? It means some days we eat EVERY meal for the day at a restaurant! (Please tsk your tongues and shake your heads privately, no need to publicly chastise me as I'm already ashamed enough.)

So, why am I airing my dirty laundry to you all? Well, in order to track one's progress it's important to know where you're starting from. Telling you who we are and how we operate identifies our starting point. I also want to drive home the point that we are a typical American family (okay, we're worse than the typical American family). This second point is really important because I want to show that anyone can make changes - there are no excuses!

Someone I know thinks people won't change the way they eat because A) people don't care; B) even if they did care, people can't afford to change; and C) even if they did care and could afford to change, it's all just too overwhelming. I disagree and that's why I'm doing this experiment. Call me naive, but I believe most people will (and can afford to) make small but important changes if they are informed about what industrial food REALLY is, how it is REALLY made, and how EASY it is to find alternative food sources. 

Right now my family supports the Industrial Food Complex at a staggering rate. For us, eating organically will probably save money because it will force us to eat at home for most meals. It will not be easy for me to break the habit of eating out, but I commit to making the change - for myself, my family, my budget, and my community.

*Included in these totals are household items like toilet paper and soap. I have no way of separating these items out for the past, but going forward I will include only food items as part of our food budget.
**I counted trips to Starbucks and Jamba Juice. These snack trips surely don't count as meals per say, but still, I could have made a smoothie or tea at home.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Day After

Yesterday was Thanksgiving - a day that's as much about eating as it is about giving thanks. This year I have much to be thankful for and I'm looking forward to an exciting year ahead. But, I was less than excited about the food choices at yesterday's feast - or at any average family mealtime, really.
The table was laden with unhealthy food like Doritos and pie as well as healthy foods made unhealthy like organic yams drenched in butter, sugar, and some chemical concoction known as the "marshmallow." Even the turkey, which was oven-roasted with crushed garlic and some salt, gave me pause because it wasn't organic.
Perhaps I am a little more neurotic about food than some, but I have an increasingly troubled conscience about the food we eat. My ongoing ethical dilemma about where my food comes and how it is processed goes far beyond general health concerns. It is also, and more importantly, about food safety, freedom of choice, human rights, ethical business practices, and the environment.
The more I read and watch about the Industrial Food Complex, the more hopeless I feel. Big-business has forever altered the way we eat and it seems there's little we can do about it. I can't just stop eating, though sometimes I wish I could. Even if I could, rolling over and giving up without a fight is not something I've ever been good at. So how do I make conscious food choices that I can feel good about on every level?
What I've decided to do is an experiment to see if I can convert my family of fast-food junkies to a fully organic, sustainable lifestyle by the end of 2010. I hope to prove that the average family can afford to eat sustainably, that it is possible to shop locally for all of our nutritional needs, and to REALLY know where our food comes from.
I have some other goals too, like losing weight and eating at home for most meals (this would be completely opposite from how we eat presently). I hope that my family's journey might inspire our extended families and friends, and maybe even some complete strangers, to join us in our move from the Industrial Food Complex to the locally grown, organic, sustainable, whole food revolution.
I truly believe we can do this by taking one little step at a time. It won't be easy - we are a typical American family, after all. We eat out for lunch everyday and eat out for dinner 4-6 times a week! Maybe we are worse than a typical American family!! You can understand why I'm so concerned, but before you assume that eating at home is any better, I encourage you to read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (read the book, don't see the movie) or watch the movie "Food, Inc." Industrial food is virtually everywhere from McDonald's to the soybeans your tofu was made from!
I hope you will follow our journey. Hopefully you'll decide to make some positive changes yourself!

Next Post:
Where We've Been, Where We Are, Where We're Going!
(A Confession and a Promise)