According to the USDA, food prices are expected to rise 3-4% in 2013, although some experts warn it will be even worse. This is mainly due to the extreme drought that the US has suffered during the summer of 2012. However, rising food prices are nothing new, after all we know that we can’t buy an apple for the same amount our grandparents did, but they do become an issue when too much happens too fast.
The effects so far have seen things like corn prices rise more than 60% within two months. Ironically corn and soy, which are the top two genetically modified foods, have been impacted the most. As both of these food sources make up the majority of processed foods and factory farmed animal feed, we can imagine how the trickle effects will follow through to almost all animal products and processed foods. The good news is that vegetables and fruits seemed to be least impacted, as they are typically irrigated, unlike the others.
My prediction, as is that of many various experts out there as well, is that unpredictable rising food prices will become the norm from now on due to several major factors. The first being the volatility of world economies, the second being the rising world population and lastly the continued instability on the planet where weather and geophysical changes are concerned. We are not only living through a sensitive period on planet Earth currently, but perhaps an unprecedented one as so many major factors threaten the stability of the food supply. This is why there is no better time than now to start looking for alternative solutions. Specifically, we need to embrace and put into practice solutions that make each of us more accountable for ourselves, rather than reliant on systems that can easily collapse today. Following are a few smart lifestyle choices that we can all incorporate to help us save money, while improving our health and living more sustainably.
Go For Plants
If you don’t already, there is perhaps no better time than now to start eating a plant based diet. Not only is it generally recognized as the best for your health, but it is also a much cheaper way to go too, compared to a whole foods, animal product based diet. Its health benefits include the ability to heal and prevent disease, including being most efficient for weight-loss, and often capable of reversing major chronic diseases like diabetes 2, heart disease and even cancers. Its financial benefits are many as well.
According to the USDA, “milk, eggs, beef, poultry and pork prices will all be affected by the drought (of 2012), which has pushed up prices for feed. Beef prices are expected to see the biggest jump at 4 per cent to 5 per cent. Dairy product prices are forecast to climb 3.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent; poultry and egg prices are projected to rise 3 per cent to 4 per cent; and pork prices are expected to rise 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent in 2013, the agency said.” But aside from prices of animal foods going higher, it has always been common knowledge that animal foods are more expensive than plant foods. This is one of the main reasons why animal products for centuries were eaten sparingly by the masses, enjoyed only by nobility and the wealthy in lavish amounts. It really takes one grocery trip to figure out that buying meats (beef, chicken, fish), cheese, eggs and other dairy adds up much more quickly than say a bag of brown rice, legumes, and some vegetables. If one is attempting to compare it to a highly processed diet of $0.99 burgers or tacos, okay perhaps one can argue there, but that cannot be considered appropriate nourishment to begin with.
What is surprising is that in these lean economic times, the most attractive feature of a plant based diet has not been more widely publicised; it is far cheaper than a diet based around animal protein.
Grow Your Own Food
There is perhaps no better option to become self-reliant and accountable than actually becoming responsible for the production of at least some of one’s own food. Not only does it provide the highest quality of food, but it is also by far the cheapest way to feed yourself. Sure, you will have to put in some effort, and not everyone has access to land, or a garden, or a suitable space for growing food, but options exist no matter where we live. Even in the tiniest of apartments, we can have a few pots of herbs, or lettuce, or even a tomato bush. Those with access to balconies, can expand their growing options even further. And if you live in an area with really poor soil, or cannot for whatever reason use the land, consider container gardening. The next step up, if we have the space and ability would be a square foot garden, and after that normally the traditional row method of however much food growth your land and time can handle.
We can benefit from the most savings by starting plants from seeds, instead of buying seedlings or plants. An even cheaper way to go is to harvest your own seeds, but that normally comes after becoming a bit more experienced and sophisticated with gardening. Of course with fruit trees, it does pay to buy a tree that can give you a nice harvest within three to five years, rather than starting from seed and waiting 10 years.
So how much money can you save? The National Gardening Association estimates that when compared to the average cost of vegetables at $2 a pound, a successful garden might double your money. According to a source on HowStuffWork.com, a well-maintained 4-foot by 8-foot (1.21-meter by 2.4-meter) garden in a Midwestern climate can produce about $600 in food savings over a single summer. Wherever you look the numbers will vary, and each person will get a unique number based on their typical spending, compared to the size and quality of their garden. The more you grow, typically the more you save.
Planting a garden sounds pretty benign, but it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness.
There is no faster way to see your dollars go, than to regularly eat out. While the range of restaurants and delis have today provided convenience like never before, there is a big price to pay for this. The cost of convenience has a two-edged sword. First, is that the food is some of the unhealthiest available, and can never compare to whole, natural homemade food. Second, is the enormous markup on the items. Whether you get a beverage, a snack or a meal, we forget all too often how much money we can save if we only made the item ourselves at home.
Truly nothing beats the homemade meal. (Remember fast food places, which don’t offer real food, aside.) Every single time I have calculated even the most elaborate of my whole food, natural, plant meals, they always have come up to less than $5 per full meal plate! And I know, that you know, that there is no restaurant out there which will serve you a mostly organic, whole, natural food meal for anywhere close to that. Health aside, just a simple pasta dish at a mid-range restaurants is typically $12 – $18. That same meal made at home is normally around $2-$4. It really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
So as long as we rely on external outlets for our food, we will continue to spend a lot of money that could be put to much better use. Yes, we can excuse it that we don’t have the time, or the energy, or the motivation, but in the end it is your choice. Either you want to or need to save money, or not. And by eating in, we enjoy the benefits of the fastest and most pronounced savings, not to mention a much healthier and better quality of food.
Use Farmer’s Markets and CSAs
Although prices today fluctuate in grocery stores, we can almost always count on benefitting financially by visiting a local farmer’s market. Many farmers are even open to bargaining or giving discounts for bulk sales. This practice also supports your local farmers, who are one of the most valuable members of our society, and helps promote sustainability as well, since food does not have to be imported or shipped far distances. Farmer market prices will also vary, and be sure to check that the food you are buying is from local sources, as sometimes vendors will set up stands and sell imported produce. But in general, even though you may find the prices at Farmer’s Markets to be equal or even at times slightly higher than that in the grocery stores, we have to realize that it is still very worth it. By supporting your local farmers, you are ensuring for yourself a continued food supply for the future. If we don’t support the small, local farmers, and don’t grow our own food, we are only left to rely on a corporately driven and increasingly risky food system.
Another, and even better way to go is to research and join a CSA food program in your area. These Community Supported Agriculture programs allow you to “buy into” a farm, or buy a share of the harvest. What you are really doing is paying for a regular supply of fresh produce (and possibly other foods) from a local farmer. The food shares or “boxes” are typically picked up or delivered depending on your arrangement each week and offer the next best thing to growing your own food. Not only is the food often organic, local and super fresh, but the savings involved are usually very significant.
One of the easiest ways to save money is to eat seasonally. Buy asparagus or strawberries for example when they are in season, typically in the spring. Buy apples, pears or squash when it is their season, typically late summer and fall. Align yourself to the rhythm of your growing climate to benefit not only from cheaper food, but also from much fresher and thus healthier food.
With the convenience of our global transportation system, we have become very accustomed to having pretty much any food we want, any time. This however is a very unsustainable way to live, as the whole system depends on many factors like fuel, which have their own issues of rising costs and depletion. Buying some foods out of season, can mean paying double or more for that food item. When we think about it logically, there should be no reason why we must have $6 strawberries in the winter, when they cost $3 in the summer. Thus becoming more aligned with natural cycles can also benefit us by becoming more conscious of where, when and how our food comes to us, and make us appreciate our food more.
A thriving household depends on the use of seasonal produce and the application of common sense.
Olivier de Serres (1539-1619)
One of the most overlooked ways that we can save money when it comes to food is in how much we eat. Most of us do not realize this, but we eat way too much, at least most of the time. Food of every kind is easily abundant in our society, and no matter how much we may be on a budget, ample food always seems to sneak its way into our life, and normally not of the right kind either. It is ironic that in our society if you ask people to eat less, so many are still worried about not getting enough food, rather than being concerned with getting too much. Perhaps that comes from the fact that as a society we are over-fed, and yet malnourished.
Today, research has shown many times over that reduced or restricted calorie diets are directly linked to better health and longevity. If that wording scares you, don’t worry, you don’t need to count anything or starve yourself. Simply start by eating smaller portions. Consider your snacks and beverages too, as normally we have too many of these in a day, or too many at once. The savings you get from eating less, and thus buying less will benefit not only your wallet, but your weight and health big time as well.
Back to the health aspect, regardless though of what any research on eating less and longevity may claim or not claim, the proof is in the logic. Use your body more, and you use it out faster. If we compare the body to any other machine, we know that the more we use it, typically the faster it wears out. This is not just true when talking about food digestion, but true for those who practice extreme sports too. We need to understand how big of a toll food digestion, processing and assimilation takes on the body. Of course it varies depending on what food it is too. Plants are much easier to digest and not only bring in some of their own tools to be broken down with, but also come with more credits than debits. Animal and processed foods take a greater toll to digest, and usually come in with more debits than credits. Therefore, the more we eat, the more we use each of our organs. And in addition, if the food coming in is causing more harm than good, we wear our bodies out even faster.
So consider how much you eat, and see where reductions can take place. Again, starting with smaller portion sizes and eating only until the point of being about three-quarters full is more beneficial for your health, and helps you save money by not buying the food you don’t need to be eating anyway. To add, regular fasting is also one of the lost health practices that can be very beneficial for our health, and again lead to less food needed by us.
Watch Your Waste
Another major area in which we can save a lot of money when it comes to food is in how much waste we generate. According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans are throwing away 40% of food in the U.S., the equivalent of $165 billion in uneaten food each year. For the average American family of four, this means throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food! One can only imagine all the ways that wasted food can be put to better use, not to mention the environmental resources that can be saved due to its unnecessary preparation. In my experience, I know this is a big and real problem for many, as I have seen and heard countless times from people who regularly throw various quantities of food away. Most of the time people share how much of their fresh produce gets thrown away, and how to prevent this from happening. Other times it is dishes of leftovers, and at other times yet I have heard of people who do regular refrigerator purgings. All of this amounts to so much of our money being wasted, not to mention again the environmental resources. So another smart habit to incorporate into your lifestyle is to reconsider what food is being bought and brought home, and how your food is being used.
Is it possible to never have to throw away any food? You bet! I know that for a fact, because that is how my household runs. All it takes is conscious grocery shopping mixed with conscious meal planning. Getting into a general pattern of knowing what typical meals you or your family enjoy, and how much is typically eaten is the key. Even if you over or under shop for food regularly, just a few weeks of conscious vigilance in this area will quickly give you a very good idea of your real needs. Secondly, eat your fresh produce first! People usually shop with the right intentions and then fall through on using the great food they bought, resorting instead to take-out, processed, or long lasting food. For example, don’t use the frozen vegetables, when you have fresh produce in the fridge. Frozen veggies should be the last resort at the end of the week, before you need to go shopping again. Which brings us to the next helpful hint, this being to set the same day each week to do your groceries. Typically either of the two weekend days will work best for most people who have regular jobs, so that you can have more flexibility with time for your grocery shopping experience, and be more conscious about it. In my household the grocery day is Saturday, simply because that follows the farmer’s market stop which is first, and where we pick up our CSA box. And by the next Friday, my refrigerator is almost always literally empty, since we eat whole, fresh foods only (no condiments, etc.). The same is possible when it comes to leftovers. Learn your family’s general food portion sizes. It is better to undercook, and eat a fruit or other healthy snack later, than constantly overcook. Overcooking normally results in either eating too much by trying to finish it off and/or eventually wasting the food that no one may want to eat at a later date.
With the price of food continuing to grow, and drought jeopardizing farmers nationwide, now is the time to embrace all the tremendous untapped opportunities to get more out of our food system. We can do better.
Focus on quality, not quantity
Finally, the last and perhaps most important point is that when it comes to food, our focus should always be quality, not quantity. Yes, crackers, chips or Kraft dinner may be on some outstanding sale at your local grocery store, but that is no reason to stock up. We have to realize that when we eat nutrient-deficient or empty-calorie foods, we always end up eating more as our bodies are still begging for the real nutrients. This is why so often people may have a big meal of some fast or processed food, only to be hungry a short while later.
Therefore invest your money where it matters. More or cheaper is by no means better. When we switch to eating a high quality, whole, natural, nutrient-dense diet, we actually end up needing and eating less. And this translates into numerous benefits for us and our world.
In the end, when we look at implementing even some of the above options, we can begin to see how quickly we can start to reduce the cost of our grocery bill and become more accountable for our food choices. The more we implement, and the better we get at it, the more we optimize our food consumption experience. Yes, prices will keep going up, but we do not need to suffer, or more importantly have our eating and health suffer in the process.
Make a commitment to these smart choices in your life today, and enjoy both financial and health benefits for all your tomorrows.